Despite warnings from Israel that it did not intend to allow a flotilla of aid ships through to Gaza, Orcas Island resident David Schermerhorn had


David Schermerhorn, 80-Year-Old Orcas Island Resident Captured by Israel, Had Successfully Sailed to Gaza Three Times

Despite warnings from Israel that it did not intend to allow a flotilla of aid ships through to Gaza, Orcas Island resident David Schermerhorn had reason to hope that he and other pro-Palestinian activists on board would make it through the blockade. He had already sailed to Gaza on similar flotillas--not once but three times--in the last two years. That's according to his daughter, a fellow activist, and a videotaped open letter to President Obama Schermerhorn wrote shortly before setting sail.

In August of 2008, the 80-year-old retired television producer set sail on the very first flotilla sent by the Free Gaza Movement, a Cyprus-based organization comprised of activists around the world. With him was William Dienst, a doctor from Omak, in the Okanagan Valley, who says he was there to provide trauma care in case Israeli soldiers attacked. They didn't, although Israel stopped several recent attempted voyages to Gaza by the Cyprus-based group. Never, however, had Israel reacted with such force as yesterday, when it boarded the ships and fought with passengers, leaving nine dead.

Neither Dienst nor Schermerhorn's daughter, Kate Schermerhorn, say they know how the Orcas Island resident got involved with the Free Gaza Movement. But Schermerhorn, in his videotaped message, reveals passionate feelings about Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

"We have allowed Israel to become the unrestrained bully on the block," he says, looking very vigorous for his age with his gray hair slicked back and a defiant parting look at the camera. Kate Schermerhorn, a documentary filmmaker based in San Francisco, says her dad told her to release the video "in a worst case scenario."

Courtesy of William Dienst
A prior flotilla arrives safely in Gaza City.
Schermerhorn is an avid sailor, one reason he has been chosen to be part of these flotillas, according to Dienst. The Omak doctor tells the Weekly this latest flotilla--with six ships, the largest yet--was carrying medical supplies, children's books, and building materials such as cement.

Israeli authorities have claimed that another organization sponsoring the flotilla, a Turkish group called Insani Yardim Vakfi, has ties to Islamic terrorists. Dienst and Kate Schermerhorn say they don't know much about that group, but point to an array of reputable professionals aligned with the Free Gaza Movement, including Mary Wright, a retired U.S. colonel and former state department official who was on the latest flotilla.

Israel has also said that some passengers attacked troops with makeshift weapons. Kate Schermerhorn says her octogenarian dad was not armed.

She says she heard today from the American Embassy in Israel that her father is unharmed and being held in an Israeli jail. He is expected to be deported within the next three days.

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