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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 4, 2010

Israel detains activist O'Keefe

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Ken O'Keefe

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A man with connections to O'ahu's North Shore who was among volunteers on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla is still in Israel after a scuffle at the airport during the deportation of the activists to Istanbul, according to his mother.

Pat Johnson, who operates the Hale'iwa shop Deep Ecology, said her son, Ken O'Keefe, was badly beaten in Wednesday's fray, suffering a gash on the forehead and possibly cracked ribs.

Johnson said she learned about the incident from O'Keefe's partner, who lives with him in London.

"The general atmosphere was quite chaotic and a scuffle broke out over an injured man who was being manhandled by Israeli officials," Johnson said. "A number of people got involved, including Ken."

The Associated Press reported that about a dozen female activists scuffled with security officers at the airport but were quickly subdued by authorities. Israeli officials said no charges would be filed and the women were to be deported as planned.

Israeli commandos took over a six-ship flotilla that was taking humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip on Monday, killing nine and detaining an estimated 500 people. Israel maintains the commandos opened fire as a last resort after they were attacked.

The flotilla was attempting to break the three-year-old Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israel says the blockade is necessary because it prevents missile attacks against Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

O'Keefe and Ann Wright, a retired Army colonel who lives in Hawai'i, were among the detainees. Some 466 people were deported to Istanbul on Wednesday.

Johnson said her son was able to call his partner and tell her that he had refused medical attention and gone on a hunger strike because he was denied access to a lawyer after the airport fray.

Johnson said she is concerned for her son but understands his commitment to support this effort.

O'Keefe, 40, is compassionate and has a passion for the things he does, she said.

While starting the dive shop business with his mother in 1998, his concerns were for the ecology and the sea turtle. He would sponsor reef cleanups and go out to rescue turtles tangled in fishlines and floating debris, she said.

According to his website, O'Keefe was a Marine who served in the 1991 Gulf War but in 2003 he started Human Shield, an effort to stop bombings in Baghdad when the United States was about to invade Iraq. The effort was somewhat successful but on a much smaller scale than he had anticipated.

In fall 2008 he was a captain and first mate with the Free Gaza Movement that sailed two boats into Gaza.

In February 2009 he founded Aloha Palestine in hopes of providing ship service between Cyprus and Gaza.

"He has a great deal of passion ... for people and animals that can't really stand up for themselves," Johnson said, adding that she's not sure what will happen now. "I know he'll stand with his principles above everything. There's no doubt."

Henry Noa, who has known O'Keefe for about seven years, said he wasn't surprised that O'Keefe would be on the ship to Gaza.

His commitment is unwavering and what he does, he does with full involvement, Noa said.

"He believes in justice,"he said. "I believe that his commitment to the Palestinian movement is something that he's accepted and will continue until there's some resolve to it. He believes that the Palestinian people are humans and the treatment they've been undergoing is below inhumane."