“Ken” O’Keefe (born July 21, 1969) is an Irish-American activist and former United States Marine and Gulf War veteran. He led the human shield action to Iraq and was a passenger on the MV Mavi Marmara during the Gaza flotilla raid. He said that he participated during clashes on the ship and claimed to have disarmed two Israeli commandos.
Human Shield Action to Iraq
In December 2002, O’Keefe started the human shield action to Iraq group. Intended to “make it politically impossible for them to bomb” Iraq by placing western civilians as “shields” at non-military locations, about 75 activists traveled over land from London to Bahgdad in two double-decker buses. Critics of the human shields argued that their mission would only protect Saddam Hussein. O’Keefe argued the “people of Iraq” would suffer the most from a war and publicly acknowledged Hussein as a “violent dictator”. At its height about 300 human shields were in Baghdad, but due to challenges internally, with the Iraqi dictatorship and O’Keefe’s deportation from Iraq, the numbers dwindled.
O’Keefe claims to have renounced his U.S. citizenship, but “… O’Keefe has tried officially to renounce his citizenship twice without success, first in Vancouver [Canada] and then in the Netherlands. His initial bid was rejected after the State Department concluded that he would return to the United States—a credible inference, as O’Keefe in fact had returned immediately. After his second attempt, O’Keefe waited seven months with no response before he tried a more sensational approach. He went back to the consulate at The Hague, retrieved his passport, walked outside, and lit it on fire. Seventeen days later, he received a letter from the State Department informing him that he was still an American, because he had not obtained the right to reside elsewhere. He had succeeded only in breaking the law, since mutilating a passport is illegal. It says so right on the passport”.
Gaza Flotilla involvement
In June 2010, O’Keefe was on board the MV Mavi Marmara. During the Gaza flotilla raid, O’Keefe was among the passengers who clashed with the Israeli military. In the course of the clash, O’Keefe claims to have been involved in providing initial first aid to a seriously wounded passenger and disarming two Israeli commandos. He claims he helped to disarm one commando of his gun and aided in subduing another, personally taking possession of a 9mm pistol from the second commando, removing the “real bullets” or live ammunition from the pistol and giving the bullets to others while hiding the weapon. He explained that it was his hope that the weapon could be used as evidence in any subsequent trial. O’Keefe said of the experience that it was like “combat but without combat weapons” and that “We had in our full possession, three completely disarmed and helpless commandos” who were “surrounded by at least 100 men”; “we could have done anything with them.” He said that “woman provided basic first aid, and ultimately they were released, battered and bruised for sure, but alive. Able to live another day.” O’Keefe was among those arrested and detained in Israel.
O’Keefe and another activist say he was beaten at the Tel Aviv airport when he resisted deportation, while still in Israeli custody. He claims that a policeman hit him on the head with a truncheon and that he was choked until he almost blacked out. He said he spent two more days in a detention facility in the airport after the incident. O’Keefe said the Irish consul general tried to convince him to agree to leave and asked him to wash the blood off his face but he refused.
A video showing his bloodied face was released upon his arrival in Istanbul. On 6 June, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) charged that O’Keefe is an “anti-Israel extremist” and “operative of the Hamas Terror organization”. According to the IDF he was entering the Gaza Strip in order to “form and train a commando unit for the Palestinian terror organization.” He responded: “If they had a supposed terrorist in their possession, why the hell did they let me go?” He acknowledged having had meetings with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and other senior Hamas officials.
Road to Hope
In October 2010, O’Keefe joined the Road to Hope humanitarian aid convoy to Gaza. Organizers were attempting to transport the convoy from the port of Derna, Libya to el-Arish, Egypt on board the private-charter roll-on/roll-off ferry M.V. Strofades IV. The ship left port unexpectedly without any of the aid after the ship’s owners and captain got into an argument with the aid workers — but seven Libyan port officials and ten of the Road to Hope team were on board.
Organisers of the convoy claimed that despite paying a shipping agent for the charter of the ship, O’Keefe and the others were “kidnapped” from the port by the owner and the captain of the ship who “went nuts”. The ship owners claimed that the activists had boarded the ship without any contract or charter. Due to a “tense atmosphere” aboard the ship, and (as he claimed) receiving no response from the Libyan authorities, the captain feared for the safety of the ship and decided to sail out of Libyan waters.
The ship eventually docked at Piraeus, Greece after being boarded by Greek commandos. All the activists were allowed to disembark after they were found to have committed no crime. The captain and owner were subsequently arrested.
Political Views and Conspiracy Theories
On Iran’s Press TV program, “The Agenda”, while speaking on the topic of “America: Is it a Civilized Nation?”, O’Keefe denied the plausibility that the 9/11 Attacks were committed by Osama bin Laden and the 19 hijackers. He claimed it was an “inside job” and that the “US government and intelligence agencies, including Mossad” were responsible. He also alleged that the United States government, including the President, had prior knowledge of the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor during World War II, but allowed the attacks to go ahead in order to have an excuse to enter the war.