A year after the first freedom flotilla set sail for the Gaza Strip, resulting in the deaths of nine activists at the hands of the Israeli IDF, the world awaits the departure of Freedom Flotilla II. The flotilla of ten boats includes two cargo ships transporting nearly three thousand tons of aid, and eight other passenger boats with citizens of dozens of different countries. It was supposed to set sail at the end of June.
Over the last week or so, it has been mired in sabotage and Israeli diplomatic efforts to halt it with Greek officials who have their hands full (and tied) with their own domestic problems. The result is that the flotilla has been delayed from setting sail and activist morale has been lowered, but that has not deterred those involved. They remain focused on the flotilla’s overall goal of breaking the Israeli blockade to bring in humanitarian aid, and cheered that Israeli actions have actually helped their goal of bringing the plight of Gaza back into the media spotlight.
The Juliano, owned jointly by the Ship to Gaza organizations in Sweden, Norway and Greece, had its propeller house destroyed and its propeller shaft cut by hostile divers. The consequent damage would have happened gradually as the ship was sailing and would have culminated in a breach in the hull. The Irish-owned ship, the “MV Saoirse” also had its propeller shaft weakened by saboteurs who cut or filed a piece off the shaft. This weakened the integrity of the shaft, causing it to bend badly when it was put into use.
Dr. Lane, who was part of last year’s flotilla, said, “The Freedom Flotilla is a non-violent act of practical and humanitarian solidarity with the people of Gaza, yet Israel continues to use threats and violence to delay its sailing. They attacked us in international waters last year, now they are attacking us in Turkish and Greek ports. There is no line that Israel won’t cross.” One can only speculate about Israel’s involvement in the sabotage as there is not yet any proof, but given Israel’s unhesitating use of snipers and attack dogs against unarmed civilians, it’s not a stretch to imagine it is their doing.
On Friday the U.S. boat named after Barack Obama’s famous book “The Audacity of Hope” attempted to sail from the port of Perama, near Athens, but was thwarted by Greek coast guard speedboats. The 60-year-old captain was arrested and faces charges of trying to leave port without permission and of endangering the lives of the boat’s passengers.
The Canadian ship to Gaza, the Tahrir, was boarded before it had a chance to leave (on Canada Day). The Greek authorities attempted to confiscate Tahrir’s transit logs needed for travel, the delegates refused to hand them over, offering photocopies instead, which were in turn refused. This exposed the efforts to stop all ships departing from Greek ports if the intended destination was Gaza. Soon enough all Gaza-bound ships were stranded in Greece because they were “concerned primarily with the protection and safety of human life.” A fact we have since learned is not true.
Israel’s extreme right wing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman admitted on Sunday that Israel was behind the Greek government’s decision to forbid the flotilla from sailing to the Gaza Strip saying “Things do not just happen on their own. The Quartet, the governments of Greece and Cyprus, object to the flotilla, understands the needs of Israel, and is acting effectively.”
The flotilla, I understand, will try and set sail again on Monday July 4th regardless of Greek and Israeli efforts to stop them. The blockade, now in its fourth year, is illegal under international law. The same goes for last year’s raid in international waters of the first freedom flotilla and for Israel’s forty plus year occupation of Palestine. Any form of peaceful protest should be welcomed by so called freedom loving nations such as our own; we should not be bowing to the will of a single apartheid-like government.
“We’ve received many visits and inspections from Greek authorities; we’ve satisfied all the technical requirements, all the paperwork. Our ship is ready. The Greek government is having its hand forced by the powers of the international community. It’s a shame on the Greek government, a shame on the EU, a shame on the Canadian and American government for cowing to one power dictating where their citizens can travel. This is a citizen to citizen initiative. We’re not going to be stopped by an order coming from the Greek government, when it’s in fact being manipulated by the Israeli government.” – David Heap, associate professor at the University of Western Ontario aboard the Tahrir
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