Greece Not Allowing 'Gaza' Boats to Sail

It appears that the Greek government has had enough of the antics that the activists on board the 'Free Gaza' ships are using in their varied attempts to join the flotilla that is aimed at breaching the Israeli coastal blockade of Gaza. Two vessels, the US Audacity of Hope, and the Canadian Tahrir have been detained, and several members of the vessels have been arrested.  To date, Greek authorities are not allowing boats destined for Gaza to leave from their local ports.

On the eve of Independence Day, after the captain of the US Audacity of Hope was arrested for leaving port without Coast Guard approval, the passengers held a demonstration where nine passengers wore signs around their necks indicating their participation in an open-ended 'hunger strike.' The other demonstrators displayed "Free Gaza," and "Let Freedom Ring' posters; they wore tee shirts saying "Unarmed Civilian," "Do No Harm" and "Stay Human"; and they sang, to the tune of 'When the troops go Marching By,' "Oh when our boats, go sailing in, Oh, when our boats go sailing in, I want to be in their numbers, When Palestine is truly free." 

As a new strategy to garner public sympathy and pressure the US government into defending the Audacity of Hope's right to sail to Gaza with the other vessels of an 'international' flotilla, this "fast" clearly separates the 'committed' passengers from the performers.  Out of the 36 passengers, 9 sat at the doorsteps of the US Embassy hoping the rest of the world will come to their rescue. Instead, the Greek police appeared and carted them off, although they were released hours later.

On Monday, July 4, the Canadian Boat, the Tahrir, carrying 30 passengers, made a quick get-away for international waters heading to Gaza.  Fifteen minutes after their unannounced departure and within 4 miles of international waters, they were overtaken by the Greek Special Forces who rammed their ship, causing fuel to leak and the need for them to be towed back to the port in Crete.  Two activists who were aboard kayaks that tried to prevent the Greek Forces from blocking the Tahrir were handcuffed and detained while the others remained on board thru the night. On board the Tahrir is a former New South Wales Greens Upper House MP, Syvia Hale, who said that "there are armed soldiers on board and at the dockside there are police cars and coastal guards. We are refusing to leave the boat."

The demonstrations, hunger strike, and stealing out of ports are just the latest in the efforts of these ships to join the others that are heading to the Gaza Port.  After being advised by the Israeli government and warned by the UN and their governments not to engage in this act of aggression, the organizers and passengers of these vessels pressed on and met in Greece.  Since their arrival, they have seen two other ships sabotaged; they have faced the Greek Coast Guard initially stopping their departure on allegations of not being seaworthy; they have had to respond to accusations of carrying flammable "cleaning fluids" that could easily become a chemical weapon of sorts; they have had the Greek military commando stopping both vessels after their captains tried to make a run for it; and then the arrests of their captains and some passengers.  (It has just been announced that the captain of the Audacity of Hope, John Klusmire, has been freed and can go anywhere with no bail and no restrictions.)

In the face of all of these obstacles, the organizers continue to send e-mail alerts that post the contact numbers for Greek and US officials asking for the public to continue pressuring the governments to let them sail. Greek Consular officials in the United States have been besieged with calls from angry Americans, whom they are telling to direct their protest to U.S. officials because "they were ultimately responsible."

It is obvious that given their journey is being seriously stymied, if not stopped, organizers and nine passengers of the Audacity of Hope see the hunger strike as the weapon of conscience, one of last resort aimed at maximizing the publicity. It is now getting too painful to watch as these American do gooders are putting their lives on the line while the 'performers' continue to draw attention to a cause that many see as serving only to provoke an unnecessary confrontation with Israel.