Stranded flotilla activists still hopeful

Pro-Palestinian activists have their sights set on sailing to Gaza, despite Greek authorities blocking them.

Greece says its ban on all Gaza-bound ships leaving port was to protect pro-Palestinian activists [Reuters]

Most of the nine vessels that pro-Palestinian activists planned to sail on as part of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in defiance of an Israeli blockade remain stranded in Greece ports, after Greek authorities forbade them from embarking on the journey.

Two vessels have been sabotaged and are currently unable to sail, while most of the others remain under the watchful eye of Greek coastguard or military personnel.

Despite their growing frustration and diminishing morale, some activists are hopeful that their Gaza Flotilla II would finally be able to make the journey and break Israel’s siege on the Palestinian territory.

‘Let us sail’

Members of the Dutch-Italian boat issued an open letter to the Greek Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou on Sunday, expressing outrage over his “government’s decision to close the ports of Greece to our humanitarian initiative, even by force if needed”.

The letter demanded that they be allowed to sail and said, “It is totally incomprehensible to us and fills us with just wrath that the Greek government closes the ports to our ships…

“You and your government acting as an ally of Israel in the Palestinian question means you also seem to have forgotten the struggle against the military dictatorship in your own country.”

The Greek government, reiterating that it is committed to improving the humanitariation situation in Gaza, has offered to transport the aid in its own ships.

“Greece’s stance regarding the need to lift the Gaza blockade and to improve the humanitarian conditions in the area is known and remains unchanged,” the Greek foreign ministry said in a statement.

The ban on the departure of vessels was because they were “concerned primarily with the protection and safety of human life.”

“Greece reiterates its willingness and proposes to undertake the task of transporting the humanitarian aid, with Greek vessels or other appropriate means, through the existing channels as requested by the Secretary General of the United Nations.”

Joe Meadors, a US Navy veteran, is one of the roughly 100 passengers on board a flotilla vessel that finds itself standed. Meadors, however, still expects to sail.

“We are waiting for the Greek government to release us,” he told Al Jazeera, “We are here for the long haul, and we’re ready to go just as soon as the Greeks say we can go. We’re pleased we can do something for the Palestinians and remain excited to go.”

Khalid Tuhraani, an American Palestinian activist whose ship is stuck in the port of Corfu, is also frustrated and feels that it perhaps would have been better if the flotilla had orginated from a port in an Arab country such as Tunisia or Egypt.

“However, many of the Arab countries have, like Greece now, become hostages of the political will of the United States and Israel,” he said. 

Tuhraani said he remained committed to doing what was necessary to end the Israeli blockade against Gaza, but he expressed disappointment at the Greek government.

“We chose Greece because this country has a history of support for the Palestinian struggle for freedom,” he said. 

“Unfortunately we did not expect the Greek government to just roll over and die. But the Middle East Quartet issued a statement against our flotilla, so I think the pressure on the Greek government just might have been too enormous for it to bear.”

Jailed captain

The Greek government put out a statement on Friday confirming that the Greek coastguard had enforced a decision by civil defence authorities to prevent all flotilla vessels from leaving Greek ports.

Also on Friday a US boat attempted to leave port and sail to Gaza, but was intercepted by the Greek coastguard who towed it back to port where it is currently detained. 

The boat’s captain, John Klusmire, was arrested by Greek authorities, charged with a felony, and is now in jail.

Robert Naiman, a passenger on the boat who is also the Policy Director for Just Foreign Policy in Washington, DC, told Al Jazeera that Klusmire had been in a cell for nearly two days without food, water, or a bed.

“We are preoccupied with freeing our captain. He is entitled to a visit from the US embassy, and this hasn’t happened, which violates international law, and they’ve been holding him for nearly two days now.”

Naiman said his group still hoped to sail, but their priority was pressuring the Greek and US governments to change the conditions for their jailed captain.

‘Leaving tomorrow’

Dylan Penner is on the steering committee of the Canadian boat that is currently stuck in port on the island of Crete. 

Penner told Al Jazeera that a Greek MP came to their boat on Saturday and pledged to discuss the situation in the Greek Parliament.

“We are hoping to leave tomorrow, and that is what we are planning on,” Penner said. “The plan is for as many boats as are able to leave tomorrow.”

Thomas Sommer-Houdeville is an activist with a French boat that is being watched closely by the coastguard.

“We are quite blocked,” he told Al Jazeera, “It’s a difficult situation. We will try to do something, but it is quite hard. They have been very clear they will not let us sail. We have a few days in front of us to work with, maybe another week.”

For now, there is no indication from the Greek government that the travel restriction currently imposed on the flotilla will be lifted.

Source: Al Jazeera

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