Under the cover of darkness the American aid flotilla sneaked out of its Greek port in attempts to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza, only to be tailed by speedboats and escorted back to shore.
The Freedom Flotilla II – a convoy of 10 ships attempting to deliver aid to the impoverished Gaza strip who has been blockaded by Israel since 2008 – was suspended with no clear date being set or reason for suspension explained, and, hence the attempt to sneak out of the port.
The Flotilla was originally intended to sail around 20 June, but efforts to stop the boats clearly extended beyond verbal warnings by Israeli officials.
Two of the 10 ships, docking in Greece and Turkey, were sabotaged this week, provoking an angry response from the flotilla activists, who implicitly accused Israeli intelligence of causing the damage in a press release.
The first act of sabotage announced Tuesday was the damage to the Juliano’s propeller shaft docking in the Greek port of Piraeus. Juliano is shared by Swedish, Norwegian and Greek activists. The Scandinavian activists stated that they hoped repairs would enable the boat to sail with the flotilla this weekend.
The second incident was announced Thursday, revealing the sabotage to the Irish ship, the Saoirse, at the Turkish coastal town Gocek, whose propeller shafts were also damaged. The Irish organisers said due to the extent of the damage and the duration required for reparations that the Saoirse would not be part of the flotilla.
The flotilla initially intended to set sail Thursday to a meeting point in international waters off Crete and then head for Gaza. Indeed, they stuck to their word: “the Freedom Flotilla II will sail to Gaza, whatever the cost.”
News that the captain of the French boat, Dignitéwas was beaten in Athens Thursday night was reported by AFP.
Other than physical intervention, the flotilla has been constantly attacked by Israel, who has been shameless in its threats to use violence, despite the international condemnation it received after it killed nine activists aboard a flotilla last year.
Most recently Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the activists boarding the boats are “hardcore terror activists… they are looking for a confrontation, they are looking for blood.” Adding to this speculation on intentions, Israeli security officials this week accused the activists of carrying chemicals intended to be used to attack Israeli soldiers.
Such claims were snubbed by the flotilla activists. "Ridiculous,” said Greta Berlin, spokeswoman for the Free Gaza organisation and passenger on the US boat, to AFP, “Absolutely not. There is nothing chemical on board -- unless you count hair spray!"
Dror Feiler, an Israeli-Swedish spokesman for the flotilla, told Israel’s army radio that such claims of a violent intent on the part of the activists was a barefaced attempt to justify an eventual use of violence. He also reminded that "All the passengers signed a pledge of non-violence.”
The American boat, The Audacity of Hope, was available for inspection by local (Greek) and international media on Thursday. The activists said “the entire boat will be open for view, photography, and video. The captain, crew, and passengers on the boat will be available for interviews and inspection.”
Adding to the list of obstacles, activists also mentioned that Greece was complying with Israel by creating bureaucratic obstacles to keep them anchored. The organisers called upon the Greek government “not to become complicit in Israel’s illegal actions by succumbing to this pressure.”
Pending the reparation of Juliano, according to AFP, organisers hope to set sail on Sunday morning.
The flotilla – hoping to have on board its intended 300 participants now that one vessel is excluded – will carry nearly three thousand tons of aid and civilians from 22 countries. Those include members of parliament, politicians, artists, writers, sports figures and journalists, as well as representatives of faith groups and indigenous groups.
Following is a list of ships taking part in the Flotilla:
Spain - Gernicka, 30 passengers
France - Louise Michel, 24 passengers, 6 journalists
France - Dignity, 10 passengers, 1 journalist
Australia/Belgium/Canada/Denmark/Germany - Tahrir, 48 passengers, 9 journalists
Italy/Netherlands/Germany/Switzerland/Malaysia - Stefano Chiarini, 65 passengers, 5 journalists
Ireland – Saoirse (not to sail, say activisots, due to sabotage incident), 20 passengers, 2 journalists
European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza - Freedom for All, 15 passengers
Greece/Sweden/Norway – Juliano (undergoing reparations) 25 passengers, 4 journalists
Greece/Sweden/Norway - Methimus #2 cargo boat, 15 passengers
United States - The Audacity of Hope, 40 passengers, 10 journalists