Israel’s Greek Blockade
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This article first appeared in NOW Magazine.
It appears that Israel’s blockade of Gaza has been extended to Greece, as the Greek coastguard is moving decisively to block all Flotilla boats from leaving Greek waters.
The American boat The Audacity of Hope has been intercepted in Greek waters by the coast guard after setting sail from Athens this afternoon. According to passengers on board, the ship had been at sea for an hour when they were intercepted and now they are currently trying to negotiate passage into international waters.
According to Maan News correspondent Mya Guarnieri, who is on board the American boat, the Greek coast guard vessel is ten meters away from them and filled with armed riot police. “They are dressed all in black and have M16s,” she says as the sound of activists singing is heard in the background. She describes the mostly middle-aged group as sitting down and holding up peace signs.
In Crete, where the Canadian boat is docked, organizers say police and coast guard authorities have appeared to inspect the boat six times today despite all safety and regulatory matters having been cleared by International Naval Surveys Bureau (INSB) weeks ago. Currently the coast guard is demanding to remove the papers of the Canadian boat, named The Tahrir, which would effectively paralyze it in port as a ships' papers are like its' license plates.
According to David Heap, steering Committee leader on the Canadian boat, this is not a problem with local authorities but “these are orders coming from the top, from the [Greek] Prime Minister’s Office.” The move comes a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly thanked the Greek Government for their efforts to stop the flotilla.
Canadian boat organizers have recieved orders from the ministry of public order saying no boats, national or otherwise, are to leave from Greece "with the destination of Gaza" according to Heap.
Activists on The Tahrir, who are mostly Canadian but there are also representatives from Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Turkey, have responded by holding an impromptu protest to the local Harbor master, demanding an explanation.
Pressure has been mounting on Greece from Israel to block the flotilla for weeks, including claims of Israeli threats against the Greek economy if the international convoy confronts Israel’s blockade of the occupied Gaza strip.
“We find it outrageous that Israel has effectively extended the illegal blockade of Gaza to the ports of Greece,” says Dylan Penner, activist with Independent Jewish Voices and a steering committee member of the Canadian boat to Gaza. “Every time we’ve reached a point of readiness, the Greek Government under pressure from Israel has come up with new bureaucratic hoops to jump through,” he adds.
St Nicholas, on the southern end of the Eastern Greek Island, is known as a sleepy tourist harbor town, however over the past week it has seemed more like the setting of a spy novel. The activists have until now been told to keep complete silence over their location and organizing details, while local police have kept a watchful eye on The Tahrir.
Following the sabotage of the Irish and Greek boats in the convoy, fear has set in here as organizers guard the boat around the clock and rumors are amuck about specious figures trying to get information from locals. People have also been seen on rooftops adjacent to the port taking photos of the boat and many of the activists believe this is either the work of the Mossad (Israel’s spy agency) on right wing, pro Israel groups.
UPDATE: The activists can leave freely but some have decided to stay with the boat. The captain has been arrested, charged and entered a plea of not guilty this morning.
Jesse Rosenfeld is a journalist who was based in Ramallah and Tel Aviv from 2007 to March 2011 and is currently in Toronto. He has written for The Nation, Al Jazeera English, the Guardian, and Foreign Policy among others.