Greece halts Canadian ship in Gaza Freedom Flotilla – Stay Human –
July 2, 2011 Leave a comment
Jim Rankin/Toronto Star
AGIO NIKOLAOS, GREECE—After months of remaining secret, the location of the Canadian ship participating in Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza was outed in this Greek seaside town when authorities boarded it — on Canada Day — and tried to seize the ship’s transit log, which is need to sail.
Flotilla organizers alleged there had been acts of sabotage against two ships earlier in the week.
Then on Friday came an edict from the Greek government — under pressure from Israel, organizers charge — that blocked the Canadian boat and other ships from setting out to challenge the Israeli sea blockade of Gaza and to deliver humanitarian aid.
“We are being Gaza-fied,” Lyn Adamson, 59, a lifelong Toronto activist and chair of the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, said outside the port authority office in this tourist destination on the island of Crete.
“What we’re doing is perfectly legal and we haven’t given up,” said Adamson, one of 22 Canadians picked to be aboard the Canadian boat Tahrir — Arabic for “liberation” and named after the square in Cairo where Egyptians gathered and toppled Hosni Mubarak early this year.
“It’s clearly coming from on high,” said Adamson. “It’s really a shame that this Greek government would be pressured, as it has been, into stopping these boats. Why is Israel afraid of our aid?”
Israel says its sea blockade stops weapons from reaching Iran-backed Hamas militants who control Gaza, and had warned it would stop any attempt to circumvent its restrictions. A year ago, nine activists on a Turkish boat died in an Israeli raid on a similar flotilla, with each side accusing the other of starting the violence.
In Jerusalem Friday, Israeli military spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich cited intelligence information that claimed Hamoud Tareq, a son-in-law of Hamas leader Khaled Mashal, was among the flotilla organizers.
She said Tareq is active in the Hamas movement, which the Israel, the European Union and many western countries consider a terror group. Gaza is ruled by Hamas.
By nightfall Friday, the 36 delegates on the Canadian boat — including contingents from Belgium, Denmark, Australia and Turkey — had left hotel rooms and gone to sleep aboard the Tahrir. As well, there were 11 journalists from seven countries. The Star, there to cover the flotilla, has a space on the Canadian boat.
Participants come from all walks of life, men and women of all ages and from a spectrum of religious beliefs. The average age is 45; about a third of delegates are grandparents.
In addition to banning flotilla boats from leaving, the Greek order Friday said “the broader maritime area of eastern Mediterranean will be continuously monitored by electronic means for tracking, where applicable, the movements of the ships allegedly participating in such campaign.”
The U.S. boat — named “The Audacity of Hope” after a book written by President Barack Obama — made a run for open water Friday. It steamed for nearly half an hour before the Greek coast guard intercepted it.
The boat, which has Alice Walker, the Pulitzer Prize author of The Color Purple, among its delegates, returned to port in Athens.
The Canadian boat said in a statement that the flotilla has been subject to “diplomatic pressure and manipulation, economic blackmail, bureaucratic obstacles, baseless and slanderous allegations against the flotilla and the delegates, and sabotage of at least two vessels.”
Despite calls to end its blockade, Israel has called the flotilla unnecessary and “hateful” and said it intends to intercept it, using force if necessary. Canada has deemed the flotilla “provocative,” the U.S. “irresponsible.”
The Tahrir was clearing final paperwork Friday when a coast guard officer boarded with the intention of seizing its transit log.
He was met by co-organizer Sandra Ruch of Toronto, a dozen boat delegates and media. The delegates blocked his path. Ruch, draped in a Canadian flag, hung onto the papers.
Soldiers with machine guns were at the ready in the marina but they stayed aside and avoided the media. Several coast guard boats blocked the mouth of the port.
The Tahrir, a day-trip tourist boat, has no beds. A luxury ship it is not; delegates came with sleeping bags and mats and provisions for several days at sea.
Organizers bought it for $500,000 using money raised by the delegates chosen to sail on it. They put another $50,000 into it for improvements. All its paperwork was in order, said Stephan Corriveau of Montreal, part of the steering committee.
“Now that the boat is in shipshape, there are problems,” he said. “The Greek government bent to the pressure of the Israeli government.”
The delegates have been here for more than a week. They’d been secretly meeting and training to break the blockade of Gaza and deliver a symbolic amount of aid to Palestinians living there.
On Friday did they make their presence known. The group grew in size and marched through narrow streets and past chic cafes to the Hellenic Port Authority, drawing curious glances from locals, many of whom were supportive.
“Free Gaza, free the flotilla,” and “Shame Papandreou,” they chanted, taking aim at the Greek prime minister, George Papandreou, who is mired in his own problems: the meltdown of the economy, austerity measures and riots in Athens. He’s also apparently under pressure to block the flotilla before it can challenge Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
The boats intending to set off — a French boat is already at sea — are carrying humanitarian aid. Organizers say it is for people who are suffering, not for Hamas.
When organizer met with the port authority Friday, they were handed the government edict, issued by the Greek ministry responsible for citizen protection, and were told there were concerns the Tahrir does not have suitable sleeping quarters for a group their size, said Davis Heap, a University of Western Ontario professor who is part of the boat’s steering committee.
Boat organizers then submitted a written request to move the boat — with captain and crew only — to another port authority.
They were slapped with more paperwork and the boat was put under 24-hour surveillance.