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Letter from Athens: A city in chaos

ATHENS – There is a strange tension on the streets of Athens and it has nothing to do with the preparation of the Gaza aid flotilla happening in the city’s Mediterranean ports. Every second corner on the grungy Athenian streets are plastered with “anti-facist’ posters. Riot police patrol on motorcycles as immigrants waiting for asylum gloomily look on.

As I rode past the parliament this morning on my way from the airport, I could see what looked like a tent city brimming with protesters, readying themselves for the evenings now routine clashes with the police. Upon arrival at my hotel, journalist colleagues told me that rumors are spreading that tonight protesters are going to storm the Parliament and barricade themselves inside. It is amidst this chaos that the organizers of the Gaza aid flotilla are planning their attempt to break Israel’s control of the Gaza Strip.

I flew into this disorderedly city this morning to cover the flotilla for the The Nation magazine along with journalist par excellance Mya Guarnieri. Over the next week, we will be observing the preparations and training of the American boat to Gaza, dubbed “the audacity of hope.” On board the 30 meter ship will be 36 passengers/activists, 4 crew and 10 journalists. Roughly 15 percent of the boat passengers are Jewish and the first mate is a former Israeli air force pilot.

Last week, news broke that the infamous Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara– on which Israel killed nine passengers last year– will not be participating in this year’s flotilla. The US boat will be the largest of the 11 boats sailing in terms of numbers of passengers and prestige. The sole cargo of the US boat is said to be 3000 letters written by American citizens to Palestinians in Gaza. Among the passengers carrying these letters will be the Pulitzer prize winning author of The Colour Purple Alice Walker, CODEPINK founder Medea Benjamin, Holocaust Survivor Heddy Epstien and a number of retired US diplomats.

In the coming days, I will be observing the preparation of the ship, the nonviolence training of the passengers as well as the general climate in Athens, which is seeing historic riots about the Greek financial crisis. Stay tuned to +972 and my twitter feed over the next week for on-the ground coverage of what is certainly going to be one of the biggest stories of the summer in Israel/Palestine.

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    1. Ben Israel

      Avrum Burg, one of Israel’s resident philosophers said the the EU was the culmination of Judaism’s messianic dream (according to his view of it)….a stateless, anti-national entity based purely on economic advantage for large coroporations and bureaucrats who can enforce “progressive” legislation on the population who has no say in its formulation.
      The funny thing is that it is going to cause a renewal of nationalist tensions..for example, the Germans are going to resent bailing out the lazy Greeks and the Greeks are going to be reminded of German bullying exemplefied by the German invasion and occupation of Greece.
      We’ll see how long the unified Euro currency lasts, since it took away all the flexibility the national economies had.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Zvi

      Curious to know your opinion about these ‘freedom flotillas’. As much as I disagree with Israel’s policies, particularly those related to ‘access’ and ‘movement’, I cannot help but feel that these “International well-wishers” are being extremely simplistic. If it were Palestinian refugees who were ‘charging the beaches’ in Gaza, that would be a clear message, but what exactly do these people think/hope to achieve? This seems like little more than yet another example of ‘naive leftists’ demonizing Israel, perhaps without even realizing that this is what they are in fact doing….

      Have you already written about this somewhere? Will you be?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Zvi

      A bit of clarification to my above ruminations – I am thinking about this because quite a few of my FB friends from Quebec have become very ardent supporters of this operation ( As far as I know, they have virtually no connection nor knowledge about the conflict. What is served by a progressive *provincial* political party getting involved in this ( Surely there are plenty of other causes in the world which could also use some active attention – why this one? This feels hauntingly similar to a very ugly “debate” which has been occurring in my neighbourhood about whether a Hassidic synagogue can do a minor expansion ( Ironically, one of the most ardent supporters of tolerance and dialog was a Palestinian Canadian!

      Reply to Comment
    4. brad evans

      maybe I am naive, but if the boat has Americans, Press, and is not carrying anything that would be deemed to the advantage of Hamas (i.e. steel, weapons, concrete etc) …my bet is the boat will be guided to shore, inspected and all the goods will be driven into Gaza. If the flotilla folks don’t want to go to Ashkelon, the IDF will probably just let the boat sit, until Alice Walker gets hungry enough. To think that Israel would want this PR nightmare is silly. Last years boat was different, as it was evident that the boat had less peaceful intentions. OR, in a PR coup for the Egyptians, they will let the boat in on their side, and bring the boring letters across.

      Can someone explain…? Other then the fact this flotilla experiment seems to be a giant waste of time.

      In conclusion, sequels always suck.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Leonid Levin

      @Brad, how do you know the letters are boring? Have you read any?

      The people of the flotilla definitely want to break the blockade and to draw public attention to the plight of the Gazans. What is it that you don’t understand?

      @Zvi, do you really think this is about demonizing Israel? If you were caught up in a similar blockade and the whole world just didn’t give a damn about it, would you call the people who tried to break the blockade and to draw public attention to your predicament naive or that they just demonized the blockaders?

      Reply to Comment
    6. brad evans

      Leonid – they get plenty of attention, more then they deserve. mind you again, they elected their leaders, and knew the risks. As time has moved on Israel has let more aid in, as well recently announced more constructions materials to be allowed in. And Egypt …don’t forget has begun to open their border.

      Why aren’t flotilla organizers pissed at Egypt they helped coordinate the closure of Gaza for the past several years.

      As for letters…if they need aid, they sure do not letters from Americans. How that helps I do not know…they have skype, email and every other technology. Who writes letters anymore !! Its beyond lame…

      Reply to Comment
    7. zvi

      @Leonid, the stated goal of the protesters may not be to ‘demonize’ Israel, but I certainly do think that this just throws more fuel on a fire which is burning very hotly already. For sure Israel has a huge responsibility in this, but they are not the only side which needs to assume responsibility. And no, I do not think that calling the world’s attention to this conflict is bringing us any closer to a resolution. In fact, that was the exact same tactic as international terrorism – did that work?

      This problem needs to be resolved between Israelis and Palestinians. No one else can impose a solution.

      Reply to Comment
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