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UPDATE: With the US boat out, Flotilla to set sail today

The US boat to Gaza, The Audacity of Hope, is dead in the water. Its captain, an American citizen who goes only by the name Captain Jack, will be brought before a judge on felony charges on Tuesday in Athens. Passengers on the ship have been given the freedom to leave the military port where the boat is currently detained but crew members have been forced to stay on board. Many passengers are choosing to stay with the ship and its captain out of solidarity for their plight. Some passengers have begun a hunger strike to protest the Greek government and its handling of the US boat captain.

Lawyers advising the US boat either did not foresee or did not know that Greek authorities would seek such serious charges for the US boat captain. Initially, Greek authorities charged the American captain with misdemeanour charges for taking the Audacity of Hope to sea. However, pressure to stop the US boat did not originate within the Greek coast guard; rather the Greek government issued a blanket directive that all boats with the intention to sail to Gaza were to be stopped. Off the record, some organizers expressed dismay at the way in which their Greek lawyers have handled the legal problems of the boat. With different lawyers, some feel that there would have been a better chance to leave Athens for Gaza.

Saturday night, charges against the US captain were elevated to felony charges for which he could face jail time. This has generated guilt among the passengers of the US boat split between leaving the boat and standing in solidarity with their captain. Some passengers have already left Athens, including the Pulitzer Prize winning author Alice Walker. Other passengers have begun a hunger strike in protest of the Greek government.

Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak praised the Greek government Sunday morning for blocking the flotilla ships from leaving Greek waters. In a public statement, he said that the Greek decision to stop the flotilla came as a result of, “extensive work by the Foreign Ministry and prime minister.” The implications of the Israeli government influence in the internal affairs of Greece have yet to be treated by the international press. The Greek decision to stop the flotilla ships is not in line with Greece’s public position against Israeli control over Gaza. Today, a number of leftists Greek MPs visited ships taking part in the flotilla to offer their support for their mission to Gaza.

Israeli military officials might be breathing a sigh of relief because of their successful campaign against the US boat to Gaza but other flotilla ships plan to set sail today. Flotilla organizers have said that remaining ships will set sail for Gaza as originally planned. They expect some resistance by the Greek government. However, they are curious whether the Greeks are interested in stopping the entire flotilla or simply the US boat because of its media presence. In a week of up and down news about the flotilla one thing is clear: the Greek government, under pressure by Israel, has stopped an American boat from sailing to Gaza.

Update: The Canadian boat to Gaza, The Tahrir, will be setting sail at 6pm local time from a port in Crete. Please see my Twitter feed and this page for live updates.

UPDATE: The Canadian boat to Gaza, The Tahrir, make a break for international waters at roughly 6pm local time today. Flaked by activists in kayaks, the boat was able to sail for roughly 15 minutes before Greek commandos boarded and took control of the boats wheelhouse. The Greek coast coast is not towing the boat back to port in Crete. The stated intention  of the Greeks is to arrest the captain of the vessel when it returns to port in Crete.

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    1. Holden

      All I can say about Alice Walker jumping ship at first opportunity is…it’s no surprise. As much as her ramblings fit the rah-rah-rah of this little “mission,” at the end of the day it’s “all about her.” Along with the Greek gov’ts order forbidding Gaza bound boats exit from Greek waters, was the demand for all of the ships’ registration papers.
      Not all of the boats have so far cooperated. Indeed Sandra Ruch of the Cdn. ship refused to relinquish personal control of the ships’ papers, and took them with her into custody as the alternative. Ships are not allowed to leave port without them, so the American ship and indeed any other will be stopped militarily by Greece if they try to pull a fast one, leaving suddenly without their papers or harbour clearance. Of if they do, then the boats will likely be impounded and passengers jailed or given the option of immediate departure or deportation. Probably after paying a substantial handling fee. Two options aside from complete abandonment appear to remain. Secure leave to sail to Syria. Which is where the relief supplies would be, I’m sure, better appreciated than Gaza, or make arrangements to sail either to Ashdod Israel or El Arish, Egypt for LEGAL processing of their cargo.

      Reply to Comment
    2. al

      You don’t think the fact that a US boat was stopped and its captain charged with a felony might reflect US government pressure more so than Israeli government?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Jon

      I propose that the next Gaza flotilla be composed predominantly of Jews and Arabs; that the ships be painted with Tanach verses speaking against various Israeli government misdeeds;
      that it be captained by an Israeli, preferably ex-IDF; that it be named “The Audacity of philo-Semitism”;
      & that it depart from Turkey under Turkish escort until it reaches international waters.

      Oh, and that it depart right before the UN debate in September about Palestinian statehood.

      Reply to Comment
    4. max

      A big success to Israeli diplomacy. Let’s hope that Israel manages to do similarly on other occasions.
      After all, Netanyahu managed to avoid violence much better than most of his predecessors.
      In a few days the UN’s commission is expected to publish its findings, including the legalization of Israel’s blockade. I suspect that the Greeks were allowed to preview the findings.

      Reply to Comment
    5. NormanF

      Breaking the law is no excuse. Joseph Dana thinks its no big deal but when you are in someone else’s country, you are their guest and bound by its laws. The flotilla organizers seem to have as little respect for Greek sovereignty as they do for Israel’s. There are lawful ways to deliver aid to Gaza, which incidentally, they rejected.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Deïr Yassin

      NormanF who on more than one occasion has shown that he’s a right-wing extremist – at least according to international standards, has the chutzpah to state: “When you are in someone else’s country, you are their guest and bound by its laws”. Ya rabbi ! He doesn’t even realize how ridiculous he sounds. Or it’s only a rule that applies to ‘goyim’ in someone else’s land, and not for Zionists squatting Palestinian land ?

      Reply to Comment
    7. Derek

      Ditto Deir Yassin.

      Reply to Comment