Agence France-Presse & UStoGaza.org & Yousef Munayyer / Al Jazeera – 2011-07-06 00:47:00
Greek Coast Guard Seizes Canadian Ship Bound for Gaza
‘Thirty captains’ on intercepted Canadian boat for Gaza
Ella Ide / Agence France-Presse & CommonDreams
(July 4, 2011) — Thirty pro-Palestinian activists on a Canadian boat bound for Gaza that was stopped out of a Greek port Monday for breaking a ban, defied authorities by claiming they had all captained the ship. Pro-Palestinian activists accuse Athens of complying with Israel’s naval blockade of the tiny Palestinian enclave.
Greek coastguards halted the Canadian vessel Tahrir about 10 minutes after it left port on the island of Crete Monday afternoon with some 40 people on board, organisers said.
“We have been boarded by about 15 armed special forces,” David Heap of the Canadian Boat to Gaza organisation told AFP by phone from the vessel. “I’m being blocked by a man with a machine gun,” he said over the noise of shouting from passengers he said were being pushed around. “We are not using force back,” he added.
The Tahrir, which was carrying activists from Canada, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland andTurkey, was forced to turn back to Aghios Nikolaos port in Crete, as Heap and others shouted, “We have to go to Gaza. Let us pass!”
It had sailed without a captain in the hope of avoiding a severe legal repercussions.
Passenger Joseph Dube, a former Belgium senator with an expired captain’s licence, had sailed the ship and agreed to take full legal responsibility, according to the Tahrir‘s spokesperson Huwaida Arraf.
When authorities boarded the boat and demanded to speak to the captain, some 30 passengers “claimed they were the captain,” she said. “Everyone took part in manning the boat in one way or another — they all had a go at sailing it. The idea is that it will be difficult to arrest 30 people,” she said.
The Canadian boat was the second in the Freedom flotilla to attempt to set sail. The US Audacity of Hope boat had been thwarted Friday by authorities imposing a ban this week on all Gaza-bound ships leaving Greek ports.
Its American captain John Klusmer was arrested Friday after his ship was intercepted in Greek waters and is due to appear before a prosecutor on Tuesday in the port of Piraeus near Athens.
It is not yet clear what will happen to the passengers on the Tahrir.
“We left as a volunteer crew. It was legal for us to do so under international law, they had no right to stop us,” Heap said, adding: “Our destination is still Gaza.”
Earlier on Monday, French activists had been joined by their American counterparts to stage a “symbolic departure,” on the Louise Michel boat in defiance of the Greek ban.
“And we’re off!” shouted the passengers, cheering and waving as the captain of the Louise Michele unfurled the sails and wildly beeped the boat’s horn, chanting “One, two, three four, Occupation No More!”
Greek coastguard officials moved in swiftly to ask what the activists were carrying on board, but let the demonstration continue.
Activists from the impounded Audacity had begun a hunger-strike in front of the US embassy on Sunday to protest against the arrest of their captain, who was allegedly being held in “shocking conditions”. They were quickly moved on by police.
French Captain Alain Connan said he had decided not to set sail because he risked being slapped with a long prison sentence.
Head of the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI) Moustafa Barghouti said the demonstration was an “exciting moment” and that people in Gaza had “already called to say how grateful they are for such a devoted show of solidarity”.
Standing out on deck wrapped in a Palestinian flag, he said the protest was helping “expose not only Israel’s blockade and occupation but also the complicity of the European and American governments”.
Frustrated that the flotilla had been thwarted by Greek authorities in its attempt to breach Israel’s sea blockade, French member of parliament Jean-Paul Lecoq said activists hoped to challenge the ban in European courts.
“This is a time for everybody to act responsibly,” Greek foreign ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras said at a news briefing.
“We are at a critical juncture in the Middle East, where tension is running high,” the spokesman said.
He warned the activists against “any development that could lead to a deterioration of the regional climate or to uncontrollable situations that could threaten the lives of those wishing to take part in the operation.”
Action Alert Update: 8 Arrested at US Embassy in Athens
NEW YORK (July 3, 2011 — 6 pm) — Just got word from Athens: the 8 people who were fasting in front of the US Embassy have been arrested. They are Ken Mayers, Carol Murry, Medea Benjamin, Paki Wieland, Ray McGovern, Brad Taylor, Kit Kitteridge and Kathy Kelly. We will not have any more news until the morning.
In the meantime, let’s keep the pressure on Washington. They need to pressure the Greek government to release our captain, our boat and now these 8 people as well! Let them sail to Gaza!!!
Throughout this country people have responded to our call to contact the US State Department to demand that they take the steps necessary to ensure that the Greek authorities immediately release the captain and let our boat sail to Gaza. In fact, there has been such a strong response that we are hearing their voice mailboxes are full! That’s great, but of course frustrating for those of you trying to make those calls.
Here are some other numbers and email addresses to try:
â€¢ State Department general number: 202-647-4000 — ask for the Overseas US Citizen Services Duty Officer and youâ€™ll get a live State Dept. official who has to hear you out.
â€¢ The voicemail for Kim Richter — also at the State Dept. — says sheâ€™s out of the office for several days, and that callers with urgent issues should contact a colleague at 202-647-4578.
â€¢ You can email the US Embassy in Athens at: email@example.com or you can send an email to them at: firstname.lastname@example.org
â€¢ If you can place an international phone call, the number for the US Embassy in Athens is 011-30-210-721-2951.
â€¢ Please also try to call, fax or email your members of Congress as well.
Help us keep the pressure up!!
The Gaza Flotilla Embodies the Arab Spring Spirit
As governments sit by idly, civilians from multiple countries challenge Israel’s unjust occupation of Gaza
Yousef Munayyer / Al Jazeera
(July 4, 2011) — Earlier this year we watched with amazement as hundreds of thousands of Arabs charged into the streets of their cities demanding reform. The uprisings led to the departure of several leaders who had ruled for decades and also tested (and continue to test) several others.
But what led to this outpouring is much the same as the motivation behind the flotilla initiative, which seeks to challenge the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.
When fundamentally unjust situations are left unaddressed by states, the people must step in. That is precisely what happened in Tahrir square when hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Egyptians lost all faith in the government’s ability to reform.
That is also precisely what drives the flotilla and the activists aboard it. They have watched as the collective punishment of 1.5 million civilians lingers with no objections coming from states that can change the situation. In fact, the siege of Gaza has been supported by Israel, the United States and Mubarak’s Egypt (though post-Mubarak Egypt promises to be different).
The blockade of Gaza is just one part of a multilayered siege on the Gaza Strip. The layers include control of land entry and exit points for commercial and humanitarian goods, control over the amount of electricity and water available to the people of Gaza, control of the air and sea lanes, and so on.
The vast majority of water in Gaza is not fit for human consumption. The vast majority of people live on less than $2 a day and rely on daily handouts from aid organizations due to rampant unemployment.
The Israelis try to whitewash the devastating effects of the siege by ignoring the exhaustive documentation by aid organizations and human rights groups, and by claiming they facilitate the entry of hundreds of trucks a day into Gaza. This is tantamount to justifying the encaging of an innocent person by claiming to shove some bread and water through the bars once a day.
In reality, the number of trucks getting into Gaza are far below what the UN believes is necessary to meet the minimum standards of the population.
Exports, which are commercial goods leaving Gaza, have been stymied as well. In fact, in 2005, Israel agreed to allow 400 trucks of exports per day out of Gaza by 2006 yet less than 200 trucks of exports were permitted exit throughout all of 2008-2010! There is yet to be any rational argument from the Israelis as to why they prevent exports from leaving Gaza, and the only plausible explanation is that they want to emaciate the Palestinian economy in the strip.
It should also come as no surprise that Israelis are working around the clock in an attempt to vilify the people on these boats, just like the when the Mubarak regime attempted to do the same with the Egyptians that challenged his rule.
But the passengers on the flotilla realize that nonviolent disobedience is key to the success of their mission to raise awareness about the unjust blockade. The Israelis have even been caught distributing fake videos accusing the flotilla organizers of homophobia, alliances with terrorists and even suggesting the passengers might use chemical weapons.
For a state that claims to be a “democracy”, their response to nonviolent disobedience is as irrational as any neighboring autocrat’s.
Vilification is, of course, the first step to justifying violence, and there has been no shortage of violence used against nonviolent activists during the Arab Spring. It seems Israel is laying the groundwork to apply similarly repressive techniques against the good-willed passengers of these boats.
So what will the reaction be?
As the flotilla approaches Gaza, another January 25th moment presents itself. You either stand with members of civil society who have challenged the unjust practices of states, or you stand with those states and their unjust practices.
About 40 brave Americans have cast their lot with civil society by setting sail on the American-flagged ship to Gaza, the “Audacity of Hope.” Among them are men and women, elderly, and many Jewish-Americans as well. They will be joined by about ten ships and 300 other activists. They simply refuse to sit idly by like their governments as the crime of the siege of Gaza continues.
As the collective punishment of 1.5 millions civilians persists, it’s time to ask yourself: which side are you on?
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