Freedom Flotilla wins Israeli friends as it faces Papandreou's piracy
THE latest Freedom Flotilla attempting to challenge the Israeli blockade of Gaza has won praise from Israeli peace campaigners, at the same time as running into a fresh obstacle in the form of the Greek coastguards. An attempt by one of the Gaza-bound "freedom flotilla" ships to defy the Greek government and escape from port was thwarted on Monday when armed coastguard officials caught up with the vessel and forced it back to shore.
The Canadian ship Tahrir burst out of Agios Nikolaos port in Crete at 6pm local time after supporters blocked the coastguard with manned kayaks.
"We have left port [and] are full steam ahead – coastguard boat about 5-10 [minutes] behind us," announced passengers on the ship's official Twitter feed as they raced towards international waters. But the faster coastguard boat caught up with the Tahrir and prevented it from going any further.
"Our boat has just been illegally boarded by armed members of the Greek coastguard and commandeered against our will," Dylan Penner, a member of Tahrir steering committee, told the Guardian by phone from the ship's deck. "This is conclusive evidence that Israel's unlawful siege on Gaza has now been extended to Greece."
The captain of a US ship, The Audacity of Hope, was arrested after a similar failed attempt to flee the port in Athens last week. There are reports now that a French vessel has set out.
The Greek government has banned all flotilla ships from leaving its ports, without explaining its reasons. The obvious conclusion many people are jumping to is that the Israeli government, possibly with US backing, has been able to take advantage of Greece's desperate economic condition to put pressure on, or bribe George Papandreou's government with promises of backing for US loans. But the Greek and Israeli governments have been moving towards an alliance for over a year and a half.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu sent a message of thanks to Papandreou yesterday.
"We, Israeli organizations, Jews and Arabs, full-heartedly support Freedom Flotilla, aim of sailing to the Port of Gaza with the proclaimed goals of breaking through the sea and land siege and blockade of Gaza, which is a manifestation of a continuing occupation by Israel. We condemn the campaign of slander which the government of Israel is waging against the flotilla and those who take part in it. There is a very real reason to worry that such lies might be designed by the government as a pretext and justification in advance for further acts of violence against activists taking part in a legitimate political act of protest.
"The Gaza Flotilla is indeed a courageous act of political protest, an expression of worldwide solidarity with the Palestinian people and rejection of Israeli practices of oppressive occupation, as manifested in the continuing siege and blockade of Gaza and the imposition of collective punishment upon a mass of civilians.
"At present the Gaza Strip is little more than a giant open air prison where a million and half residents are held, deprived of their fundamental rights. It is the right of Gaza Palestinians to maintain direct contact with the outside world; it is their right to open and maintain sea port where vessels might freely dock and depart, to import and export all goods, for the benefit of their economy and in fulfilment of its needs. The Palestinians have all these rights – not one whit less than Israel has them. The state of Israel is obliged, under International Law, to put an end to its control over the Gaza Strip - indirect as well as direct - which is part of Israel's wider obligations to out an to the occupation of Palestinian territory and facilitate the independence of Palestine.
"We must reiterate that, contrary to the statements issuing from the government, the flotilla is acting non-violently in setting out to Gaza. Moreover, if attacked by Israel's armed forces it is with non-violence that activists on board intend to respond. A member of the flotilla 's International Coordinating Team specifically explicitly stated, when responding to assertions emanating from the security system in Israel, that “there are no weapons of any kind on board any of our boats – which could be confirmed by dozens of international media representative on board". Activists intending to take passage in the flotilla are undergoing non-violence training and sign clear personal commitment not to resort to violence.”
"The government of Israel is conducting considerable efforts to cause the flotilla to be regarded with fear, and to discourage people from taking part in it. So as to create a baseless atmosphere of fear, lies are knowingly spread lies regarding supposed preparations for violent resistance and alleged plans to kill soldiers, and peace activists taking part are accused of intending to run weapons into Gaza. At the same time, an unprecedented pressure is applied to international journalists, so as to deter them from covering the flotilla from on board. The continuing media campaign which is clearly designed to cause fear and hatred among the Israeli population, and there are grounds for suspecting that it is intended to provide justification in advance for the dangerous and harsh outcome liable to occur should the boats be violently taken over and harm comes to their passengers.
We strongly condemn the the Government of Greece for its decision of block the flotilla boats from leaving Greek ports in the direction Gaza. This decision is in violation of International Law concerning Freedom of the Seas, and is highly unreasonable. Reports in Israeli newspapers regarding contacts between the governments of Israel and Greece create the impression that Greece in fact caved in to political pressures of an unacceptable kind, applied by the government in Israel.
We call upon the Government of Greece to rescind forthwith its order, prohibiting the flotilla boats from leaving the ports of Greek, let them sail and ensure the safety of passengers and boats alike.
We call upon the Government of Israel and its armed forces to let the boats get to Gaza and deliver peacefully their cargo of humanitarian supplies.
We hope to witness the boats arriving in safely to their destination.
We call upon the Government of Israel to put an immediate end to the siege and blockade of Gaza. .Alternative Information Center (AIC) * Coalition of Women for Peace * Combatants for Peace * Gush Shalom * Hithabrut-Tarabut * Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD) * New Profile *Rabbis for Human Rights* Ta’ayush: Arab-Jewish Partnership * Yesh Gvul
Social TV video of support demo outside Greek Embassy Tel Aviv on July 2 night, and extreme right counter-demonstration
Some Points about Georges Papandreou and PASOK
US-born George or Georges Papandreou is the third member of his family to be Greek Prime Minister. Leader of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) party since February 2004, in 2006 he became President of the Socialist International, and became prime minister in 2009.
PASOK and the Papandreous have combined nationalism and reformism to keep the post-junta military and the trade unions in tow, until the present economic crisis. In the mid-1980s they adopted a stance of friendship with supposed 'Third World' leaders and particularly the regimes in Iraq, Libya and Syria, and the leadership of the PLO.
George Papandreou's father Andreas, said to have been a Trotskyist in his student days before going to the United States, found employment for Michael Raptis (Pablo) and associates in Greece's foreign service. Raptis, once secretary of the Fourth International, and for a time an official in Ben Bella's Algeria, received a state funeral in Greece. Ironically his long-term antagonist Gerry Healy had also died there.
Although Andreas Papandreou upset Washington by his denial that the Soviet Union was imperialist and his readiness to meet Poland's Jaruzelski, he kept Greece within NATO, and allowed the US to keep its bases in Greece.
George Papandreou began strengthening relations with Israel eighteen months ago, at the same time as the Israeli state decided it could no longer rely on its alliance with Turkey. The flotilla organisers may have made a mistake in thinking they could sail safely from Greek waters.