ATHENS, Greece — Despite ongoing setbacks, including a ban by the Greek government on the departure of their ships leaving the country’s ports, organizers of a flotilla bound for Gaza said earlier this week that they are still committed to proceed with plans to breach Israel’s sea blockade of the Hamas-controlled territory. As the Ledger went to press on Tuesday, July 5, a new departure date had still not been set.
The flotilla of nine boats, including one from the United States, was intended to commemorate the May 31, 2010 raid by Israeli commandos on a similar flotilla in which nine Turkish activists were killed. Israel imposed the blockade in 2007 to stop weapons from reaching Hamas, the terrorist group that rules Gaza, and to put pressure on the group to release Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier who has been held captive in Gaza for five years. The international uproar resulted in a strained relationship between Turkey and Israel and led Israel to ease its land blockade on Gaza, allowing for the delivering of more food and medical supplies into the territory.
The 2011 flotilla was to have left more than a week ago, but plans were scuttled when two boats – from Sweden and Ireland – developed problems. Organizers allege sabotage by Israel, but Israel has denied the claim.
Then, on July 1, Greece barred flotilla vessels from leaving its ports, and promptly arrested the captain of the U.S. boat that defied the order by attempting to leave.
The Obama administration, which has deemed the blockade legal, announced that American activists participating in the flotilla may be violating U.S. law because Gaza is run by Hamas, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization. Two Congressmen visiting Israel last week reiterated that position.
“The people who would run an international legal blockade are subject to the legal ramifications of all countries, including the United States,” Said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), who is visiting Israel with Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY).
The Greek ban has led to minor protests in that country, including a sit-in in the Spanish embassy in Athens by a small group of activists from a Spanish-run boat who hung a Palestinian flag from a balcony and demanded that Spain pressure Greece to let their boat sail.
“Greece reiterates its willingness and proposes to undertake the task of transporting the humanitarian aid, with Greek vessels or other appropriate means, through the existing channels,” the Greek Foreign Ministry said in a statement. But it would not allow the flotilla to sail out of concern for “the protection and safety of human life.”