Making Waves

IssueSeptember 2011
Feature by Ewa Jasiewicz

This year’s Freedom Flotilla 2 still managed to make waves, despite failing to make it out of Greece, as Israel extended its blockade of Gaza to the entire Mediterranean. Nine ships participated in the venture this year – three up on last year’s effort. Named “FF2 – Stay Human” in memory of slain Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni [see PN 2533], the mission included: the Italian and Dutch ship Stefano Chiarini named after the prolific Italian journalist; the French ships Dignité and Louise Michel – named after the Paris Commune anarchist, school teacher and medical worker; and Spain’s Guernica.

Around 300 activists were ready to sail including Israeli journalist Amira Hass, US writer Alice Walker, and MPs from France, Germany, Norway and Holland. Two ships – the Irish Saoirse (Irish for “freedom”), and the Greek-Swedish Ship to Gaza Campaign’s Juliano (named after Juliano Mer-Kahmis, the murdered Palestinian-Israeli actor, film-maker and activist resident in Jenin) – were sabotaged by what both groups believe were Israeli agents.

Complaints were filed against almost every other ship by Israeli groups intent on scuppering the flotilla, and politically-motivated inspections kept delaying every vessel. For example, the Norweg-ian, Swedish and Greek campaigns’ cargo vessel the Eleftheri Mesogeios had everything in order aside from two life jackets without the name of the vessel on them.

Seeing all this, the US ship Audacity of Hope decided to make a break for it and left the port of Athens citing fears of sabotage as reason to find a safer docking. Balaclava-wearing Greek commandos stopped the ship before it could reach international waters, and promptly arrested US captain John Klusmire who was held for three days.

Second to break the Greek-Israeli blockade was the Canadian boat Tahrir (“liberation” in Arabic), which broke out of Agios Nikolaos port in Crete and managed to move out further than the US ship – thanks to a group of activists in kayaks which blockaded the Greek coastguard. They too however were apprehended and the boat owner, Canadian-Israeli Sandra Ruch, arrested. All passengers aboard “captained” the Tahrir, saving the actual captain, who had been dismissed shortly beforehand, from any legal reprisals.

One boat did manage to make it to within miles of Gaza. The French Dignité which sailed from Corsica, making a brief re-fuelling stop in Greece, was attacked by Israeli commandos on 20 July, with all aboard arrested and deported (aside from Amira Hass).

All other vessels remain in hand and the Freedom Flotilla is set to sail again next year, with surprises and tactical differences planned for the fresh mission.

Despite the United Nations and other states rejecting the flotilla concept and labelling it a “provocation”, it remains a powerful tactic, with media attention sustained upon it for weeks. This second flotilla mission succeeded in breaking another blockade – that of the ideological stigmatisation of the Palestinian people as needing “aid” rather than a political solution to political conditions of deliberate de-development and incarceration. The flotillas will keep sailing until Palestine is free.