4 July 2011. A World to Win News Service. The international flotilla to protest the Israeli blockade of Gaza has itself been blocked in what organizers are calling an act of "Gaza-ization" – unjust and illegal political repression whose only justification is the defense of the Jewish state.
After initially claiming that the eight ships and boats docked in Greece were being held up for inspections because of a private complaint (from an Israeli group) that the ships were unseaworthy, now the Greek government has openly banned all departures for Gaza. A ninth vessel moored in Turkey has had its propeller shaft damaged in a very similar way to what happened to another flotilla boat in Greece.
At this time, the only flotilla boat on the open seas is the French "Dignité/Karama".
The Greek government officially promulgated the departure ban 1 July. The American ship called "The Audacity of Hope", the largest ship in the flotilla with 51 passengers and crew and 11 journalists on board, left port shortly before the order took effect, but armed commandos intercepted it off shore and force it to turn back. The captain was arrested on felony charges of "endangering lives" and is still being kept in jail under reportedly harsh conditions. Before sailing he had been assaulted by a group of men on the street.
On 4 July, would-be flotilla participants began a hunger strike in front of the US Embassy in Athens to protest the role that the US and Israel played in the Greek government's decision and to demand the release of the American boat and its captain. Eight people were arrested and briefly jailed.
While the American ship took its name from a phrase associated with US President Barack Obama, apparently reflecting a hope that his government could be shamed and neutralized, American officials have repeatedly called for the flotilla to be stopped. The Quartet, a body of the world's leading imperialist powers set up to mediate an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, comprising the US, UN, European Union and Russia, issued a statement calling on governments "to use their influence to discourage additional flotillas." US officials have reportedly told American flotilla participants that they may be arrested for aiding a "terrorist" group (Hamas, the Islamic organization that governs Gaza) when they return home.
The argument given in the Quartet statement and by the Greek government is the risk of injury or death to the flotilla participants at the hands of the Israeli military, which shot and killed nine passengers on a similar flotilla a year ago. This is a morally and legally outrageous position because these same governments and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon have refused to call Israel to obey international law and refrain from harming unarmed protesters. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was more honest in thanking Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and other governments for supporting Israel at this crucial moment.
Emergency rallies to support the flotilla have been reported in Greece, Canada, Belgium and the UK so far.