by Leslie Cagen
July 6th Update from the U.S. Boat to Gaza
The presence of the U.S. Boat to Gaza in Athens is winding down. For more than two weeks the 37 passengers (someone was added at the last moment), four crew members and about twelve people in the support team there worked hard to make sure their boat - The Audacity of Hope - could sail as part of the international Freedom Flotilla 2 to Gaza. The Greek government's willingness to serve as the enforcer of Israeli's naval blockade of Gaza made it impossible for this journey to happen.
But the creative and determined spirit of this team of committed activists could not be stopped or silenced. They worked tirelessly to make the point in countless ways: they attempted to set sail knowing it might lead to a confrontation with the Greek authorities, they stood by the boat's captain when he was arrested and jailed for several days, several people held a hunger strike for a few days, everyone marched and rallied with other flotilla activists and with the people of Athens in their own struggle for economic justice, and incredible energy went into getting the word out to people throughout this country and around the world as the work with the media continued through it all.
Last night the group's activities in Athens ended and here's a description from one of our people there:
"We all went to Syntagma Square which looks much like Tahrir where there is an encampment and thousands of people gather each night. On Sundays there may be upwards of 50,000 and on big nights hundreds of thousands. We unfurled to drum beats 22 flags sewn together representing the countries participating in the Flotilla. Our black and white signs were in Greek, Arabic and English. It was a beautiful sight. Then we marched to the Spanish Embassy where our Spanish partners were occupying its embassy demanding the release of their boat. We arrived at about 9 pm with drummers leading the way. They came out on balconies and we sang to each other. It was quite the sight."
Here's a link to video footage of last night's activity:
Now our folks are beginning the journey home - some will arrive today, some tomorrow and others in the days ahead. Everyone is tired, but their energy is strong! They will share their stories and talk about their experiences in communities everywhere. And they will use this incredible time they shared in Athens as a spring board for further activism and organizing.
As soon as we can, we will send more information about the next steps and how you all can stay involved in the work to end the Israeli naval blockade and lift the siege of Gaza, as well as the efforts to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories. That, after all is said and done, is what this effort has been about, and that is the work that must continue.
Below is a quick overview of several items related to our presence in Athens and our work with the flotilla. In the coming days we will be including further updates on our website so please check there. Also, remember, there are great photos and videos from these last two weeks on our site...check them out!
JULY 6, 2011 OVERVIEW
1) Captain Released
Our boat’s captain – John Klusmire – had a hearing on Tuesday in a Greek court. He was released from jail, where he had been since Saturday morning, and was told he had no restrictions or limitations on his movements or activities. The charges against him were not dropped then, but at his noon hearing today at a courthouse in the port of Piraeus, the judge (In a rebuke to the government )dismissed all charges and immediately released Klusmire. The move was interpreted as a victory for Palestine solidarity and for the Greek institution of protecting an independent judiciary but we are hopeful that eventually they will be. Thanks everyone for all of the calls and email messages you sent to Greek and U.S. authorities in support of John! The captain had been charged with attempting to pilot the ship out of the harbor without the proper clearances.
2) Hunger Strike Over
The 9 passengers who were on a hunger strike in support of our captain ended their fast. On Sunday they had been detained by the Athens police for several hours, and then on Monday 6 people (some others and some of the same folks) were again detained and then let go a few hours later. Everyone was fine and since then no one has been held by the police.
3) Our Boat
The Audacity of Hope remains in the hands of Greek authorities and we do not yet know when they will release it. Several of our people are staying in Athens for the foreseeable future to make sure the boat is safe. While we do not own the boat – we leased it from a Greek company – we feel a responsibility to make sure it is returned to its owner in good condition.
4) Information on Some of the Other Boats – Please note that the situation for each boat has been constantly changing so it’s possible that some of this information could already be out of date. We will try to get an update on the boats on our website as soon as possible.
a a) On 7/5, the Greek Boat to Gaza group held a press conference at the Athens Press Club. Present were Dimitris Plionis, an organizer from the Greek group, Dr. Mattias Gardell of the partner group Swedish Boat to Gaza, Members of Parliament Tasos Kourakis and Theodoris Dritsas 2 MPs, and Green Party representative Iannis Tsironis. They denounced the government actions and policies forbidding ships of the Flotilla to leave Greek ports, effectively extending the Israeli siege of Gaza to Greek waters and outsourcing the siege of Gaza. Also attending in solidarity was MP Panagiotis Kouroublis, who had recently been expelled from the ruling PASOK Party for voting against the IMF austerity plan. He was given a standing ovation when he entered the hall.
b) The owners and crew of the Greek/Swedish/Norwegian passenger boat Juliano went on board in the port of Perama near Piraeus, and attempted to take the boat to the port town of Fokia, approximately 10 km. away, where they were due to attend a welcome ceremony at the invitation of the Fokia mayor, honoring the passengers and crew. However, the port authorities prevented the boat from leaving, without citing any justification. In the meantime, two rented boats filled with journalists and supporters gathered at the port to cover the action and to demand release of the boat, and have been confronted by port police. At latest report, the standoff continues, and a crowd of people is gathering at the Perama Port Authority to demand the release of the boat.
c) Passengers of the Spanish boat Guernica entered the Spanish embassy in Athens and staged a sit-in, demanding that the Spanish government intercede with Greece to release the boat. They hoisted the Palestinian flag and are refusing to leave until their boat is given permission to leave.
d) Canadian citizen Sandra Ruch remains in custody in the port city of Aghios Nikolaos. She and one other Suha Kneen, Michael Coleman, Australian Canadian were charged with impeding coast guard authorities by placing themselves in kayaks in front of police boats attempting to stop the Canadian boat, Tahrir from leaving Greek waters. They have been charged with interfering with law enforcement.
e) The other French passenger boat Karameh is again at sea in international waters, awaiting the other boats in the Flotilla. After leaving France, it proceeded to the eastern Mediterranean, where it sheltered in a safe port before returning to international waters.
Leslie Cagen is coordinator of US Boat to Gaza.