Flotilla to Gaza founders as Greece stays the course

Organizers decide to send more than half of activists home; few dozen remain in Athens to continue fighting for release of ships.

By
July 7, 2011 20:17
3 minute read.
US FLOTILLA ACTIVISTS from ‘The Audacity of Hope’

US FLOTILLA ACTIVISTS from ‘The Audacity of Hope’ 311. (photo credit: Yiorgos Karahalis/Reuters)

 
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The protest flotilla to the Gaza Strip seemed to come to an end on Thursday, when organizers decided to send more than half of the activists in Athens home.

The remaining activists said they would ponder their options in the face of Greece’s continued refusal to allow the ships to sail.

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Huwaida Arraf, a co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement and one of the leaders of the Free Gaza Movement behind the flotilla, told The Jerusalem Post that most of the activists had been sent home to engage in education and advocacy.

A few dozen activists remained behind in Athens to continue fighting for the release of the ships – a sharp drop from the 350 who arrived there in late June.

“It does not make sense to keep people waiting as we get the boats released, and those people went home to do advocacy, which is better than waiting here,” Arraf said by phone from the Greek capital.

The US-flagged vessel The Audacity of Hope gave up waiting for Greek approval late on Wednesday night, and almost all of the 50 activists who signed up for its voyage toward Gaza returned to the US on Thursday.

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Arraf said that a team from each of the ships would remain in Greece to continue efforts to secure the vessels’ release.

“We had planned on launching Freedom Flotilla 2 within a certain time frame and we weren’t able to do it within the time frame, so a lot of people are going home and we are strategizing and planning,” Arraf, who married fellow ISM co-founder Adam Shapiro in 2002, said.

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Also on Thursday, the Greek Coast Guard intercepted the French vessel Dignity as it tried to sail from a port in Crete after refueling.

Greece has imposed a ban on all Gaza-bound ships, citing concern for the safety of the activists. Dignity had about 10 activists aboard, including French politicians. The ship set sail for Gaza earlier this week from Corsica, entered the waters off Crete early on Thursday and was stopped by the Coast Guard.

Arraf expressed hope that Dignity would soon be released from Crete.

She would not say whether it would then sail to Gaza on its own or return to France.

Last Friday the Coast Guard intercepted The Audacity of Hope soon after it set sail from Piraeus and arrested its captain.

Three days later, armed Coast Guard personnel boarded the Canadian ship Tahrir that had set sail from Crete and escorted it back. Three people were detained.

Arraf said that while the collapse of the flotilla was definitely a blow it was only a small obstacle, and that the organizers would continue working to break Israel’s sea blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“Our efforts will continue as long as the blockade over Gaza continues,” she said.

Reuters contributed to the report.

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