SOMEWHERE IN GREECE - Hundreds of participants in the flotilla to the Gaza Strip have been forced to cool their heels at ports around Greece and in other countries, in a war of attrition of sorts that is playing itself out on several fronts.
The delay in the flotilla's departure has created financial pressure on the participating organizations, as well as the participants, who must pay for the travel and the prolonged stay in hotels.
Organizers say that so far, none of the passengers has dropped out, even though the delay has disrupted their personal plans and caused them extra expenses. But one of the organizers said that in addition to financial pressure, the delay is causing psychological pressure - which, he added, is clearly the intent of those causing the holdup.
Thus if the flotilla's departure is delayed for an extended period, it is safe to assume that some people will forgo participation.
On the other hand, this war of attrition, for which participants have no doubt that Israel is to blame, has also caused the group to coalesce. They think group solidarity is helping them deal better with the additional hardships that they expect lie ahead. Among the passengers slated to sail on the Tahrir, it's easy to see how friendships and a sense of mutual responsibility have been enhanced by the experience.
Reports of bureaucratic and technical obstacles have also given organizers the chance to remain in the spotlight, and they have granted frequent interviews about Gaza to official and alternative media organizations. In the age of Internet blogs, Facebook and Twitter, each participant shares his experience of the delay with his own community, often drawing parallels between the delay and the blockade of Gaza. As a result, awareness of the issue at the heart of the flotilla, Israel's policies in the occupied territories in general and Gaza in particular, has grown.
Due to vandalism discovered Monday on the propeller of the Swedish-Greek vessel Juliano, flotilla participants have organized guard duty rosters for each ship that is due to sail for Gaza. The Juliano was towed for repairs to a shipyard at another port; as of Wednesday, the assessment was that it would require two more days of work.
The flotilla's American ship has not yet been certified as fit to sail, following a complaint last week that it was unseaworthy. But a Canadian ship, which an anonymous complaint also labeled unfit to sail, has been reinspected and received clearance as seaworthy.
Contrary to an initial report that an Irish ship in the flotilla had already departed for Gaza, it now turns out that its departure, too, has been delayed. The reasons for the holdup were still unclear as of press time.
Israeli claims that flotilla passengers have stockpiled chemicals and flamethrowers on the ships for use against Israeli forces dispatched to intercept them are being portrayed by the organizers as propaganda warfare. The flotilla steering committee reiterated that every piece of personal luggage being brought on the ships will be inspected.
Speaking to Western media outlets, steering committee members repeatedly quoted the restrictions contained in the rules that every flotilla passenger signed, including a prohibition against initiating contact with soldiers or throwing objects (chemicals included) at them.
Some flotilla participants who are staying in neighborhoods near the ships have reported suspicious activity. For instance, some said they had been mugged on the street at several different locations and that their cell phones had been stolen. There have also been reports of the sudden appearance of "fishermen" near water polluted with gasoline and diesel fuel, fisherman who had neither bait nor buckets. Even without a background in intelligence, the delegates have concluded that the strange fisherman have more to do with the flotilla than with fish. The baitless anglers have already become the subject of jokes among flotilla participants.
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