Gaza Flotilla Activists Aboard the Tahrir Refuse to Lose Hope

Will remaining on board the Tahrir until it is allowed to sail serve the demand that Israel and the world honor the Palestinians' right to freedom of movement?

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Amira Hass
Amira Hass

AGIOS NIKOLAOS, Crete - "Just make sure your obstinacy doesn't go to your head," a father from Quebec emailed his socialist-anarchist son on board the Tahrir.

How can you tell the difference between determination and bullheadedness? That is the question as the Tahrir activists begin their third week in Crete.

Pro-Palestinian activists in Greece, June 28, 2011.Credit: Reuters

A summary of the previous chapters: The Greek government has done everything in its power to prevent the flotilla from setting sail for Gaza. The foreign minister said Israel did not pressure Greece. So he said it, so what. A saleswoman in a shop in town said the Jews rule the world.

Five days ago, the Tahrir sailed without the coast guard's permission and was captured eight nautical miles away. For a few hours, its passengers were held in detention. Soldiers and coast guard officers who had taken over the rogue vessel were amazed to find the bridge deserted and the automatic pilot on. When they asked who the captain was, all the passengers said, "I am."

The mustachioed officer's face indicated what he thought of the ploy. If it were up to him, maybe they would all have been arrested.

Harbor master Dimitra Hasioti is dealing with the nuisance more gently. Nonetheless, she keeps setting more conditions for the ship's departure. Each new condition requires a separate form to be filled out and a peregrination from one clerk to another.

Apparently, the latest political orders are to lower the flames. The police took the advice of the Greek lawyers, and instead of driving all 40 captains to the police station, they boarded the boat and asked each passenger how the ship had left the dock. They wrote down each one's answer: "No comment."

The coast guard boat, carrying four or five soldiers who participated in taking over the vessel, remains beside the Tahrir. The soldiers and sailors greet people, offer them sesame bagels and even listen to a radio program dedicated to the flotilla. But they make sure the boat doesn't escape.

Still, someone must pay, so the coast guard arrested three activists who had been off the boat when it sailed on July 4 and brought them to trial Wednesday in the nearby town of Neapolis.

The whitewash was peeling off the courtroom's moldy walls. A white-clad judge appeared an hour late, together with the prosecutor in black and white. They sat on the dais side by side, a painting of a crucified Jesus behind them.

The defendants were Sandra Ruch, a Jewish Canadian registered as the boat's owner; Australian Michael Coleman; and Canadian Soha Kneen (who has a German mother, an Iraqi father and a Canadian-Jewish husband ). On July 4, Kneen and Coleman had gone rowing for a few hours in two orange kayaks. They happened to be near the coast guard boat watching the Tahrir just as she left the harbor.

The judge focused on the technicalities of the offenses: obstructing the coast guard in carrying out its duties (Coleman and Kneen ), and sailing a boat without the requisite permits (Ruch ). The two lawyers sought to bring the debate back to the main issue: the illegal political shutdown of a legitimate protest.

Back to the present chapter. Just as the Tahrir's passengers were leaving the courtroom to celebrate the light sentence (a month's suspended sentence and an 80 euro fine each ), they learned that the Swedish-Norwegian-Greek boat Juliano had sailed from the Athens port. That was taken as another reason to stay put.

Will remaining on board the Tahrir until it is allowed to sail serve the demand that Israel and the world honor the Palestinians' right to freedom of movement?

Some of the participants have had to return to their own countries. But a few who were already on the ferryboat to Athens canceled their flight tickets and returned to the Tahrir.

Was it worth it? The next chapters will tell.



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