After weeks of threats by the Israeli and US governments, sabotage by unknown parties, and a public relations campaign by the Israeli government aimed at discrediting the Freedom Flotilla in the international media, the peace activists with the Freedom Flotilla to break the siege on the Gaza Strip say they remain steadfast in their aims, and one of the original ten ships on the flotilla is now on its way to Egypt, with a second prepared to depart shortly.From Egypt, the crew and passengers of the ships will decide whether to continue to Gaza to break the Israeli siege which, despite Israeli claims to the contrary, remains in place and continues to cripple the Gazan economy.
Due to the extended delays, which included the detention of the crews and passengers of several of the ten flotilla ships, many participants in the Flotilla have had to return to their home countries, and the others have been blockaded in a Greek port by the Greek coast guard, at the behest of the Israeli government.
But one ship managed to escape the impound by Greek authorities, as it was not docked with the others at the time of the impound. That ship, the Dignite al Karama, set sail on Saturday evening toward Egypt. The ten people on board, mainly French activists, say they have to represent the entire flotilla with their one ship, since the others remain under Greek detention.
The ship, known as the ‘Dignite al Karama’, was commissioned by French activists, and includes in its passenger list Israeli-born peace activist Dror Feiler, who is the head of ‘European Jews for a Just Peace’, Greek sociologist Vangelis Pissias, and a number of other dignitaries.
A second Flotilla ship, the ‘Juliano’ (named after slain peace activist Juliano Mer-Khamis, who was apparently killed by a Palestinian gunman while working for peace in Jenin), plans to depart the port of Heraklion as soon as it is given permission to sail to Alexandria, Egypt and join the Dignite Al Karama.
The Dignite al Karama has been docked at the port of Kastellorizo, a remote Greek island that is sympathetic to the Flotilla’s cause. In World War II, fearing German attacks, some of the island’s inhabitants fled to the Gaza Strip, where they were given refuge. The mayor of the town of Kastellorizo welcomed the activists, and authorized them to leave Greek waters.
The other ships, docked in Athens, were blockaded and impounded by the Greek coast guard after requests by the Israeli Prime Minister to his Greek counterpart, leading the activists to say that ‘The Gaza blockade has been extended to Greece.’ A group of Spanish activists remain on hunger strike after occupying their country’s embassy in Athens.
The Freedom Flotilla aims to bring humanitarian aid and support to the people of Gaza, and to expose the four-year old blockade on the Gaza Strip imposed by the state of Israel in order to, in the words of Israeli officials, ‘put the people of Gaza on a diet’. Since the blockade began, unemployment levels have reached highs of 80% and malnutrition rates among small children have been estimated at highs of 40%.