Supporters of the Freedom Flotilla aimed at easing the plight of Palestinians in the blockaded Gaza Strip rally in Rome in May.
The Audacity of Hope, an American ship in the defiant Freedom Flotilla 2, tried to set sail for Gaza on Friday afternoon but was stopped by the Greek coast guard shortly after leaving port.
Twitter reports said those aboard were held at gunpoint and forced to turn back. The Greek government had been under heavy pressure from Israel and the U.S. to prevent the ship from leaving.
Journalist Joseph Dana, aboard the ship, describes the electrifying scenes leading up to the crew’s departure, including a news conference plea for permission to sail from Athens amid the roar of Greece’s austerity riots, and efforts to protect the ship from sabotage. Flotilla vessels docked elsewhere have been damaged, many suspect by Israeli forces. With U.S. support, Israel has vowed to use any means necessary to prevent the fleet from reaching Gaza.
Dana’s breaking reports on the progress of the Audacity of Hope can be found here. —ARK
On Thursday, the passengers of the Audacity of Hope, the US boat in the “Freedom Flotilla 2” to Gaza—a convoy of ten boats, two cargo ships and some 300 civilians—emerged from their hotel on the edge of an Athens turned upside down. The air was heavy from the stench of garbage and tear gas, after two days of a general strike and fighting between police and demonstrators protesting the latest austerity measures. But the dramatic urban landscape barely caught the passengers’ attention as they boarded a chartered bus to a distant Athenian port, kept secret until then due to security concerns.
Standing in front of more than seventy journalists from around the world, the thirty-five passengers called on the Greek government to allow their boat to sail. The idea was that if the government were to continue its efforts—coming after intense Israeli lobbying—to prevent the boat from sailing, it would be forced to do so in front of the world media, and thus might back down. But just one hour before the press conference was set to begin, the captain of the US boat announced that he was abandoning the mission, saying that he risked losing his maritime license and could face jail time if he didn’t. But this was only the latest setback for the flotilla.
... Israeli officials claim the mission is an “anti-Israeli public relations stunt.” If that’s the case, then the PR battle has resulted in largely positive exposure for the flotilla organizers, who have maintained the upper hand in the media war. Careful not to leak any sensitive information, the US organizers have been inconsistent in dealing with journalists planning to travel on their boat. And the gulf between the Israeli government’s organized media campaign and the haphazard and largely disorganized campaign of the US organizers has been evident. But the bellicose Israeli strategy has helped to publicize this story in ways the flotilla organizers could never have orchestrated themselves.