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Complaint against US boat threatens Gaza voyage

June 25, 2011 7:32 P.M. (Updated: June 27, 2011 8:38 P.M.)
By: Mya Guarnieri
ATHENS, Greece (Ma'an) -- Organizers of the second Freedom Flotilla say that an administrative complaint has been filed against the US Boat to Gaza, claiming that the vessel is not seaworthy.

This could delay or altogether prevent the "Audacity of Hope" from leaving Athens.

The harbor master received notification of the complaint Thursday afternoon, two days after a group of suspicious persons showed up at the ship and began asking questions of the crew members, at one point offering money for the members to leave the ship unattended.

The complainant is unknown and a Greek lawyer representing the flotilla is working to obtain more details.

Israel has been open about its intentions to stop the flotilla using any means possible -- including diplomatic avenues, lawsuits, and a media smear campaign.

Also Thursday, Greek port authorities made the unusual move of advising ship captains to steer clear of the coordinates that correspond with Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.

The advisory included the warning, “Continuous electronic surveillance of the region of East Mediterranean will also take place in order to record, wherever possible, the movements of ships that will possibly participate in such an action.”

Both moves came in the wake of a US Department of State travel warning, issued Wednesday, which appeared designed to dissuade American activists from challenging Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“U.S. citizens are advised against traveling to Gaza by any means, including via sea,” the travel warning reads. “Previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have been stopped by Israeli naval vessels and resulted in the injury, death, arrest, and deportation of U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens participating in any effort to reach Gaza by sea should understand that they may face arrest, prosecution, and deportation by the Government of Israel.”

Speaking to reporters Thursday, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton remarked that the American leaders do not consider the flotilla “a necessary or useful effort to try to assist the people of Gaza.”

She added that the flotilla creates “a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves.”

The one-two punch of the US government’s attempts to distance itself from its citizens, and the administrative complaint filed against the US Boat to Gaza, spurred American participants to pay a visit to their embassy in Athens on Thursday afternoon.

As the group made their way through the city to the metro, Medea Benjamin -- the Jewish-American co-founder of the anti-war group Code Pink -- discussed the change of events with Ma'an.

“The statements that have come out of the State Department and Hillary Clinton’s statement have been atrocious because it assumes that Israel has the right to attack unarmed civilians who are on a humanitarian mission and that US has no control over Israel.”

Benjamin, a petite blonde with large brown eyes said the US had "no influence over this country that is our 'best' ally and that [America gives] $3 billion a year to? In addition to that that Israel says it has a right to protect itself from us? From us? I mean we’re taking letters, for God’s sake. And look at us -- we are no threat to Israel’s security.”

More than half of the activists on the Audacity of Hope are women. Nearly 30 percent of the group is Jewish. Many of the participants are middle-aged or elderly. And the only cargo on the US Boat to Gaza is letters of support written to the Palestinian people.

“We are traveling on a mission that is seen in the eyes of most of the world as something that is worthy of the legacy of Martin Luther King,” Benjamin commented. “We are the freedom riders of this era.”

She called on the US government to put the safe passage of American citizens over the perceived interests of Israel, adding that it is Israeli policies that endanger Israel’s security.

Once inside the US embassy, the 36 American citizens sat in plastic chairs in a large waiting area of the visa section. It was off-hours and the clerks’ windows were empty.

One by one, participants gave their name, hometown, and asked the two US officials standing before them for their unequivocal support.

When an activist remarked that she didn’t expect the US government to help, an embassy official laughed and responded, “That’s a good expectation.”

Alice Walker, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and poet, commented, “I grew up in the South under segregation, under the state terrorism of apartheid. When I was in the West Bank and Gaza recently, it was like stepping back into that.”

Walker added that she didn’t want Palestinian children “to grow up feeling inferior.”

“Humanity cannot bear this,” she said, adding that Israel’s policies are harmful to the Jewish people and that she viewed the attempt to break the blockade as a move that benefits both the Israelis and Palestinians.

Speaking to US officials, Hedy Epstein, an 86-year-old Holocaust survivor, remarked, “I want to talk to you on a compassionate level. I’m Jewish, I was born in Germany, I left when I was 14 years old. My parents perished in the Holocaust.”

The Gaza Strip under Israeli blockade, Epstein continued, “is the largest open air prison in the world.” She mentioned the students who are unable to reach their universities and the residents who can’t get adequate medical care.

“Israel says it’s out of Gaza but it controls the air, land, and sea,” Epstein said. “And what are we bringing? Letters. So let us go.”

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