Letter from Athens: A city in chaos

ATHENS – There is a strange tension on the streets of Athens and it has nothing to do with the preparation of the Gaza aid flotilla happening in the city’s Mediterranean ports. Every second corner on the grungy Athenian streets are plastered with “anti-facist’ posters. Riot police patrol on motorcycles as immigrants waiting for asylum gloomily look on.

As I rode past the parliament this morning on my way from the airport, I could see what looked like a tent city brimming with protesters, readying themselves for the evenings now routine clashes with the police. Upon arrival at my hotel, journalist colleagues told me that rumors are spreading that tonight protesters are going to storm the Parliament and barricade themselves inside. It is amidst this chaos that the organizers of the Gaza aid flotilla are planning their attempt to break Israel’s control of the Gaza Strip.

I flew into this disorderedly city this morning to cover the flotilla for the The Nation magazine along with journalist par excellance Mya Guarnieri. Over the next week, we will be observing the preparations and training of the American boat to Gaza, dubbed “the audacity of hope.” On board the 30 meter ship will be 36 passengers/activists, 4 crew and 10 journalists. Roughly 15 percent of the boat passengers are Jewish and the first mate is a former Israeli air force pilot.

Last week, news broke that the infamous Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara– on which Israel killed nine passengers last year– will not be participating in this year’s flotilla. The US boat will be the largest of the 11 boats sailing in terms of numbers of passengers and prestige. The sole cargo of the US boat is said to be 3000 letters written by American citizens to Palestinians in Gaza. Among the passengers carrying these letters will be the Pulitzer prize winning author of The Colour Purple Alice Walker, CODEPINK founder Medea Benjamin, Holocaust Survivor Heddy Epstien and a number of retired US diplomats.

In the coming days, I will be observing the preparation of the ship, the nonviolence training of the passengers as well as the general climate in Athens, which is seeing historic riots about the Greek financial crisis. Stay tuned to +972 and my twitter feed over the next week for on-the ground coverage of what is certainly going to be one of the biggest stories of the summer in Israel/Palestine.