The US boat to Gaza, The Audacity of Hope, is dead in the water. Its captain, an American citizen who goes only by the name Captain Jack, will be brought before a judge on felony charges on Tuesday in Athens. Passengers on the ship have been given the freedom to leave the military port where the boat is currently detained but crew members have been forced to stay on board. Many passengers are choosing to stay with the ship and its captain out of solidarity for their plight. Some passengers have begun a hunger strike to protest the Greek government and its handling of the US boat captain.
Lawyers advising the US boat either did not foresee or did not know that Greek authorities would seek such serious charges for the US boat captain. Initially, Greek authorities charged the American captain with misdemeanour charges for taking the Audacity of Hope to sea. However, pressure to stop the US boat did not originate within the Greek coast guard; rather the Greek government issued a blanket directive that all boats with the intention to sail to Gaza were to be stopped. Off the record, some organizers expressed dismay at the way in which their Greek lawyers have handled the legal problems of the boat. With different lawyers, some feel that there would have been a better chance to leave Athens for Gaza.
Saturday night, charges against the US captain were elevated to felony charges for which he could face jail time. This has generated guilt among the passengers of the US boat split between leaving the boat and standing in solidarity with their captain. Some passengers have already left Athens, including the Pulitzer Prize winning author Alice Walker. Other passengers have begun a hunger strike in protest of the Greek government.
Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak praised the Greek government Sunday morning for blocking the flotilla ships from leaving Greek waters. In a public statement, he said that the Greek decision to stop the flotilla came as a result of, “extensive work by the Foreign Ministry and prime minister.” The implications of the Israeli government influence in the internal affairs of Greece have yet to be treated by the international press. The Greek decision to stop the flotilla ships is not in line with Greece’s public position against Israeli control over Gaza. Today, a number of leftists Greek MPs visited ships taking part in the flotilla to offer their support for their mission to Gaza.
Israeli military officials might be breathing a sigh of relief because of their successful campaign against the US boat to Gaza but other flotilla ships plan to set sail today. Flotilla organizers have said that remaining ships will set sail for Gaza as originally planned. They expect some resistance by the Greek government. However, they are curious whether the Greeks are interested in stopping the entire flotilla or simply the US boat because of its media presence. In a week of up and down news about the flotilla one thing is clear: the Greek government, under pressure by Israel, has stopped an American boat from sailing to Gaza.
Update: The Canadian boat to Gaza, The Tahrir, will be setting sail at 6pm local time from a port in Crete. Please see my Twitter feed and this page for live updates.
UPDATE: The Canadian boat to Gaza, The Tahrir, make a break for international waters at roughly 6pm local time today. Flaked by activists in kayaks, the boat was able to sail for roughly 15 minutes before Greek commandos boarded and took control of the boats wheelhouse. The Greek coast coast is not towing the boat back to port in Crete. The stated intention of the Greeks is to arrest the captain of the vessel when it returns to port in Crete.