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Intense Israeli lobbying stalls Gaza flotilla

A US contingent is bringing Arabic translations of a book about Martin Luther King Jr., saying they want to show Palestinians that nonviolent resistance can work. But they're stuck in Athens.

By Staff writer / June 27, 2011

US human rights activist Ann Wright, a former US State Department official who plans to sail on a vessel named 'The Audacity of Hope' (after the title of a book by President Obama), speaks during a news conference about an international flotilla to blockade Gaza, in Athens, Monday, June 27, 2011. Organizers say Israel is pressuring Greece to halt the ships' departure.

Petros Giannakouris/AP

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International activists from a dozen countries are trying to break Israel's blockade on the Gaza Strip, just a little over a year after a Gaza-bound aid flotilla ended in a fatal confrontation with Israeli naval commandos.

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The participants should have already set sail. But the US boat at least is being held up in Athens on what activists say are spurious charges amid a broader Israeli push to thwart a repeat of last year's events.

This flotilla is attempting to reach Gaza in a dramatically changed regional context from May 2010, before the uprisings collectively known as the Arab Spring. With the chance for real democratic change in Israeli neighbors like Egypt, organizers are hoping to press home their argument that the Palestinian residents of Gaza are as deserving of basic freedoms as any of their neighbors.

"It's even more relevant this year," says Robert Naiman, a US activist waiting to board in Athens. "There’s a revolution of popular expectations and we’re playing out on a stage in which governments in the region feel more pressure to respond to public opinion."

"After the last flotilla, a Hamas legislator said it 'did more than 10,000 rockets to change things.' That shows we're reaching people," continues Mr. Naiman, who is bringing Arabic translations of "The Montgomery Story," a 1958 comic book about Martin Luther King Jr., nonviolent resistance, and the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott.

Naiman says he hopes the flotilla will show Palestinians that nonviolent struggle can work and to bolster nascent grass-roots Palestinian movements that have sought, with some success, to use nonviolent protests and passive resistance to press their demands.

"Never in the past 25 years has there been anything like this political moment, where half of Palestinian society is poised to go [toward nonviolence], and that’s exciting to me," says Naiman, giving a rough estimate of the Palestinian mood. "The more nonviolence works, the more they will adopt it. That’s why there’s so much excitement about the flotilla."

Israel lobbying to stall flotilla

Last year's flotilla symbolically sought to break Israel's economic siege of the Gaza Strip, which includes a naval blockade. Gaza's port has been shut since 2006, and goods flow almost exclusively through a border crossing tightly controlled by Israel, leading to shortages of fuel, medicine, and construction materials in the territory.

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