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.
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But that flotilla was stopped by an Israeli assault that killed nine activists (one with American citizenship) in international waters, sparking international condemnation that led Israeli to ease, though not lift, its blockade of the impoverished Palestinian territory.Skip to next paragraph
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This year, Israel has been furiously lobbying foreign governments and the United Nations to try to prevent boats from sailing. It has issued threats stating that all means will be used to stop the ships from reaching Gaza. The Government Press Office even warned that any journalists on board could – along with activists – be barred from the country for 10 years, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office later said that the press would be exempt.
IHH, the Turkish Islamic charity group that organized the flagship Mavi Marmara's participation last year, elected to sit this year's protest out, citing technical difficulties and an urgent need for humanitarian aid in Syria and Libya, where popular uprisings are confronting entrenched dictatorships.
But political pressure likely played a part. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, no doubt concerned about a further decline in an already deteriorating Israeli relationship at a time when the region is in turmoil, warned against participation this year – as did UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
US ship dubbed 'Audacity of Hope'
The United States, too, has been working to reduce the size of the flotilla, issuing a strongly worded statement saying it won't be able to provide consular services in Gaza or on the high sea and that the "Government of Israel has announced its intention to seek ten-year travel bans to Israel for anyone participating in an attempt to enter Gaza by sea."
A group of about 50 US activists and their boat, the Audacity of Hope (the name borrowed from President Obama's memoir and a wry criticism of his administration's support for Israel), are currently bottled up in Athens. They say they've been delayed by a frivolous complaint about the seaworthiness of their vessel from an Israeli law firm.
"The Greek government is under a lot of pressure; they’ve resorted to a couple of sneaky little tactics to delay us," says retired Col. Ann Wright, a former US diplomat and leader of a US contingent that also includes Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Alice Walker and Hedy Epstein, an 85-year-old American who fled Nazi Germany as a 14-year-old and whose parents were murdered in the Holocaust. About a quarter of the participants are American Jews, says Wright.