It has been widely reported and speculated that the reason for Greece’s participation in the suppression of Freedom Flotilla Two may be found in its own economic situation – that the government of Prime Minister George Papandreou, pushing a devastating IMF/EU austerity plan on the Greek people against their will, is so desperate for international financial and economic support that it is willing to serve as the enforcement arm for Israel’s illegal siege on Gaza.
Yesterday, in Vancouver, Canada, a Greek consular official, Georgios Ayfantis, confirmed that this is indeed the case.
In a conversation with a delegation of activists supporting the Tahrir, the Canadian Boat to Gaza, who entered the consulate demanding a meeting about the Freedom Flotilla, Ayfantis asserted that Greece’s economic interests were at stake in stopping the Flotilla, saying that an undersea natural gas pipeline and a natural gas liquidizing plant in Crete were at stake.
The offer Netanyahu made followed on Papandreou’s visit to Israel in July 2010 - the first visit of a Greek Prime Minister in decades - and is sharply at odds with both the growing movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions from Israel, and Greek public opinion, which even the World Jewish Congress concedes is “clearly pro-Palestinian.”
Ayfantis further asserted that the Papandreou government’s enforcement of the Israeli siege was about “interests,” that Greece was afraid of Israel, and that the U.S. – and the Canadian government of Stephen Harper – is backing Israel completely.
The Papandreou government, of course, is no stranger to representing the interests of the International Monetary Fund and the United States (and its ally and partner Israel) at the expense of the Greek people. Greek social movements have been directly involved in supporting the flotilla, negotiating with police, and raising the cause of Gaza, the Flotilla, and Palestine at the mass protests in Syntagma Square against the Papandreou government and IMF-imposed austerity. Greek trade unionists and shipbuilders are working now to repair the Tahrir, which was damaged by the Greek Coast Guard when slammed into a concrete pier after being boarded and commandeered and returned to shore earlier today. Earlier, stevedores working to load the flotilla’s boats were the only workers exempt from the general strike called by Greek trade unions in the last week of June. Greek activists are currently sitting dockside to guard the flotilla’s boats from sabotage.
Derrick O’Keefe, one of the Vancouver organizers of the Canadian Boat to Gaza campaign, led a chant at a weekend emergency demonstration, “Solidarity, Not Austerity!” prompting cheers for Greek workers who were participating in support actions for the flotilla in defiance of the Papandreou government.
Indeed, Syntagma Square, which has become the center of the Greek workers’ movement, hosted a mass protest for the Flotilla on July 3. The Square has faced severe police violence and brutality, as well as the massive use of tear gas and chemical gases, mainly purchased from Israel, against protesters. With as little regard as the Greek government has shown for Greek laws and the rights of its people, it is of no great surprise that this same government has seen fit to sell out international law, the right to travel, and the humanity of Palestinians in Gaza for a potential pipeline and natural gas liquidizing plant.
However, wrote Foula Farmakides, “If my experience this week shows me one thing, it is that the authorities are afraid of what has happened in Syntagma Square and in other Greek neighbourhoods over the last 35 days. They do not like the fact that people gather and talk about democracy and the economy, issues that are currently under their control. They don’t want us to share opinions, instead of just accepting the media propaganda. They do not like the fact that in spite of their aggressive efforts, the demonstrators are showing no signs of intimidation….The Greek people will not give up until the government, IMF and ECB leave their country. Less than 12 hours after we were beaten by the police, we reoccupied Syntagma Square.”
In much the same way, Israel fears the flotilla deeply – because the flotilla is a popular representation of international solidarity with Palestinian steadfastness and resistance. For over sixty-three years, Israel has engaged in ethnic cleansing, apartheid, home demolitions, bombings, all-out wars, raids, siege, blockade, mass imprisonment, harsh brutality, and worse. And yet, despite all of these efforts, Palestinians insist on living, on existing, on struggling and resisting. Palestinian refugees insist upon returning home. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza struggle to tear down walls and break sieges. Palestinians inside Israel fight to end apartheid and dismantle the structures of a state based on the denial of their existence and identity.
The flotilla symbolizes growing international solidarity with that steadfastness and creativity. Indeed, the flotilla is so threatening because it is not, fundamentally, a humanitarian aid flotilla – it is a material statement of solidarity and support for Palestinian sovereignty over Palestine’s borders, coasts and ports. It is not a gesture of charity, but a clear statement that the siege will fall, and will be broken. Joe Catron, writing from Gaza, said, ”Ties between Palestinian organizers and the global network of activists supporting them will emerge stronger than ever before. And the siege – along with the colonial project imposing it – will be pushed one big step closer to their final end.”
Indeed, this is not the first time that Israel’s desperation to prevent any such assertion of the illegitimacy of their occupation of Palestine’s land, seas, and borders from taking place has become visible, nor was last year’s massacre on the Mavi Marmara, in which nine activists, including 8 Turkish activists and one American student, were killed in an armed military commando raid on the civilian boat. In 1988, during the first Intifada, Egyptian, Syrian and other Arab actors and artists had joined together with 131 Palestinian deportees forced from Palestine for their organizing in the Intifada, to sail a “ship of Return,” named “Al-Awda,” to the port of Haifa. The ship was sunk in port in Cyprus on and three Palestinian leaders, Abu Hassan Qasim, Hamdi Sultan and Marwan al-Kayyali, who had worked on the project were assassinated on the same day, February 16, 1988.
While those who planned to sail on Al-Awda were Arab artists and Palestinian deportees, the name of the ship – “Al-Awda” – and its destination – Haifa – evoked the inalienable, fundamental Palestinian right of return, and the reality that Israel’s foundation as a “Jewish state” was built on the bedrock of a stolen Palestinian land and a displaced Palestinian people. In much the same way, the marches of Return on Nakba Day (May 15) and Naksa Day (June 5) this year, mass marches to the borders of Palestine from Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza, demanding the right of return of Palestinian refugees, were met with harsh and violent repression, with 20 protesters – simply demanding their right to return to their lands and homes – killed by the Israeli military on each day.
The Flotilla is part of the resilience of the Palestinian people – reflected in the global solidarity movement – that despite nakba after nakba, the struggle and the resistance will continue until the siege is broken, the wall falls, refugees return, Palestine is liberated. And thus, like the general strikes and mass protests of Greece’s workers, it strikes fear in the heart of those who would rule through the power of capital and the force of arms – and inspiration in the hearts of those who would see justice and liberation for Greece, Palestine and the world.
Charlotte Kates is a Palestine solidarity activist in Vancouver, Canada, on unceded Coast Salish Territories. She is a member of the Organizing Committee of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (http://www.usacbi.org) and is active with Al-Awda the Palestine Right to Return Coalition – NY (http://www.al-awdany.org) and the National Lawyers Guild (http://www.nlginternational.