Greek consulate, governor confirm ‘powerful’ pressure on Greece led to flotilla ban

For the past few days, speculation has run rampant that the Greek government, presiding over a country in dire economic straits, was heavily pressured into issuing an order that banned the “Freedom Flotilla” ships from sailing out towards Gaza. And while the extent and details of that pressure remain unknown, two official sources from the Greek government have now confirmed that heavy pressure was put on Greece.

Greece, for its part, has claimed that the ban on flotilla ships leaving their ports was issued because of “the need to protect national interests” and the “immediate dangers to human life posed by the attempt to break the blockade.”

The first confirmation came via a Jewish Voice for Peace tweet, which announced that someone from New York’s Greek consulate told a caller that the U.S. government “ordered” Greece not to let the U.S. Boat to Gaza sail out of a Greek port. According to the caller, the U.S. State Department had nothing to say when asked about the Greek consulate’s comment.

The second confirmation came today, when a reporter from the Guardian interviewed the provincial governor of the Ionian islands, which includes Corfu, a Greek island from where a flotilla ship is waiting to set sail for Gaza. Jack Shenker reports:

The flotilla activists have always claimed they had local political support for their mission, and from what [Spiros] Spirou, [the provincial governor], told me it appears that they’re right. In open defiance of his political bosses in Athens, Spirou told the Guardian and al-Jazeera that he “admires and supports the activists’ struggle” and would make no attempt to stop their boat from making a break for international waters if it chose to do so.

But the local coastguard don’t come under Spirou’s control, and the decision from the central Greek government to stop any flotilla vessels from leaving port appears increasingly irreversible. “Greece loves peace, but at this moment it can’t confront more powerful economic forces,” said the governor. He confirmed that official attempts to tie the flotilla up in bureaucracy and paperwork were merely a pretext for preventing it from sailing at all.

“The ban has come from the ministries in Athens and I have no responsibility for it at all – I’ve tried to get in contact with them and get an explanation but I have not been able to get through,” he insisted. “Right now Greece is in crisis and decisions have been taken at an international level.”

Right now, Greece would be extremely vulnerable to any type of economic pressure, and would welcome all the help it gets–even from Israel, a country that Greece has had historically chilly relations with.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly “implor[ed]” Greek’s leader to “issue an order preventing ships from disembarking from Greece toward the Gaza Strip,” as Haaretz‘s Barak Ravid reported on July 1. Netanyahu has curried enormous favor with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou for “imploring” the European Union (EU) to bail out Greece, and, most likely, any Greek passivity surrounding the second “Freedom Flotilla” was thrown to the wind due to Israel’s help with the EU bailout. And since the Israeli raid on the Turkish Mavi Marmara last year, economic, political and military links between Israel and Greece–the traditional rival of Turkey–have strengthened.

Huwaida Arraf, the chair of the Free Gaza Movement, further confirmed the enormous pressure on Greece in an interview yesterday with Al Jazeera‘s Inside Story. She said:

Some inside sources have been telling us. We have a lot of parliamentarians, European parliamentarians, that are part of our initiative, and they have been engaging in discussions with their Greek counterparts. We have been told that an enormous amount of pressure has come to bear on Greece, not only from the Israelis, but by Israel’s undying supporter the United States, and also by other European Union states that have also been shamefully silent and have done nothing to force Israel to lift its shameful blockade on Gaza or to end Israel’s illegal policies.

While there was some talk before today of other boats sailing out of Greece, the Greek government has repressed any hope of that.  The Greek Coast Guard has now taken over the Canadian boat to Gaza after they attempted to sail for international waters. “Coast guard used water cannons then borded the #tahrir with m16′s and took the wheel room from the driver at gun point,” tweeted Jesse Rosenfeld, a journalist aboard the Tahrir, the name of the Canadian boat. 

The American boat has not fared any better.  Their captain remains jailed in reportedly “shocking” conditions, while U.S. activists who have been protesting have been detained on two occasions.

It appears, as American-Israeli journalist Joseph Dana tweeted, that “It is over. The #flotilla2 has been stopped by the Greek government.”

Alex Kane, a freelance journalist currently based in Amman, Jordan, blogs on Israel/Palestine at alexbkane.wordpress.com, where this post originally appeared. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is an assistant editor for Mondoweiss and the World editor for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.
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{ 7 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. “Right now Greece is in crisis and decisions have been taken at an international level”

    In effect making them slaves, not a sovereign nation.

    • ToivoS says:

      The Greeks gave up their sovereignty well before this. However, it will another reminder to the Greek people about what they have lost. I have no idea how popular Israel or the Palestinian cause is with the people, but there must be some who are seething over this development.

      • “I have no idea how popular Israel or the Palestinian cause is with the people”

        Large parts of Greek have a proud anti-fascist standing. They put up lots of resistance against the Nazis during WWII. Whenever there is a anti-banker, anti-globalist protest in Greece, it looks nothing like the tamer parts of the western world. They know how to riot. So it’s no wonder from what I hear many Greeks feel passionately for the Palestinians. They know fascism when they see it, they’re not as blinded by the Holocaust lobby as we are, so they naturally side with the oppressed Palestinian people.

  2. Pixel says:

    This sentiment seems to be floating around…

    BOYCOTT GREECE!

    NO PRODUCTS, NO TOURISM.
    SELL ALL INVESTMENTS IN GREECE.
    GREECE HOVERS AT THE EDGE OF ECONOMIC COLLAPSE.

    A BOYCOTT WILL PUSH IT OVER THE EDGE AND BRING DOWN THE GOVERNMENT THAT CHOSE TO ACT AS ISRAEL’S PRIVATEERS AGAINST A US-FLAGGED SHIP!

    PAPANDREOU RISKS DESTROYING NOT ONLY HIS OWN ECONOMY BUT THAT OF ALL EUROPE MERELY TO PLEASE TEL AVIV.

    POST THE CALL FOR A GLOBAL BOYCOTT EVERYWHERE THAT THE GOVERNMENT OF GREECE CAN SEE IT.

    LET THEM KNOW THAT THE THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER THEY GOT TO SELL OUT A US-FLAGGED SHIP TO ISRAEL WILL NOT COVER THEIR LOSSES WHEN THE REST OF THE WORLD STOPS BUYING THEIR PRODUCTS & STOCKS, OR TRAVELING TO SEE THEIR NATION.

    BOYCOTT GREECE!

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . – M. Rivero, WRH

    • James says:

      personally i think it is a bad idea to boycott greece…. continue to boycott israel and leave the focus on israel’s state of apartheid.. the bds movement is the way to go still… folks who are thinking of going somewhere need to boycott israel… go to the source… if you want to go down a step, boycott the usa!

    • ddi says:

      Terrible, terrible idea the Greek people don’t disserve it and Israel and its cheerleaders would love to have the spotlight away from them.

  3. ToivoS says:

    James is right. Greece is a victim of international finance capital and for her to defy them would have major consequences. I personally believe that they would be better off if they just defaulted on their debt and leave the Euro but if they took that path they would pay a terrible price. That is their decision though, not mine.