Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Flotilla passenger recounts obstacles, says still determined

Originally posted by at

The Greek coastguard towed Tahrir back to harbor. (Photo by John Turnbull / Courtesy of Tahrir Facebook Page)

By   John Radcliff / Daily News EgyptAugust 17, 2011, 4:43 pm
CAIRO: The Tahrir, a day-trip tourist boat, has no beds. All tasks including cooking meals and cleaning the
boat were shared among its occupants, a sort of characters from law professors, grandparents, journalists
and others each laboring for a cause found in the ship’s name.

“Tahrir,” meaning liberation in Arabic, has permeated headlines across the world as Tahrir Square provided
a forum for the self-determination of the Egyptian people. For a group of 22 Canadian citizens such a title
could not be more fitting, as they made way to sail for the Gaza Strip, seeking to penetrate the Israeli naval

Tahrir sat in the calm waters of the Greek port of Agios Nikolaos last July, on the island of Crete as its
passengers waited for their impending journey across the Mediterranean. The boat had been purchased
for several hundred thousand dollars, money in which was raised by several campaigns across Canada.

Despite calls to end its blockade, Israel has called the voyages like Tahrir’s unnecessary and “hateful” and
said it intends to intercept it, using force if necessary. Canada has deemed the flotilla “provocative,” the US

Israel has stated its sea blockade stops weapons from reaching Hamas insurgents who control Gaza, and
had warned it would stop any attempt to circumvent its restrictions. A year ago, nine activists died in an
Israeli raid on a flotilla. This year the Tahrir sought to join in the same call along with a group of several
other ships.

David Heap, a University of Western Ontario professor tasked with the communications and coordination
with other flotilla boats and helping to facilitate decision-making among the delegates, had travelled from
London, Ontario to join the crew. The flotilla consisted of two cargo ships and seven other passenger boats,
each departing from different ports en route to Gaza. In total the fleet would be comprised of nearly 3000
tons of aid and hundreds of civilians from dozens of countries, including members of parliament,
politicians, writers, artists, journalists and sports figures.

“Our destination is freedom for the Palestinians of Gaza and our course is the conscience of humanity,” said
Heap. The location of departure remained secret as Jewish-Canadian Sandra Ruch from the delegation had
been stationed in Greece since the early spring monitoring paperwork and making logistic preparations. The
Tahrir had cleared all inspections weeks before the projected sailing date.

“All was well until late June we heard that the US boat (Audacity of Hope) had private complaint about its
seaworthiness,” lamented Heap. “This led to an additional and unwarranted inspection of the boat.”

At this point Heap realized there was to be a series bureaucratic roadblock from the Greek officials. The red
tape began its imposition as the local port authorities began to follow through with orders seeking ways to
delay and ultimately impede the Tahrir’s departure.

“We replaced the marine radio, then had to get a new marine radio license for the new radio, then get a
certificate from the flagging authority that they recognized the new radio license, then a confirmation from the
relevant embassy that they recognized the validity of the flagging authority,” said Heap.

Through much toil the delegation’s resolve did not wane, as they were able to comply with tedious demands
beyond what even some locals had ever heard of in the past.

Meanwhile the Israeli government issued warnings through several different press releases against the
flotilla's attempt to break the Israeli naval blockade, saying it had instructed the Israel Defense Forces not to
allow the flotilla to reach its goal.  As the local port authorities continued in the charade of inspection and
presentation of further obstacles the delegation were treated with a reversed sentiment. “Greek coastguard
officers who actually prevented us from sailing were very clearly acting very reluctantly in following their orders,”
recounted Heap.

Many of the coastguards offered private apologizes and reminded several aboard the Tahrir that they personally
along with family and friends continue to support the cause of ending for Gaza.

After several days of silence Heap and the rest of the Canadians waiting to sail made their presence known to
the people of Crete, many of them proponents of the same cause. The delegation decided to march through
flavorful streets of the island to the Hellenic Port Authority, demanding a chance to sail.

Heap recalled being handed the government edict, issued by the Greek ministry responsible for citizen protection.
“We were told there were concerns the Tahrir does not have suitable sleeping quarters for a group their size,”
he said. After finding their sleeping bags would no longer be sufficient for the journey, the group refrained from
concluding their mission. Following this the delegation terminated the contract with the boat captain (a Greek
national) in order to void him of any prosecution. All but a few went aboard as the Tahrir set its sail for Gaza
under volunteer power made possible by some of the delegate’s limited maritime experience.

"We made a break for it and made it about at 8 nautical miles. It took about 15 or 20 minutes before they boarded
us and took control of the boat and towed us back to harbor, but it was our way of affirming that we still don’t
respect or recognize the Greek government's authority to stop us from sailing. It is very clear in international
law that we have the right to sail." The Tahrir was sent back to Agios Nikolaos. The delegation tried to solicit
the compliance of the government for a while longer. After being told their boat would not sail the delegation
was forced to return home. The Tahrir remains seaworthy at this time. As the buoyancy of the ship remains
intact as does Heap’s commitment to breaching the Gaza blockade.

“The details (who, where and when, etc.) for our next departure will become clearer over time, but the Tahrir
will sail. Our resolve remains unchanged, he said.”

The collective spirit of the Tahririans, as Israeli journalist Amira Hass dubbed the Canadian delegation, will
remain consistent with the sentiment voiced in Tahrir Square, a call for change, a call for liberation.

** The name originally cited as Dylan Heap is in fact Canadain delegate and steering committee member
David Heap. I corrected the error in this post. **

~ Sofia Smith

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