#FreedomWaves | Flotilla Heads to Gaza Amid Turkish Obstruction

Press Release: #FREEDOMWAVES | Topic FreedomWaves | Category Flotilla

The boat was unable to take on board all the activists and journalists who came to join the campaign, including this writer.

By: Nader Fawz | Published Thursday, November 3, 2011 | Al Akhbar

Flotilla activists bent on breaking the Israeli siege of Gaza had to pose as tourists and downsize their crew to overcome Turkish efforts to stall their trip.

Fatiha (Turkey) – Two boats carrying Canadian and Irish activists joined by a handful of journalists managed to leave Turkish waters for Greece to avoid any legal bans that could be imposed by Ankara before declaring their official destination was Gaza.

The two boats, named Tahrir and Saoirse respectively, set sail Wednesday from the Turkish port of Fatiha, loaded with medical aid supplies. The official destination: the Greek Island of Rhodes. The passengers included the captain of the boat and his assistant as well as ten “tourists” with different nationalities.

Immediately upon leaving Fatiha shores, the boat shed its “tourist disguise” and lifted the banner “Wave of freedom for Gaza” to loud cries of “towards Gaza, brothers and sisters!”
The participants had spent many days feeling exhausted and heavy, shifting between hope and despair. They tried as hard as they could to avoid attracting attention and to keep their mission secret.

The boat was unable to take on board all the activists and journalists who came to join the campaign, including this writer.

Attempting to hamper the mission, the Turkish authorities insisted that the boat, which declared the Island of Rhodes as its destination, carry only 11 “tourists” instead of the originally planned 36. The Turkish authorities justified this step by citing the Turkish law that forbids “small” boats to carry more than this number on similar trips.

This insistence posed a dilemma for the organisers. They had to continue negotiations with the authorities to convince the the latter that this trip was for one group of tourists while making the painful choice selecting 11 people out of the 36.

Negotiations with the authorities lead to a total of ten names and one added as “co-captain”, or eleven participants including the captain of Tahrir. Those who were selected for the trip include journalists Casey Koffman and Ayman Zbeir (from the English and Arabic Al Jazeera), Jihan Hafez ( “Democracy Now” radio and television), Hasan Ghani (“Press TV”) Lina Atallah (Al Masri al Youm”). The list also includes activists Kateridge Marlow (the United States), Majd Kayal (Palestinian, 48) Michael Coleman (Australia) and three Canadians, Karen DaVito, Ehab Lotayef and David Heap (registered as co-captain).

The Tahrir boat is accompanied by an Irish boat that carries ten activists. The Irish also followed the same strategy as the Canadians. They traveled for a couple of days in Turkish cities, asked permission to leave Fatiha for Rhodes and before reaching it they turned south in the international waters. The two boats are supposed to take one course in the sea and to reach Gaza at the same time.

Turkish authorities likely knew what was being prepared in the port of Fatiha and in the cities of Dalaman and Gaziantep and the capital, Istanbul. Israel was also seemingly aware of the plan. Agents were always around the activists, wandering around their residences, watching their moves in Turkey.

According to several activists, the Turkish government faced a dilemma when Tahrir began its real work, since it could not forbid the boat from setting sail. That would contradict the previous statements of Turkish leaders concerning Ankara’s pledge to guarantee freedom of navigation in the international waters, nor could it allow the boat to leave easily or indulge the activists considering the effects that could have on its position and current relations in the region.

So the Turkish government was faced with a number of choices, including obstructing the boat’s journey for some time, pressuring the group to limit participation so the size of the campaign and the number of participants in it would decrease. In this way, Ankara might have sought to maintain its image with regard to the Palestinian cause and at the same time avoided provoking Israel in a direct, public way.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Source and more at Al Akhbar English.

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