This war of attrition is putting the Freedom Flotilla II to the test. The Tahrir's crew of activists has been reduced by at least half, and those who remain clinging to the faint hope that the paper trail laid out by the Greek government will finally sort itself out. This death by a thousand paper cuts is real, and the question comes down to who can play the waiting game longest.
Problem is, the coast guard crew who sits on the Tahrir's rump in an out-of-the-way corner of the Agios Nikolaos marina is getting paid to keep watch, while inevitably all but the most faithful on the Tahrir must return to their respective home countries to make a living. While an Israeli cruise boat tonight lavishes shekels upon the boardwalk, the Tahrir now sits next to dry-docked sail boats and unsaleable wrecks. If kayaks were her trump card, this may be the Tahrir's swan song for the moment.
While some cling to Tweets and updates from the French boat Dignite, who at the time of writing was being denied entry to every Greek port except the military port of Souda (a good place to stop?), others pray for word of success from the Juliano, the Greek-Swedish-Norwegian boat from which emanates nothing but an eery silence for the moment. Others look to the hundreds of activists now attempting to land by airplane in Tel Aviv as a sign of continuation of the movement. If not by sea, then by air.
Credit the Canadian Boat to Gaza steering committee for not saying die on this project. Trained circus lions don't jump through as many hoops as this crew. By tomorrow, we are informed that one more INSB inspection will take place, and that this one may clear us to sail to another port, so long as it isn't Gaza. The collective mood is anywhere but Greece at this moment, and a cruise to Egypt or Turkey, so long as we can get out of Agios Nikolaos, would be fine with everyone left.
Most of the media is gone. Most of the grandmothers, lovingly refered to as the 'Bubby Brigade,' are gone. There's nothing left to do but go eat a gyro, and have a chat with Popi, local propriatrice of a beach-side Greek restaurant. With an endearing smile and an ever-pleasant demeanour, I've been gravitating to Popi's for weeks now.
Before the Tahrir was the Tahrir, she was the Helena. The Helena was an island hopper, doing the tourist run to Spinalonga for 30 years. Popi knows the Helena.
Miles Howe: What is the history of the Helena?
Popi: The Helena is a very tough and strong boat. She goes to Spinalonga for almost 30 years now.
MH: Do you think it could make it to Gaza?
P: Definitely, yes. It's a good boat. And the owner looked after his boats. Very, very, well. Every year [he'd] take them off from the sea, replace whatever was broke. He was very good, the owner.
MH: Right now, the people who look at the boat find many things wrong with it. Do you think it's a trick?
P: Maybe. I know the Orion, the boat which last year (went) from here to go to Gaza, was a lot worse than this one. The Orion, the last one, took fire years ago.
P: Really! You don't believe it?
M: I do believe it.
P: Nae ["yes," in Greek]. Out of Lunda, in June [she] took fire. And all the boat [took] fire. They fixed her after, and they sailed her to go to Gaza. And here, at last [Captain George] finally made it [in the Orion]. Can you imagine now, the Helena?
M: Has the Helena ever caught fire?
P: No. Never. I tell you now, the owner, he alway(s) looks after his boats very, very, well. And that's why he never had an accident.
M: Would you sail to Gaza in the Helena?
P: If I didn't have children. I have children. What am I supposed to do with my children? Should I leave my children and come to Gaza?
M: If you didn't have children?
P: Maybe. Yes. If you have the need to help somebody else, like I think that's why you do it, yes?
M: I wish you were coming.
P: Me too. When I found out what's going on with all of you, to tell you the truth I've been jealous too. I say I wish I was there too. With this group.
M: I came to visit you almost every day.
P: Yes, almost every day. I say to my customers, from now on, that stay also in the hotel, and I say about you, and [why] you came here, and that I didn't know that you were here for that reason. The only thing that I knew is that you knew each other from the internet.
M: Yes, we had to lie to you at first. Because we didn't know if you were a spy.
P: [laughter] If I? Ahh...no.
By tomorrow, we should know if the Tahrir can sail again, or if it is time for Plan B. Or is that C?
Miles will continue to report regularly to the Halifax Media Co-op from the Middle East. Visit Dispatches from the Tahrir for updates.
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