Yesterday, July 4th, the Tahrir chose to make a break for Gaza. Bogged down by the seemingly endless sea of red tape that appeared simultaneously with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreaou's edict that all boats would not be able to sail to Gaza from Greece, those aboard the boat refused to go down quietly.
A plan was needed however, to simply get free of the harbour itself, where a Greek coast guard cutter had stationed itself in a perpendicular berth to the Tahrir. Without a diversion, the cutter would need only nudge its nose forward, and the journey would be over before it ever began.
In true Canadian fashion, two kayaks were procured from a local beach-side rental store, paddled across the bay, and stashed silently behind the Tahrir, out of sight of the coast guard and the numerous Greek special forces that now were stationed in the marina.
At approximately 6:30pm, the Tahrir revved her engines. The coast guard was prepared to simply pull forward, but at the last moment the two kayaks, paddled by Michael Coleman, of Australia, and Soha Kneen, of Ottawa, Ontario, blockaded the cutter. The Greeks, furious at being bamboozled in such a fashion, attempted to dislodge Kneen and Coleman by throwing sizable buoys at them. It was to no avail, and the Tahrir made its way towards the open seas.
The cutter, however, was the faster of the two ships, and once Coleman and Kneen were taken out, the cutter managed to make great speed on the Tahrir. Greek special forces flashed M-16s, and attempted to operate a water cannon against the Tahrir. Undaunted, the Tahrir sailed on.
Greek zodiacs joined the boarding party, and eventually an armed party boarded the Tahrir by her bow. Wooden obstructions to the cabin, as well as peaceful activists stationed behind the obstructions, were thrown aside, and the Greeks seized control of the Tahrir, which was on auto pilot.
Peaceful activists at the stern of the boat then attempted to obstruct the view of the Greeks now in control of the cabin. Time and again they were thrown down, pushed over, held in restraint positions, elderly women included. To their credit, the Greek special forces were nothing if not polite in their fashion of restraint, and no one was seriously injured.
Word was passed to the engine room, and power was cut to the Tahrir. Now dead in the water, the frustrated Greek forces attempted to tow her back to the harbour of Agios Nikolaos with their cutter. Their ship was not up to the task, ropes snapped, and a civilian tug boat was ordered to tow the Tahrir.
During the lengthy journey back to port, Greek special forces were apologetic for their actions, some saying that they hated Israel and the orders they were forced to carry out. One even invited this reporter out for a drinking session of 'raki' later in the evening. The interaction bordered on the surreal.
At port, the Tahrir was smashed into the concrete abutment by the tug, and a substantial diesel leak began to drip into the engine room. Reports that the boat was indeed sinking circulated, and the $30,000 of medical aid was quickly evacuated. Power was cut, personal goods were rushed off of the boat, and activists were close to jumping to land.
Those aboard remained steadfast, however, and headed towards the top deck. Townsfolk lined the harbour, and joined in the chants of “Free Gaza”. Arguments erupted between the townspeople and the special forces. Many townspeople had heard the rumour that the Noa VII, a ship flying under a “Commonwealth flag”, was filled with Israeli MOSSAD, and intended to do the Tahrir, now powerless and lightless, damage during the night. Townspeople camped out in front of the boat, keeping watch, and a guard detail, now routine on board the Tahrir, was established.
The next day, questions arose as to the future course of action for the activists. It was determined that their peaceful occupation of the Tahrir would continue, as their negotiating position would be stronger aboard the Commoros-flagged ship. Word reached the activists that Coleman and Kneen, the kayakers, were safe and dry, were being charged with obstructing a coast guard vessel, and would be soon released. Sandra Ruch, owner of the Tahrir, would also be charged with sailing a boat without proper papers. She, as well, is safe, and has been in communication with members of the Canadian Boat to Gaza steering committee.
As the day wore on, legal representation from Iraeklion arrived, and noted that statements would be taken. The activists collectively decided to have 'no comment', which while potentially extending their legal process, would be the best demonstration of solidarity. At the time of this writing, the port authority is aboard the Tahrir, taking said statements. If the claims of the port authority are to be believed, those aboard the Tahrir will be free to go by midnight tonight.
Numerous questions remain, including the presence of George, the very man whose services were originally secured to take the Tahrir to Gaza, aboard the Greek special forces boarding party.
Miles will be reporting regularly to the Halifax Media Co-op from the Canadian Boat to Gaza. Visit Dispatches from the Tahrir for updates.