Peres thanks Greek president for stopping flotilla

Israeli President Shimon Peres thanked his Greek counterpart for his country’s help in stopping a flotilla bound for Gaza.

Peres hosted Greek President Karolos Papoulias on Monday in Jerusalem for a reception and a working meeting.

“I genuinely thank you for fulfilling the directives of the Secretary General of the United Nations by stopping the flotilla.  I thank you for not allowing people interested in violating the law and disrupting order to reach Gaza which is ruled by a terror organization.  Greece, in an impressive manner, showed the U.N. that she stands ready to assist.  Your contribution to lower tensions benefits the entire region as well as Gaza itself.  You acted legally and carefully and I thank you for your personal involvement in this matter,” Peres told Papoulias.

Peres called the Greek president’s visit “the start of the opening of a new chapter in Greece – Israel relations.  Both of our nations share an ancient past and I believe we share a great future.”

He also thanked the country for sending firefighting planes and firefighters to help in extinguishing last year’s Carmel forest fire.

During their meeting the two leaders discussed strengthening relations between Greece and Israel in a number of areas particularly diplomatic and trade relations, Peres’ office told journalists.

French flotilla boat seized, U.S. activists end activities

A French boat that left a Greek port for Gaza earlier in the week was detained by the Greek coast guard, while a U.S. activist group has ended its activities.

The French-flagged Dignity, a pleasure craft with eight passengers on board, was detained Thursday while refueling in Crete. A Greek official told CNN that the ship would not be allowed to continue on to Gaza.

Meanwhile, Leslie Cagan, coordinator of the U.S. Boat to Gaza, wrote Wednesday on the US to Gaza website that the team of activists from the United States ended its activities in Athens.

“The Greek government’s willingness to serve as the enforcer of Israeli’s naval blockade of Gaza made it impossible for this journey to happen,” Cagan wrote.

The U.S.-flagged Audacity of Hope remains in the hand of the Greek authorities and it is not known when it will be released.

The Flotilla flop: International community stops provocateurs

The “Free Gaza” Flotilla II campaign was a flop. Leaders of the international community essentially pulled the plug on what they recognized as a provocative and potentially dangerous anti-Israel publicity stunt.

Flotilla organizers had planned to launch 10 to 15 ships with self-described “peace activist” passengers on board in an attempt to violate Israel’s naval blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. They hoped to provoke Israel into a military response that would be widely publicized and severely condemned by the international community.

But things did not work out as they had hoped. The flotilla boats gathered in Greek ports, but Greece refused to give them permission to sail. Some boats ran into mechanical problems. Others ran into problems with insurers who, alerted to the flotilla’s purposes, feared potential liability. Most important, the United States, United Nations, European Union and Canada all were extremely critical of the flotilla and underscored that it was an unnecessary provocation that endangered passengers.

The international leaders refuted the flotilla organizers’ accusations against Israel, accusations which are also used in other campaigns to discredit Israel, from the boycott movement to the “flytilla” in which hundreds of anti-Israel activists had planned to fly into Ben-Gurion International Airport on July 8.

Flotilla organizers claimed Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza was “illegal.” International leaders underscored that it is, in fact, legal and that Israel is entitled to militarily enforce the blockade. As the Canadian foreign minister explained, “Canada recognizes Israel’s legitimate security concerns and its right to protect itself and its residents from attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, including by preventing the smuggling of weapons.”

The organizers have been stopped short in their effort to misapply international law on naval blockades in order to single out and defame Israel.

Similarly, international airlines that would not permit “flytilla” activists to board planes made it clear that Israel, like all nations, has a right to issue a “no fly” list. If a country informs the airline that somebody will not be allowed to enter, the airline is legally obliged to decline boarding said passengers, because “any country has the right to refuse entry,” explained Swiss Air spokesperson Donzel Jean Claude.

The organizers’ charge that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza was exposed as a ruse. The international community, including the International Red Cross, made it clear that there is no humanitarian crisis and whatever goods are needed can be delivered through legal, official entry points, where they can be inspected for weapons. “We want to just reiterate that there are established and efficient mechanisms for getting humanitarian assistance through to Gaza …” emphasized U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner on June 1.

The international community recognized that the flotilla was not a humanitarian mission, but rather a premeditated provocation whose goal was to trigger violence by compelling Israel to enforce the blockade militarily. They held the flotilla organizers, not Israel, responsible for any violence that might occur. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “called on all governments concerned to use their influence to discourage such flotillas, which carry the potential to escalate into violent conflict.” Passengers on the American-flagged ship Audacity of Hope, whose captain was arrested by Greek police, were furious that the U.S. State Department refused to demand that Israel let them sail safely into Gaza. Instead, the State Department warned the activists not to violate Israel’s blockade.  

The international community also recognized that the flotilla activists’ primary aim was to lend support to Hamas, the Iranian proxy and a terrorist organization according to the European Union, the United States, Canada and Japan. Passengers and corporations involved with the flotilla were warned that they could be held liable for aiding and abetting a designated terrorist organization, which would be in violation of American civil and criminal law.

The activists themselves have been exposed as extremists and agents provocateurs. It is now clear to the international community that members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas organized and raised money for the flotilla. Radical anti-Israel groups, like the International Solidarity Movement,  which has called Palestinian suicide bombing “noble,” and Code Pink, whose leaders met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and gave him advice about how to carry on his war against Israel, joined with the Islamists and brought often naïve “peace activists” along with them.

Anti-Israel activists should learn from their flotilla failure. Their mission to cause potentially dangerous mischief is transparent and is discrediting them in the eyes of the public. Their focus on Gaza, when just miles away Syrians are desperately fighting for their freedom from a brutal, dictatorial regime, exposes the warped values and priorities of their anti-Israel obsession. It is time for them to discard the extremism that propels them into their bitter vendettas against the Jewish state. If they are interested in improving the lives of Palestinians and Israelis, they should be promoting peaceful coexistence and negotiations, not engaging in political stunts that pervert international law and endanger their fellow travelers as well as Palestinians and Israelis.

Roz Rothstein is CEO of StandWithUs, the international Israel education organization, and Roberta Seid is education/research director of StandWithUs.

Netanyahu orders pro-Palestinian ‘fly-in’ activists be stopped

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the country’s security services to prevent pro-Palestinian fly-in activists from entering the country.

“Every country has the right to prevent the entry of provocateurs into its borders,” Netanyahu said Wednesday at Ben Gurion Airport during a meeting with security services officials.

He told the officials to “act with determination, while trying to avoid unnecessary friction” with the hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists who reportedly are planning to fly to Israel’s international airport to protest the country’s policies toward the Palestinians.

Activists hope the “fly-in,” scheduled for July 8, will disrupt airport operations, including departing and arriving flights. Most of the activists are from Europe, according to reports.

The activists plan to declare “Palestine” as their destination once they land in Israel, according to reports. They face being denied entry to Israel and deportation. They reportedly will demonstrate if denied entry.

Hundreds of additional police and Border Guard officers have been stationed at the airport in preparation for the fly-in, Ynet reported.

Israel often prevents international activists it believes are planning disruptive demonstrations to enter the country

The activists who are allowed in to the country plan to tour Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and the Jordan Valley, and to take part in solidarity activities with the Palestinians, as part of the Welcome Palestine event sponsored by 40 pro-Palestinian groups.

One flotilla ship headed for Gaza, second turned back

A small ship bound for Gaza eluded the Greek Coast Guard, while a second was intercepted and returned to port.

A small French boat with eight protesters on board left Greek waters Tuesday, the first vessel as part of a Gaza-bound flotilla attempting to break the Israeli naval blockade on the coastal strip.

The “Dignite al Karama” will arrive in international waters near Gaza in about two days, the French news agency AFP reported.

On Monday night, the Canadian ship Tahrir was seized by the Greek Coast Guard minutes after leaving from the port of Agios Nikolaos near Crete. Two of the Canadian passengers and an Australian passenger, who attempted to throw the coast guard off by sailing kayaks near the ship, were arrested.

The ship was reportedly damaged when it slammed into a concrete pier as it was returned to port.

Also on Tuesday, activists from the Spanish flotilla boat reportedly occupied the Spanish Embassy in Athens after meeting with their ambassador to ask their government to pressure the Greek government to allow them to sail.

Leaders of the Gaza-bound flotilla rejected an offer by Greece to deliver aid from the ships stuck in Greek harbors to the coastal strip either through Egypt or Israel, a deal which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly had agreed to.

The ships were to have marked the May 31, 2010 raid of a similar flotilla by Israeli commandos. Nine Turkish activists were killed in the subsequent melee, including a Turkish-American dual citizen.

Israel says the flotilla is illegal and military action to keep it from arriving in Gaza is legitimate. Israel maintains the blockade to keep weapons from flowing into Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, and also as leverage to secure the freedom of Gilad Shalit, a kidnapped soldier held by Hamas since 2006.

Human rights groups say the blockade keeps out basic foods and medicines, although the Obama administration says its conditions have eased considerably in the last year.

Greek coast guard seizes Canadian ship bound for Gaza

The Canadian ship “Tahrir”, participating in the flotilla to Gaza, attempted to depart Monday from the Greek port of Piraeus, but was intercepted by the Greek coast guard shortly after departure.

The Greek coast guard boarded the Canadian ship after the Greek authorities had banned the departure of all ships to Gaza from its ports.

On Sunday, the organizers of the Gaza flotilla announced that the flotilla ships anchored in Greek ports are planning to set sail to Gaza on Monday. The decision came despite the Greek’s governments ban on any ships to depart from its ports to Gaza.


A letter to Ambassadors Kaskarelis and Mitsialis

Below is a letter sent from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs to Ambassador Vassilis Kaskarelis (Greek Embassy in Washington) andAmbassador Anastassis Mitsialis (Greek Permanent Mission to the United Nation):

Dear Ambassadors Kaskarelis and Mitsialis,

On behalf of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs, we would like to thank the Greek government for its decision to prohibit the departure of ships to the maritime area of Gaza. By taking this course of action your government not only displayed great leadership, but a genuine commitment towards achieving a peaceful solution that meets the needs of Palestinians and Israelis alike.

The JCPA is the American Jewish community’s umbrella agency for multi-issue organizations engaged in public policy and community relations.  Our membership includes 14 national organizations and 125 local affiliates.  We work with government representatives, the media, and a wide array of religious, ethnic, and civic organizations to address a broad range of public policy concerns and share the Jewish community’s consensus perspectives.  We are deeply committed to a permanent settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: one that establishes two prosperous and secure states for two peoples. 
Your government has demonstrated, as has also been recently stated by the Quartet, that flotillas are not helpful for resolving the situation and will only escalate tensions. Indeed, the Israeli government has repeatedly said it is willing to transport all genuine humanitarian aid to Gaza, but the flotilla organizers refuse to cooperate.

We commend you for recognizing that Israel’s effort to examine the cargoes on these ships is legal under international law and necessitated by legitimate security concerns over the continuing transportation of weapons to the Gaza Strip. Your offer to transport humanitarian aid from these boats through legitimate channels also testifies to your willingness to be a friend to all the parties involved.

Thank you again for your courageous decision.


Dr. Conrad Giles
Chair, Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Rabbi Steve Gutow
President, Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Gaza flotilla ships to set sail Monday, organizers say

All operational ships slated to participate in the Gaza-bond flotilla will depart on Monday, organizers said.

It is still unknown exactly how many ships will set for Gaza with the stated goal of breaking Israel’s maritime blockade of the coastal strip.

The American-flagged ship, the “Audacity of Hope” was stopped on the afternoon of June 2 less than a mile outside the port of Perama, near Athens, by the Greek coast guard after leaving without authorization, testing the Greek government’s prohibition of allowing ships bound for Gaza to leave the port.

About 30 people, including TV cameras from international networks, were aboard the “Audacity of Hope,” whose captain spent three hours negotiating the ship’s return to the port.

The captain, who is due in a Greek court on Tuesday to answer charges that he defied the government ban and put his passengers’ lives in danger, argued that since the ship’s papers were in order that the coast guard had no right to stop it. The guard informed the captain that its commando unit was armed and ready to board the ship.

Passengers sang “We Shall Overcome” as the ship returned to the port.

Greek authorities barred passengers of all flotilla ships anchored in its ports to disembark.

Representatives of the “Audacity of Hope” blamed Greece of succumbing to Israeli pressure.

Greek flotilla organizer Vangelis Pissias told a news conference that the flotilla participants “condemn the policy and attitude of the Greek government. The Greek people have nothing to do with all that is happening and always stand by the Palestinian people. The journey starts now and efforts for our ships to sail will continue.”

Meanwhile, the Hamas terrorist group in Damascus condemned the Greek government’s treatment of the flotilla saying that it is “an inhuman act” that “goes against international law.” Hamas said the decision to keep the flotilla ships in port “was the result of pressure by the Zionist conquerors.” Hamas called on the European Union and human rights organizations “to exert pressure” on the Greek government to allow the ships to sail.

Israeli-born Swedish citizen Dror Feiler, a passenger on the American ship, said: “Last year we got close to Gaza, this year I hope we will get even closer, the journey has just started. The authorities are against us, but the people are with us.”

On the Island of Crete, the Greek coast guard prevented the Canadian ship “Tahrir” from sailing and confiscated all it documents.

The ships were to have marked the May 31, 2010 raid of a similar flotilla by Israeli commandos. Nine Turkish activists were killed in the subsequent melee, including a Turkish- American dual citizen.

Israel says the flotilla is illegal and military action to keep it from arriving in Gaza is legitimate. Israel maintains the blockade to keep weapons from flowing into Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, and also as leverage to secure the freedom of Gilad Shalit, a kidnapped soldier held by Hamas since 2006.

Human rights groups say the blockade keeps out basic foods and medicines, although the Obama administration says its conditions have eased considerably in the last year.

Greece arrests captain of U.S. ship in Gaza flotilla

Authorities in Greece say they have arrested the captain of an American boat that was to be part of the Gaza flotilla.

The 60-year-old captain, whose name was not released by authorities, is being held at Piraeus police headquarters and will remain there until a court hearing Tuesday.

Greece’s coast guard said Saturday the captain of the “Audacity of Hope” faces charges of trying to leave port without permission and of endangering the lives of the boat’s passengers. The latter charge is a felony.


Flotilla delayed until next week

Activists have delayed a protest flotilla to the Gaza Strip until next week.

The flotilla, comprised of nine boats—including one from the United States—was to set have set sail this week from Greece, with the aim of bringing attention to Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.

Activists told media Friday that obstructions by the the Greek government and what the activists allege to be sabotage of two ships, from Ireland and Sweden, mean that the flotilla won’t set sail until July 5 at the earliest.

The ships were to have marked the May 31 2010 raid of a similar flotilla by Israeli commandoes. Nine Turkish activists were killed in the subsequent melee, including a Turkish American.

Israel says the flotilla is illegal and military action to keep it from arriving in Gaza is legitimate. Israel maintains the blockade to keep weapons from flowing into Gaza, which is controlled by the Hamas terrorist group, and also as leverage to secure the freedom of Gilad Shalit, a kidnapped soldier held by Hamas since 2006.

Human rights groups say the blockade keeps out basic foods and medicines, although the Obama administration says its conditions have eased considerably in the last year.

Two top Democratic U.S. lawmakers visiting Israel said Thursday that the blockade is legal and suggested that Americans on the flotilla may face prosecution upon their return to the United States.

“The people who would run an international legal blockade are subject to the legal ramifications of all countries, including the United States,” Bloomberg news quoted Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) as saying. Ackerman was visiting Israel with Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.).

Ackerman and Lowey, both Jewish, are senior members of the Democratic caucus in the U.S. House of Reprersentatives, with influential positions on committees dealing with the Middle East.

Greece attempting to thwart Gaza flotilla

The Greek government is trying to stop its citizens from joining an international flotilla that will try to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Greece, which has growing ties with Israel, said in a statement from its Foreign Ministry that while it is against the blockade of Gaza and the use of violence to prevent ships from reaching the coastal strip, “taking into consideration the appeal of the United Nations General Secretary, we encourage Greek citizens as well as ships under Greek registry not to take part in the new flotilla headed to Gaza” on June 25.

The flotilla will not help the humanitarian situation, the statement said.

“Greek foreign policy is set by the Greek government, which has in mind the advancement of Greek interests,” it said. “In these moments [the citizens] must show the corresponding responsibility or take full responsibility of their actions.”

Israel’s ambassador to Greece, Arye Mekel, welcomed the Foreign Ministry statement.

Greek activists calling themselves A Ship to Gaza have organized a series of events about the situation in the Middle East that include movie presentations, concerts and discussions. At the events, the Greek flotilla organizers have portrayed themselves as defenders of human rights and democracy throughout the region.

However, A Ship to Gaza reportedly has proven to be a political movement of Greek extreme left-wing activists and anarchist sympathizers who support terrorist groups such as Hamas, have allied themselves with extremist Muslim-Turkish organizations and lend legitimacy to authoritarian regimes like Iran.

The activists have not hidden their opposition to the recent improvement in the relations among Greece, Israel and Cyprus.

Vangelis Pissias, the head of A Ship to Gaza, in a February interview with the Greek public television station ET-3, voiced his strong opposition to the improvement in Greco-Israeli ties and praised attempts to derail them. He said the new flotilla is “part of this effort.”

The Greek Free Gaza website has condemned the visits of Israeli officials to Greece.

Greek media have come out in support of the ministry’s statement, including outlets that have been traditionally anti-Israel.

Israeli Navy commandoes boarded a Turkish ship in an international flotilla in May 2010 that tried to break Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza. Nine people aboard the Mavi Marmara ship were killed in the ensuing violence.