Israel has deployed a powerful new strategy against the latest wouldbe Gaza flotilla activists: Bore them to death.
For three weeks, the activists aboard the lead flotilla boat, an old freighter renamed the “Tahrir,” have languished in port on the Greek island of Crete.
Greek law is very precise: Before a boat can leave port, its paperwork must be in order.
Curiously enough, militant terrorist groups such as Hamas -whose front organizations in London organized the flotilla -tend not to be very good at paperwork. By contrast, the Israeli lawyers filing applications in the Greek courts are very good at spotting mistakes. Following Greek law, the Cretan harbor authorities have again and again refused the Tahrir permission to depart.
On July 3, the flotilla activists lost patience. They disregarded local rules, and steamed out of port without the necessary permissions. A Greek coast guard vessel intercepted the Tahrir and forced it back to port.
The next day, the activists were brought to court on charges of leaving port without a permit and obstructing the coast guard in the course of its duties. (Two of the activists had descended from the Tahrir in kayaks to interpose themselves between the coast guard vessel and the freighter.)
A Greek court fined the activists 80 euros each and sentenced them to a month in jail -suspended. No drama. No martyrdom. Just another round of visits to another set of clerks’ offices. And of course -more forms to fill out.
There is something almost exquisite about the justice here. The flotilla has been organized by London-based proHamas front groups. As a terrorist organization, Hamas of course rejects the very idea of a society based on law. What more appropriate fate, then, for supporters of this Hamas project than to be tangled forever in legalities?
Only one boat of all the flotilla vessels has managed to depart Greece: a Gilligan’s Island-style motor yacht with nine activists aboard. Israeli vessels should be able to manage it without difficulty.
On Thursday, an attempted “flytilla” was defeated when 200 would-be protesters arrived at Paris airport to board flights to Israel. Lufthansa, Malev, Alitalia and other airlines regretfully informed the protesters that their names appeared on a list of persons who would be denied entry to Israel -and who would therefore have to be returned home at the airlines’ own expense. The protesters had to do their picketing in Paris instead, denouncing Charles de GaulleRoissy as “Israeli occupied territory” -quite a funny idea when you think about it.
The political context has shifted abruptly against the flotilla organizers: The Hamas role in organizing the flotillas has become harder to ignore -indeed, Hamas has ceased even to deny it.
Few European governments wish to act as Hamas’ powder monkey. Even Turkey -which last year looked the other way as violent men assembled aboard the Mavi Marmara en route to Israel -has redirected its policy. Turkey has accepted the UN report that confirms that Israel acted lawfully in stopping the 2010 flotilla attempt. The two countries are now jointly working to craft a statement that, according to one witty observer, “will sound like an apology in Turkish, but not in Hebrew.”
Public opinion is turning, too. Flotilla organizers allege that Israel is impoverishing Gaza with a blockade that denies the population the necessities of life. Last year, some international media organizations accepted that false claim. But in the year since, there has been increasing reportage of the facts of life in Gaza: the bustling marketplaces, the new hotels and shopping malls. (As a YouTube video comments about one new mall: “Gazans were forced to search desperately for sales and specials.”) The escalators in those malls and hotels were imported. From Israel. Some blockade!
European governments are fighting a war in Libya. They see the Muslim Brotherhood advancing toward power in Egypt. They are confronted by horrifying repression by the Hamas-allied Assad regime in Syria. This cannot seem to anyone like a moment to empower Hamas.
On the other hand, few European governments wish to take direct action against Hamas. Too dangerous. So Hamas continues to raise money in Europe, to make propaganda, to recruit supporters -and to organize flotillas.
But it’s one thing to organize a flotilla. Another to set sail.
A classic joke describes the perfect Jewish telegram: “Start worrying now, letter to follow.” It’s never safe to quit worrying about Israel. But this summer, at least, it looks as if at least some of the usual worries have been offset by some good news -and smart lawyering.