For Immediate Release
Contact:Athens: Donna Nevel (30) 694-266-3852, Medea Benjamin (30) 698-404-7912
NY: Leslie Cagan 845- 688-5646
July 3, 2011 Athens, Greece
Members of the U.S. Boat to Gaza have begun an open-ended fast calling on the U.S. government to defend our right to sail out of Greece. The fast has begun in front of the U.S. Embassy at 91 Vasilisis Sophias Avenue in Athens. Fasters delivered an urgent letter to the Embassy and plan to sleep overnight outside the Embassy gates.
Passengers and U.S. boat organizers participating in the fast are: Medea Benjamin, Ken Mayers, Paki Wieland, Kathy Kelly, Ray McGovern, Helaine Meisler, Nic Abramson, and Carol Murry.
Passenger Kathy Kelly said, "We call on officials at the U.S. Embassy in Athens to publicly acknowledge our right to sail and to call on the Greek government to free our ship and its captain immediately."
There will also be a march in support of the flotilla beginning at 7 pm organized by Greek activists who have been protesting the government's austerity measures in Syntagma Square. The march will include a demand on the Greek government to let all of the boats in the Freedom Flotilla 2 sail to Gaza and to free the captain of the U.S. ship, who has been held in jail.
The departure of the U.S. Boat to Gaza -- The Audacity of Hope -- was first delayed by a complaint filed by the Israel Law Center and shown to be frivolous. Greek authorities then inspected the boat but, until the boat set sail five days later, the results of that inspection has not been shared with the captain and his crew.
The Greek Coast Guard stopped The Audacity of Hope some 20 minutes after it had left the dock on Friday, July 1. The Coast Guard ordered the captain to stop the ship, which he did. Commandos with drawn rifles ordered the ship to return. It is now impounded at a military dock in Athens and the captain has ben arrested.
Over the past two weeks, two boats of the international flotilla to Gaza have been sabotaged while docked at Greek ports. The potential danger to the U.S. boat was obvious to the captain, the crew and the passengers: there was a clear possibility that the U.S. boat would be sabotaged next.
Greek consular officials in the United States, when besieged with calls by angry Americans, told callers that they should direct their protest to U.S. officials because they were ultimately responsible. "We know that the U.S. government has been supporting Israel's underhanded efforts to thwart the flotilla, and has been pressuring the Greek government to stop us. This is a disgrace," said passenger/faster Medea Benjamin. "On July 4, it's time for our government to declare independence from Israel and start supporting its own citizens."
We note that on June 24, passengers on the U.S. Boat to Gaza visited the Consul General in Athens, Deputy Consul General Kate Brandeis agreed that the U.S. Boat "had a right to sail to Gaza."
Ms. Brandeis assured the passengers that the consulate was there to assist U.S. citizens that run into difficulty while in Greece. To date, we have received no assistance from the U.S. Embassy and the captain of our boat, a U.S. citizen, remains in jail and has yet to be visited by anyone from the U.S. Embassy.