On June 22nd, the Dutch delegation of Freedom Flotilla II had gathered on Corfu, after months of preparations. After receiving training sessions in non-violent self-defense, they were ready to sail on the 25th. In the mean time, a lot has happened, including organizational delays, sabotaged boats, and ships commandeered by the Greek coast guard, most notably the US boat ‘Audacity of Hope’ on the 3rd of July, and a couple of hours after this interview was taken today (July 4), the Canadian ship ‘Tahrir’. One of the activists sailing on the Dutch boat, 19-year old student of Molecular Life Sciences Chris Verweij, tells us his story.
Ikram: When did you travel to Corfu?
Chris: On the 21st. In any case, everyone from the Dutch group had to be there on the 22nd, because originally we planned to sail on the 25th.
Ikram: Everything had already been arranged? Paperwork, permissions etcetera?
Chris: Yes, insurance, permit, initially that was all in order.
Ikram: So, then came the 25th. What happened?
Chris: Well one of the main things was that we really wished for all the boats to sail simultaneously. However, some of the boats were not ready yet. Passengers from the boats that were unfit to sail had to be relocated to other boats. So this delay caused opportunities for sabotage, and for the authorities to increase pressure.
Ikram: And who makes the decisions? Do you have a spokesman who communicates with the representatives of the other vessels?
Chris: There is an international steering committee with representatives from every boat. And all decisions on each ship are taken democratically, involving all the passengers.
Ikram: So the first delay was not caused by the authorities, but came from within, but it gave the authorities the opportunity to exert pressure?
Chris: Yes, that is correct, but apart from that pressure there was also sabotage, first on the Swedish/Norwegian ship, and later also on the Irish one. Every day the delay proved riskier. But because boats were getting extra passengers because of the relocations from disabled vessels new precautions and measures had to be taken (such as a new life boat), and this in turn required new permits. And because of Israeli pressure on the Greeks, this proved difficult.
Ikram: So how long has it taken to prepare everything? Meetings, collecting humanitarian aid, finances, etcetera?
Chris: We are talking about several months here, to prepare the entire flotilla. As you perhaps know, originally we wanted to sail much earlier. I myself am only involved since May, but there are also people here who have been working on it since October.
Ikram: So were you prepared for this? Being stopped by the Greek authorities?
Chris: No. We really hadn’t expected the blockade to extend all the way to Greece. After the previous Flotilla we were much more prepared for confrontation with the blockade, but we didn’t think it would already be here. If we would have anticipated this, we would have of course sailed immediately into international waters on the 25th, regardless of whether all boats would have been there within a few days.
Ikram: How many passengers are there in total, and how many boats are still left?
Chris: There are still 10 boats, 2 of them cargo boats, but the US boat has been stopped, the Canadian one is surrounded in the harbor, the French boat has also been stopped after refueling, I think on Crete; the Irish ship is still damaged, so how many boats are still fit to set sail I don’t know. Regarding the number of activists: the last total I heard is 350, some people have returned home but will come back if we will really sail, so it’s a bit uncertain. It’s quite difficult to communicate at the moment, because of all this chaos caused by the Greek authorities.
Ikram: So there is no boat at see at the moment? The French one has also been stopped?
Chris: Permits and insurances that are valid today, may be declared invalid tomorrow. Well … as far as I know none are sailing at the moment.
Ikram: So there is a lot of uncertainty. You would have sailed today, have you called this off now?
Chris: We will not sail today, the Canadian boat has announced to set sail at 6 o’clock despite the Greek blockade, just like the US boat.
Ikram: What do you undertake to increase pressure, to be able to sail?
Chris: The people of Greece really are supportive. Yesterday in Athens at the Syntagma square people held a demonstration in our support, and today as well on Corfu, at 5 o’ clock. There are also Greek members of Parliament who support us, and they try to exert pressure. And there are lots of media here, they are also very clear about what is a good way to exert pressure. As you know, Trouw (a Dutch newspaper, DJ) and the Wereldomroep (Dutch world broadcasting station, DJ) ran away from here, as you probably now. But instead we now have Al Jazeera, Reuters and the Guardian, so I am not complaining.
Ikram: What do you do, how do you spend your time these days?
Chris: We hold many meetings to brief each other about updates, we meet every morning and evening. In daytime we do things like recording video messages for the world, to give a face to the Gaza Fleet.
Ikram: So how long will this go on? Any idea when and if you will sail?
Chris: They will let us know tomorrow whether all the permits will be granted, so that’s really a decision-day, so to say. But if we can’t sail from Greece now, we will sail in a month, or months, or a year, who knows? From a different place. The boats are here now, the people are here. The Flotilla will stay, even if Greece blocks it now. God willing, we will break the blockade, regardless of time and place.
Ikram: What will you have achieved if you don’t break the siege of Gaza?
Chris: The eyes of the world are on Gaza again, and are looking at the illegitimate actions of Israel. In front of worldwide media, Israel makes Greece execute their blockade. It is important to show this. And I think we have managed to do that, if we have raised doubts about the blockade internationally.
(www.docjazz.com / 04.07.2011)