Our hearty congratulations, praise, and thanks go to Greece this week. The Greek government pulled off a great surprise by blocking the attempted departure from Greece of the "flotilla" of nine ships that were to be headed to the Gaza territory of Israel to challenge Israel's maritime blockade of Gaza.
Yes, it was a pleasant and unexpected surprise to see another Middle East country take some pro-Israel action for a change. The entire Middle East has always been strongly pro-Arab and anti-Israel, mainly because of the dominant Arab population in the area.
Greek authorities arrested the captain of the flotilla flagship, who happens to be an American citizen. They charged him with disturbing sea traffic, with endangering the lives of many innocent people, and with disobeying a police order to remain at dock. They also prevented his ship and the other vessels and their crews from leaving the Greek harbor near Athens.
The United States government applauded the Greek action. A State Department official commented, "The Greek authorities showed unusual maritime courage at a moment of high national stress."
The Greek government said on July 1 that none of the other nine boats in the flotilla bound for Gaza will be allowed to depart because of the dangers involved. Organizers of the flotilla accused the Greek government of buckling to pressure from Israel. On June 29 the Israeli goverment said that flotilla participants had threatened to kill Israeli security personnel, should their vessels be boarded. Flotilla leaders are alleged to have stockpiled sacks of sulphuric acid on board to deter boarding by Israeli personnel.
A Greek news release said that some 300 so-called human rights activists were on the ships, including journalists, political figures, writers, and religious figures from the U.S., Canada and Europe. Among them were Alice Walker, the author of the film, "The Color Purple," and former State Department official Ann Wright. Most of the passengers remained on the ships in solidarity with the captain.
This planned flotilla was to be a sequel to last year's similar flotilla, which sailed to Gaza from Turkey with some 700 activitists aboard. Israeli naval personnel boarded the ships, enforcing the blockade. Violence broke out and nine people were killed.
On June 30, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that if the organizers of the current flotilla insisted on challenging the Gaza blockade again, they will be intercepted by the Israeli navy, and the organizers will be responsible for any injuries or damage.
Prime Minister Banjamin Netanyahu added that Israel will not stand by if the flotilla seeks to breach the "Hamas terrotist enclave" of Gaza. He insisted that the naval blockade is necessary to prevent weapons from reaching the Palestinian militant Hamas group that rules Gaza. Flotilla organizers have claimed that they would be bringing humanitarian aid to Hamas-controlled Gaza.
Israel has been joined by the United States in urging the flotilla to sail to other Israeli ports and to transfer their cargo legally to Gaza over land.
The latest word is that the entire flotilla remains in the Greek harbor, but that the participants still hope and plan to make the trip to Gaza as soon as they can be released to go. Israel says they are ready for them this time.
Dr. Al Snyder is a former professor of Communications at Liberty University in Virginia and North Greenville University. He has done extensive missionary work in Israel and Africa.