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Medea Benjamin

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of the women-led peace group CODEPINK and the human rights/fair trade group Global Exchange.

June 28th, 2011 12:37 AM

More from Athens: 'It's Unbelievable How Inhumane and Violent They Are'

Today we had a long meeting about whether or not we should do some visible protests against the Greek government for holding up our ship and if so, where we should do the actions. We even had a scouting team go out, which brought back all kinds of ideas. My favorite was the “choo-choo trail option” of renting a tourist trolley, and jazzing it up with our banners, lifejackets and other paraphernalia from the boat.  But in the end, the folks in the international flotilla—especially the Greeks—recommended that we lay low for a few days to see if the complaint against our boat is lifted quickly.

We had been very eager to meet some of the passengers of the other boats, and last night was our opportunity. We had a fabulous dinner with passengers and organizers from Spain, Italy, Greece, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Austria, France and Belgium. It was amazing how many of the groups had elected officials who were going on their boats. I met Parliamentarians from the European Union, as well as from individual countries such as Norway, Sweden and Spain. I felt a great sense of sadness that it would be so impossible to get a member of our Congress to join us. Our representatives are so afraid to speak out for justice on this issue. After months of work, we were only able to get six members of Congress (out of 535 reps) to sign onto a simple letter to President Obama asking our government to help ensure our safety.

One question I had been asking myself is why there are so few Palestinians on any of these boats. I got the answer after talking to a Palestinian living in Italy who had helped organize the flotilla but was not going. He said they might not have passports that allow them to travel easily; they might have family in Palestine and want to be able to go back into Israel in order to visit them (all passengers on the last flotilla have been banned from Israel for 10 years); or, they may fear the treatment inside Israeli jails. While we, foreigners, will probably be held in jail for a few days before being deported, Palestinians are routinely held for long periods of time. This man told me that his brother had visited him in Italy and upon his return to Palestine, the Israelis picked him up at the airport and held him, without charge, for 2 ½ years!

Later that evening a group of US passengers went out to the big square where the Greeks have been protesting against economic austerity measures for 31 days. It is their Tahrir Square. It’s amazing how the Egyptian protests have rocked the world. Greek people in the square are so sympathetic to the Palestinians and the flotilla. They had members of our delegation speak to the whole assembly, receiving tremendous support. On Tuesday and Wednesday there will be a general strike, and we will be out there to support the world and get support in return for our struggle with the Greek government to let our boats set sail.

We had a great medical training by Kathy Sheets, who is both a nurse and a passenger and was on the last flotilla to Gaza. We learned all kinds of useful things, like the difference between earplugs for sleeping and earplugs for protection from percussion grenades. We decided to all take goggles to protect our eyes from tear gas, pepper spray, paint balls and whatever else they might throw our way.

We learned how to do triage—how to evaluate the wounded according to 4 categories: minor, delay, immediate and deceased. We practiced how to move a wounded person, including how to secure their head, how to deal with people who are in shock. Every time we do this kind of exercise, it really hits home the risk we are taking.

That was reinforced by Janet, one of the women who was on one of the smaller boats last year. She told us about the tear gas, sound bombs and paint pellets. Her group tried to protect the captain by linking arms, but the soldiers were too forceful. They just beat the passengers up, and they beat the captain so badly he had to be evacuated to Greece. Kathy Sheets described how—on her boat–the Israelis took two women, threw them on the ground and pushed their faces into the blown-out glass on the deck. “It’s unbelievable how inhumane and violent they are,” Kathy said.

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