On Tuesday, a small pleasure boat with eight passengers aboard became the first vessel in the planned flotilla to elude the Greek coast guard en route to Gaza.
But if the true aim was to achieve a public relations victory rather than to deliver aid to Gaza – as Israeli authorities charged and flotilla participants themselves acknowledged – then the thousands of news reports about the flotilla’s plans, problems and participants succeeded by at least one measure: getting attention.
“Given the tremendous obstacles placed in the way of the flotilla, we should not for a moment think this work has been in vain. Just the opposite,” Leslie Cagan, co-ordinator of the U.S. boat to Gaza, wrote this week on the U.S. to Gaza website.
“We have called greater attention to the urgent need to end the Israeli blockade and siege of Gaza, as well as the overall occupation of the Palestinian Territories.”
Reveling in the attention, pro-Palestinian activists talked to reporters about their next publicity stunt: a planned “fly-in” to Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv beginning Friday to protest Israeli policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians.
Hoping to disrupt airport operations, the activists reportedly are planning to declare “Palestine” as their destination upon landing in Israel; they have said they will stage demonstrations if denied entry.
This year’s flotilla was organized to mark the anniversary of last year’s flotilla to Gaza, which set sail from Turkey before being stopped by the Israeli Navy on May 31, 2010.
When one of the vessels refused to heed Israeli warnings to desist, Israel Defence Forces commandos stormed the boat, the Mavi Marmara, and nine Turkish passengers were killed amid the fighting. The incident prompted an international outcry and sent Turkish-Israeli relations to a nadir.
The 2011 flotilla came on the heels of an announcement by Israel that it would allow building materials into Gaza for 1,200 homes and 18 schools.
Adam Shapiro, an organizer of the Free Gaza Movement, said the announcement was a sign that the flotilla had resulted in real gains.
He attributed the change to “flotilla pressure.”
“Even this year, the concrete results of the flotilla are evident,” Shapiro wrote in a column in Gulf News, a news outlet in the United Arab Emirates.