Under pressure from Israel and the United States, the Greek government has prohibited the Freedom Flotilla from sailing to Gaza from its ports. But for its organizers, the fight has just begun and Israel will remain under pressure by civil society who will continue to denounce the illegality of the blockade, and to fight to go to Gaza. Dimitris Plionis, one of the Greek spokesmen for the flotilla, responds here to the questions of Silvia Cattori.
The Canadian boat, called ’Tahrir’ with 22 Canadians on board, as well as contingents from Australia, Belgium, Denmark and Turkey, was boarded by local port police in Agios Nicolaos, Crete.
Silvia Cattori: The flotilla is not free to sail. Is the reason for that situation the fact that Greece is now in a terrible financial turmoil and totally dependent?
Dimitris Plionis : We knew that our project would face obstacles but having almost all major governments against us, as also the UN and the Quartet? No, we did not expect our project to have such a honour, we must have stepped on a really big toe. Of course we realize that it is a bad coincidence that we are in this situation; but still we believe that the project of the Freedom flotilla is exerting pressure. Listen: we are not strong; we are not States; we are not governments. But of course, we have now, with Greece, three governments against us. And, among them, two of the strongest governments in the world: the United States and Israel. And what are we? We are activists, civil society people. We are not even parties; we are not even political organizations, you know. And we have achieved such a big thing. We have put Gaza at the forefront. We have already achieved that. You know that Israel, a few days ago, has increased the amount of humanitarian help, and also of materials that they allow to go to Gaza. This is thanks to our pressure.
Silvia Cattori: Are we seeing the Israelis in a battle for their image? Do you think that, at this stage, they are winning that battle?
Dimitris Plionis: Israel is proud to have succeeded to stop the flotilla, that is to say 300 or 500 or 600 activists, ten to twelve small and middle-size ships of a peaceful civil society. And it shows itself very happy that a State with an of army 300,000 soldiers which is oppressing the Palestinians and has nuclear arms, has stopped the flotilla. It shows itself very happy because it has managed to do it through AIPAC, the Israeli lobby in the US, which many senators and many congressmen are depending on, and also through the Greek government, which is totally dependent - and is not in a situation where it can really pursue an independent policy, as a regular country – and, by pressuring it, Israel managed to stop the flotilla. Their victory, if it is a victory - and I don’t think it is one - is a very small victory.
Silvia Cattori: Are you not pessimistic?
Dimitris Plionis: No, I am not so pessimistic because we are achieving things. Remember, we are talking not about a nation, not about a country, not about a political organization; we are talking about civil society people, coming from many countries, who have in common the objective to break the siege of Gaza. We knew that it would not be easy, and this is only the start of the battle. It is not the end. This is the beginning. And even if we lose the battle, we will not lose the war. The work continues.
Silvia Cattori: A few days ago, Netanyahu sent a message to your prime minister to thank him for not letting you sail. Aren’t the Israelis humiliating, in that way, not only the humanitarian people who are taking part in this flotilla, but also the entire Greek population?
Dimitris Plionis: Yes. We are humiliated as Greeks because our government has put us as a people into this position. But I think the worse humiliation is for the government and personally for the prime minister, for doing such things. You understand what I mean. We, the people of Greece are, at a majority of 90%, pro-Palestinian. We have been a pro-Palestinian country for many years now. It’s not like in France, not like in Germany, not like in Switzerland, we are much more pro-Palestinian. The country that is more pro-Palestinian than us is Turkey. Maybe Turkey is first, I don’t know, maybe. But we are pro-Palestinian, the people are. And if they did not have this great economic crisis, they would have been freer to express themselves.
Silvia Cattori: The Israeli make a war against the Palestinians; and now against you, just because you support the Palestinians. So you are well aware that it is a very difficult task?
Dimitris Plionis: Listen, we know what we are up against. We are, as I have said, civil society people, we are plain citizens. We know, we understand, their politics. We are not stupid. We know the game that is played. We knew that when we came up for these flotillas - it started in 2008 – that it was not going to be an easy thing. We are putting states into alert, and specially the Israeli. As I said before, for a peaceful flotilla of some hundred activists, Israel is mobilizing its whole army, its air force, its diplomacy. Its government is making a special cabinet meeting for this flotilla. I think that this is ridiculous, completely ridiculous. I think that Israel is the one that is acting hysterically.
There is a reason for them to be hysterical; but the reason is that they do not want that to happen; they do not want us to say that the Gaza siege is an act of international bullying. If they think that the result allows them to do whatever they want, this will continue to burden the Israeli government. And this will create a situation where Israel cannot any more enforce its policy.
The problem lies with the Israeli government policies. That their policies are inhuman, oppressive, colonialist. They are oppressing all Palestinian people. And this cannot be accepted in the twenty first century. It is apartheid; we can not accept apartheid. The civil society cannot turn a blind eye. And this is what we are trying to project. We never say that we will beat the Israeli government, the Israeli State. Our aim is not that. What we want is to lift the siege of Gaza. We want Palestine to be free.
Silvia Cattori: If I understand correctly, Israel is showing its weakness?
Dimitris Plionis: I believe that such a mobilisation has never been done for such type of action. I mean that this type of action is not threatening the existence of Israel. We are not going to send bombs or whatever. We just want to go through. I believe that it is because Israel became a military colonialist State. They are like the apartheid regime in South Africa. Israel should try to become a normal nation. It is up to the Israeli people to decide if they want to do that, or become even worse. We have told the truth about what we want: we are open and everybody should know our aims.
On the same subject, see also:
“US Flotilla activists begin open-ended hunger strike in Greece”, by Saed Bannoura, 4 July, 2011.
Freedom Flotilla 2: “Gaza blockade has been extended to Greece” , by Saed Bannoura, 1st July, 2011.
“Gilad Atzmon: Gaza Flotilla vs. Diaspora Jewry”, 1st July, 2011.
“Freedom Flotilla 2 is sailing to Gaza in late June”, by John Greyson, 18 June, 2011.
“A "Swiss Made" Boat for Gaza”, by Silvia Cattori, 1st November 2010.
 Dimitris Plionis, son of a Greek Air Force Major General. BA in Business Management - American College. Worked for 30 years in Olympic Airways - the last 16 years as Head Slot Coordinator of Greek Airports. Married, father of three children, local Councilor of Area Municipality - Holargos of Athens. Member of Ship to Gaza – Greece. Was on board the Mavi Marmara last mission when IOF attacked the flotilla.