The Free Gaza Movement had already been delayed for various reasons including lack of funding, probable interference from Israel in the purchase of a boat, the death of one of the contributors (Riad, a lovely man), etc. So the August 5, 2008 departure date was eagerly sought for all the organizers and I arrived in Greece on July 22 with the intention of meeting that departure date. When it came down to it however it became impossible and the delays were exacerbated by the fact that crewmembers were waiting in Cyprus for the August 5 departure. Greece to Cyprus for the two boats (Liberty and Free Gaza) was an adventure in itself and much could be written about it, but I will just summarise the Greece to Crete leg.
The journey was full of challenges, not least of which was the continual pressure from the Israeli Government to the Greek Government that was intended to stop our journey through bureaucratic means. To the credit of the Greeks they did not cave in and overall they were helpful to our cause. However, they were very interested in getting us out of Greek waters ASAP, and that made the stress of dealing with boat repairs and typical challenges associated with long haul boat journeys that much more stressful. For me the greatest stress was a sort of limbo I was put in as to whether I would serve as Captain or not. This was an issue due to the fact that although I was a licensed U.S. Captain beginning in 1999, in 2001 I lawfully renounced my U.S. citizenship. So as a result I was compelled to let my Captains license expire in 2004 since the license was acquired as a U.S. citizen. My renunciation of citizenship was no frivolous act so I could not claim the benefit of a U.S. license while not agreeing to the terms of citizenship… and I most certainly do not agree. The sacrifice was I lost the license; this was the issue regarding the Free Gaza mission. Although my situation was unique, and all I would have needed to do to renew my license was sign the renewal papers, I was technically not licensed.
Even though we were not a commercial enterprise and strictly by law we did not require a licensed Captain, we did not want to give Israel any excuse to stop our mission. As it turned out I did Captain the boat for some of the journey, but when it came to the Cyprus to Gaza leg another Captain was called in. I was disappointed by this reality but I understood it.
Anyway, the trip from Greece to Cyprus meant meeting new people who joined us once the boats reached Crete. Crete was brilliant, the people were very supportive and the port of Chania was lovely. That was where I met Aki (of the band Fundamental), Yvonne Ridley, Jeff Halper (our only Israeli crew member), Vik from Italy (“Come on!”), several others and Lauren Booth (Tony Blair’s sister in law). Lauren came up to me at a typically hot and hard working moment where I was perhaps just a bit tired of some of the stresses, she came and stood right in front of me and announced that she was “reporting for duty Captain”. I did not know who she was but offered a hello, she jokingly said something like “nice reception mate” and offered me a drink of water, it was hot and I was thirsty so I took a drink, it ended up being a Greek liquor that you will definitely feel as it goes down. I laughed, told her she would get that back, and we hit it off from that point on.
While in Chania I was able to have a good dance, which always inspires me. I also ran into Leone who I met as part of the TJP Human Shield Action to Iraq. He was with his lady Marianthi and together they made us a great meal at the squat which overlooked the port. All the people of the squat were lovely as well, thanks to all of you for your hospitality. Eventually we set off for Iraklio and did some minor repairs, then off to Sitia on the Eastern edge of Crete. We had now covered a good portion of the journey to Cyprus but the longest open sea leg was before us. To be continued