Despite claims to the contrary from some activists, it now appears that the so-called "freedom flotilla" will never set sail. At the time of this writing, most ships are stuck in various Greek ports and going nowhere. At least two have tried to leave – The Audacity of Hope, an American ship, and the Canadian Tahrir – but both were commandeered by Greek naval forces a few minutes after they sailed. Plagued by logistical problems from the start (clever legal manoeuvring has prohibited the boats from getting maritime insurance, for example), many activists are losing patience and abandoning ship.
That the flotilla has not set sail is a win for Israel. If any of the boats had arrived at Gaza's shores, no positive outcome was possible for the Jewish State. No matter how fairly and gently the Israelis might have dealt with the occupants of the boats, the media coverage would have been bad.
The biggest unanswered question remains why, at a time when several Arab countries are in the midst of near revolutions and innocent people are dying in the streets, no one is organizing a boat to deliver them supplies?
As this pitiable episode comes to a conclusion, what has been achieved? Aside from turning a few activists into media stars and giving journalists something to write about, not much. The people of Gaza are no better or worse off.
It did not have to be that way. If the flotilla activists had wanted, their supplies could have already reached their intended destination. The Israeli and Greek governments offered to get the supplies to Gaza, a plan which had the apparent approval of Mahmoud Abbas. The activists rejected the offer because they do not really care about helping the people of Gaza, only embarrassing Israel. This exercise was only about politics and public relations. The activists even refuse to acknowledge that there exist five easy, safe and legal crossing-points to reach Gaza, and that aid can, and is, easily reaching the people there.
As Khaled Abu Toameh has reported elsewhere on this website, Gaza was recently given the go-ahead to receive $100-million worth of goods and shipping supplies from the United Nations to build new homes and schools. Gaza will soon open two new luxury hotels. Citizens there have a life expectancy of 74, seven years above global average and higher than in Egypt, India or Russia. The inflation rate is lower than the U.S. Infant mortality is less than half the world average. Obviously, conditions are far from perfect – the unemployment rate remains devastatingly high – but there is no calamity in need of emergency action.
Kevin Neish, a 54-year-old Canadian who was on-board the flotilla last year and on the Tahrir this time, announced in an interview with Canada's Globe and Mail that the primary objective was political. He said: "We couldn't possibly bring enough aid to help Gaza. The aid is symbolic. The goal is to break the blockade."
As their goal of setting sail slowly dimmed, flotilla activists started resorting to more extreme measures. Two days ago, a small group of them occupied the Spanish embassy in Athens. One activist even accused Israel of exerting financial pressure on Greece, effectively taking advantage of that country's wobbly economic situation.
Only two of the original ten boats were reported as being actual cargo vessels with aid materials; the other eight were full of activists and journalists intent on provoking the IDF in front of cameras. It seems they will not get to do that this year, therefore avoiding a potential repeat of last year's fatal clash.
Many parts of the Middle East are currently burning, but Gaza is not one of them. Too bad the flotilla could not head straight south to Libya instead.