Activists, and most with any human sympathy to their name, were shocked when Greece decided to nail new unpleasant colours to its masthead. The second flotilla, en route to breaking the blockade that Israel has enforced around Palestine, was detained at Greek ports earlier this month and then sent back.
Civil society, arrayed against Zionism, was dismayed. It was always expected that Israel would react badly to attempts to challenge its writ, but Greece’s complicity was considered a shock. As far as the former is concerned, the nine civilian activists killed aboard the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara in the first flotilla was indication enough of the apartheid regime’s intentions towards perceived transgressions. Israel accused the activists of deadly sins, such as trying to attack Kevlar-clad, fully-armed soldiers with bubble wrap and plastic pipes. Squishy plastics and die-cast goods became the latest in the long line of ‘existential’ threats to the chosen ones. Israel was determined that no aid must get through and, more importantly, that the Palestinians must never be legitimised as people with stories and aspirations. But not many expected Greece to perpetuate the apartheid siege of Palestine beyond Israel’s borders to the extent it did. The shock, though, was overrated, for such was to be logically expected.
A preamble might be in order. Israel maintains a blockade on trade, commerce and goods to the Palestinian territories. The situation was exacerbated in 2006 when, in George W Bush’s bid for forced democracy, Hamas came to power in the Gaza strip. The West Bank is the more affluent wing of Palestine, while Gaza remains the impoverished cousin. It has been severely economically and geographically barricaded post- 2001, and the situation only worsened when Hamas came to power. So dire is the situation in Gaza that Israel actually threatens Palestinian West Bank residents to deportation there if they misbehave.
Why would Greece ally with an apartheid power? In truth, it was the most logical move in the world. Greece is going through its own crises. One of the newer members of the European Union, it is in the precarious position of having to be bailed out by its EU cousins — an issue on which France and Germany are dragging their heels. Shorn of national pride and denied European support, the Greek government can’t be blamed for trying to find allies. And most importantly, there’s the Turkey variable.
Joshua Waitzkin, speaking in one of his many tutorials, mentions the “space left behind.” He’s a chess grandmaster who believes that every time an opponent moves a piece to attack, he leaves behind the space the piece occupied. The principle works just as well in international relations.
Turkey was Israel’s de facto friend in the region. But it was tired of Israel’s less than humane stance vis a vis the Palestinians, and also wanted to assume a position of ideological leadership in the Arab world. There was also the small matter that all the activists killed in the first flotilla to Palestine were Turkish, onboard a Turkish ship. In positioning itself as a potential figurehead for the Arab Spring, and the voice of castigation for the Israelis, it moved away from its position of ‘friend.’ Greece, of course, was quick to capitalise, and with pleasure. Israel was ready and available, and Greece took the space that Turkey left behind.
The leftist activists are upset. Understandably so, for not many foresaw Greece as a foe. What should be surprising isn’t what Greece did, but why we would think they would do any differently.
The last dispatches on the second flotilla issue saw the ships being confiscated and dispersed and Greek and Israeli naval forces happily carrying out exercises together. Turkey said not a relevant word, and the Palestinians continue to suffer.
Meanwhile, just recently, Mumbai was rocked with four simultaneous incidents — three blasts and an instant condemnation from the Pakistani powers that be. One wonders which had the most power to wound. It would not be surprising in the least if the last were the unkindest cut of them all.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2011.
More in PakistanWhat would happen if Pakistan and the US severed ties?