1. Before the flotilla’s departure for the Gaza Strip, two groups, one from the United States and the other from Canada, flew to Greece to join the ships. The participants, who registered in two hotels in Athens, underwent a short training workshop to prepare them for a possible IDF takeover of the ship (both groups may have attended the same workshop). They also received briefings in security and communications, and a political update. In our assessment other groups received similar training. Alongside the organizers’ public statements about preparations for passive resistance, there are apparently extremist activists in their ranks of the passengers, intending to use hard violence.
Topics Covered in the Workshop in Greece
2. The main topic covered was passenger response to an Israeli takeover of the ships and their being towed to the port of Ashdod, with detention of the passengers and their deportation. Tactics of confronting IDF soldiers were supposed to be practiced, arm-linking around the wheelhouse, resistance evacuation from the ship and sitting on the deck to prevent the soldiers from going below decks to the aft cabins.1
3. The participants were briefed about the kinds of weapons the IDF soldiers might use and how to defend themselves against them. Weapons mentioned were tear gas, pepper spray, water cannons, attack dogs, sniper fire, etc. (From the blog of Medea Benjamin, rabble.ca, June 25, 2011).2 They practiced documentation as well.
4. Other topics covered in the workshop (according to Medea Benjamin’s blog):
1) Personal safety and flotilla security: Passengers have been requested to use the buddy system so that everyone will be closely supervised. They were strongly advised of the importance of operating as a group to overcome fear.3 They were also advised to keep a low profile while in Athens (which they did not succeed in doing).4
2) Ways of gaining time to be able to send reports from the ship about events on board: In light of the events aboard the Mavi Marmara, where electronic equipment was confiscated, the participants in the current flotilla have been briefed on how to send information from the ship until the last moment, and to keep magnetic storage devices hidden.
3) United States Army Colonel (Ret.) Ann Wright, a former diplomat and one of the organizers of the current flotilla, delivered a political speech. In it she described the political pressures exerted by Israel on the Turkish and Greek delegations and on Greece’s precarious financial situation, which is liable to influence its stance on the flotilla.
5. The Western networks participating in the flotilla have trained in the use of the passive resistance tactics (as part of what they refer to as "direct action"). For many years they have been acquiring experience in applying such tactics in various anti-Israeli activities (obstructing IDF activities in the Palestinian Authority-administered territories, participating in convoys and flotillas). Some of them are participating in the current flotilla.
6. Their past experience and the short workshop they attended indicate the intention, at least of the hard core of activists, to apply various tactics of passive resistance. That is a situation which, judging by past experience, is liable to spin out of control.
7. Statements were made about passive resistance by some of the flotilla’s organizers:
1) Huwaida Arraf, a prominent activist in the FGM umbrella network who plays a central role in the flotilla, recently said that the participants would not be carrying any weapon that could be used against anyone, not on any one of the ships. However, she said, they had trained in various nonviolent tactics they could use to try to keep the soldiers off the ship (Israel Channel 10 TV, June 15, 2011).
2) Dr. Fintan Lane, coordinator of the Irish network, said that the flotilla activists would make it difficult for the Israelis to take over the ship. "If they attempt to abroad the ship we will non-violently impede their progress. We will not facilitate their boarding party…We will not lay hands on them, we will not use physical measures against them. But we will lock down the ship and make it difficult to seize control" (ITIC emphasis).
3) Riad al-Bitar and Anwar al-Akrabi, European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza (ECESG) activists, said that the flotilla participants had undergone training to be able to defend themselves and would take measures to prevent an Israeli takeover of the ship (PIJ’s Paltoday website, June 25, 2011).
8. The importance of the media, as far as the organizers are concerned, was well illustrated in the workshop. The media is expected to document the confrontations with the IDF during a takeover (one of Amira Hass’ photos from the workshop shows two men dragging a passenger, while to the right an activist holds a camera), and the passengers were instructed to try to keep their storage devices, which the IDF would be expected to confiscate (as was the case in the previous flotilla). In our assessment, that would be done for propaganda purposes, and legal uses should a suit be brought by the flotilla’s organizers (as in the past, they are expected to once again use "legal weapons").
1 For further information, see the June 15, 2011 ITIC bulletin, " The use of nonviolent tactics is planned for the upcoming flotilla to the Gaza Strip. In effect, it is liable to be translated into hard violence directed against the IDF" at http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/pdf/ipc_e202.pdf.
2 Medea Benjamin is one of the flotilla participants from the United States.
3 Article by Amira Hass in Haaretz, June 26, 2011. Hass participated in the workshop.
4 In addition to the briefing given in the workshop, the organizers of the American delegation tried using diplomatic channels to verify how the United States is planning to protect their safety. To that end members of the delegation met with the American consul in Athens, who repeated the travel warnings issued by the United States administration on June 22, which warned American citizens against going to the Gaza Strip by sea. They also wanted to verify whether Israel had the right to detain American citizens in international waters. According to a statement from one of the passengers, they were frustrated by the meeting because they were not told how the United States would protect them (Medea Benjamin’s blog, June 25, 2011).