As shore support for the Canada Boat to Gaza, the hardest task I’ve had so far, has been staying awake during an afternoon session of a provincial courthouse in Crete. Our day in court did follow a sleepless couple of days of planned escape and an all-nighter on the shipping pier. But it was the hot room and my almost total incomprehension of Greek that made it barely possible to keep my eyelids up.
The room was built early in the 20th century. The height of its walls reduced by the two-tone paint job, grey-green on the bottom and pale green on top. It might have looked trim in 1940-something, but a rash of neglected paint flakes suggests the state of the economy and the general disregard for the dignity of the judiciary. The only mark of respect in the room was an oil painting of Jesus Christ, suspended on the cross and wrapped from the waist down so as not to offend the sensibilities of a pre-war Cretan.
We all looked as if we were doing this for the fist time, but especially the police who wanted to consult each other on every direction given to the large audience. I suppose sessions of a provincial court don’t normally draw a crowd. Waves of chatter waxed and waned as we waited. First an hour, then another. The upright wooden benches were designed to get us in an out as quickly as possible, but we had all seen worse. By the second hour, we had begun to sag. T-shirts were damp, friends fanned each other languidly, we shifted on the bench trying to avoid the angles. Curiosity in our new and slightly threatening surroundings gave way to boredom. We examined the faces of the policemen and coast guardsmen who had come to testify. They were almost our comrades by now, but we were uncertain what they would say. One of them helpfully used his bottled water to revive the sponge in a tiny bowl that the persecutor would use for dampening her fingers while she managed the paperwork.
Then we all stood. Finally the judge, dressed in a white business suit, her hair pulled back, arrived. The prosecutor, in a black jackets and white blouse, joined her on the bench. Our lawyers sat at a side-facing bench. The first witness, our professional captain, was called. He stood at a small podium with his back to us, facing the judge above him. Since we had fired him just before our departure, there couldn’t have been much to say, but the judge — not the prosecutor — continued to question him for almost 30 minutes. George’s relationship to the committee, his experience, his expectations about what we intended, were all examined in detail. The prosecutor, sitting next to the judge on the bench, asked a couple of softball questions and George was dismissed. Next was one of the coast guardsmen who, with some reluctance, it seemed, provided a few inconsequential details about the escapade. He was followed by a colleague who seemed even less interested in locking anyone up.
Sandra Ruch, a member of the Canada Boat to Gaza Steering Committee, was called. An interpreter, with a very small voice, stood beside Sandra so the audience gathered in the front benches.
Since our lawyers had consulted the prosecutors in advance I believe the line of arguments represented a consensus. Sandra testified that our departure from the marina pier was a kind of mistake — a stunt intended for the local press who were invited to the party. We were thanking the town for its frank support of our goals. It was impossible, she testified, to know who was driving the boat, which, since I was standing beside her as it pulled out, I can assure you is true.
When the judge finished, the prosecutor took her turn. It was brief. Then our two famous kayakers were called, one after the other. Michael was firm but deferential. He and Soha Kneen were playing around. That much was true. He didn’t have much experience in kayaks. Still true. He didn’t know whether the Coast Guard vessel wanted to leave in forward in reverse. True too. Not even the coast skipper knew that for sure. Soha kept it brief. We were going to Gaza, but not yet. It seemed like a good time to rent a kayak.
Our lawyers sounded off, one after the other. This is when we began to hear the words Gaza and Israel and Boat. The judge and prosecutor nodded. The Island of Crete seems to have little respect for the government in Athens and even less for the government in Jerusalem.
Cretans are ambivalent about a gas liquidation plant being proposed for the island, but Greece as a whole is enthusiastic. Its worth a lot of dough. So getting it built and connecting it to the pipeline is a government priority. Bibi Netanyahu has promised to help George Papandreou, at least in part, because Israel has a lot of offshore gas and is attempting to ensure that they will have their own and Gaza’s too.
So Bibi has managed to halt the flotilla in Greek ports by destroying an economic and political relationship with Turkey, a country whose economy is 960 billion and growing, for a relationship with a country whose economy is in shambles. Israel, which is less than a quarter the economic size of Turkey, and even smaller than Greece, has made its choice purely, it seems, to prevent medicine from arriving in the port of Gaza. Bibi will remain triumphant with his talk of missiles, though the Mossad knows better, while Israeli business people run the numbers. Until then, Bibi Netanyahu, we do it all for you.
The sentence? A fine the size of our dinner, Greek Salad.