Coffee and Commandos

I shared coffee and conversation with a member of the Hellenic Coast Guard who less than 24 hours ago had turned us back to port.

photo: Debra Ellis

The day after the Hellenic Coast Guard and heavily armed commandos escorted our boat, The Audacity of Hope, back to port, I, was up at dawn walking the compounded shipyard. Fellow passengers were still asleep on the boat’s benches and deck.

I crossed another passenger and together we approached one of the coast guard ships, the largest in the small fleet, to say good morning to its sole occupant. We were offered a cup of coffee by this gentle gent who had intercepted us at sea less than 24 hrs ago.

“Were you one of the masked commandos?”
“No, I am Coast Guard. I was on the zodiac sent to pick up the commandos”.

The three of us enjoyed coffee and conversation about politics, parenting, collapsing economies, protests, and military actions against immigrants and unarmed civilians. This young father shared he was a coast guard by day and protester by night in Syntagma Square. He expressed disappointment in his government’s economic and political policies. He offered an apology for intercepting us at sea, and support of our actions in spite of, “orders to stop you”.

Sipping coffee from white mugs etched in female figures and peace doves, we learned the commandos who returned in the zodiac deployed from the Coast Guard vessel were not with this unit. They were “a special unit”.

photo: Debra Ellis

Who are these black masked commandos?
Who pays their salary?
Who trains them?

What we did learn over coffee is that the commandos, regardless of who hired and trained them, carried live ammunition the afternoon of July 1, 2011. They were not equipped with the tear gas, stun guns, tasers, or rubber bullets we'd grown accustom to in the streets shared with local protesting civilians in Athens. The tear gas used by police against their own in Greece was purchased from the U.S., Israel and France.

They were fully armed and loaded, prepared to use lethal force to stop any boats bound for Gaza, including the U.S. boat, The Audacity of Hope, carrying 3,000 love letters, 37 American civilians (moms, dads, grandparents, students, musicians, former veterans, medical personnel, teachers, authors, and more), 4 boat crew, and 10 media representatives.

The passengers aboard were unarmed civilians committed to breaking the illegal siege and coastal blockade of Gaza to visit fellow civilians awaiting their long overdue arrival. Fortunately, all returned safely following the violent interception by commandos and the Hellenic Coast Guard. They are slowly making their way back home to the states.

Had Captain John not agreed to the Coast Guard’s demand to return to port:

Would the commandos have opened fire?
Might some not have returned home to love ones?
Who would have ordered this action?
Who would have paid for it?

The driver, who transported Hedy and me to the airport the morning of our return to the states, said with a chuckle that the dock where our boat is impounded is U.S. owned. It has been confirmed that the U.S. Embassy and the Greek Coast Guard jointly own Keritsini Pier, in Piraeus Port.

This driver holds a second job due to the collapsing economy of Greece. He is a driver by day and security officer by night, at a dock in Piraeus Port.

“Who trained you?”
“An Israeli”
“Who pays your salary?”
No reply.

Debra Ellis was a passenger on the Audacity of Hope; Freedom Flotilla II – Stay Human