Last May, Orcas Island octogenarian David Schermerhorn joined an international flotilla that set sail for Gaza, attempting to challenge the Israeli blockade on the region. Mid-journey, Israeli commandos boarded one of the boats and killed nine passengers in the ensuing fighting. Schermerhorn was not on that boat. But he, like a lot of other flotilla passengers, spent several days in an Israeli jail. Now the 81-year-old former TV and film producer is at it again.
SW reached Schermerhorn by phone today as he was leaving the boat after four or five days aboard and heading to a restaurant. Asked if he was scared of another confrontation with Israelis, he says, "No, I'm pissed off."
"I realize the border has now opened up in Egypt," he says. Egypt, which had cooperated with the Israelis in maintaining the blockade, last month changed course (although it's still not easy to cross the border). But he says that otherwise the blockade remains in effect and the economic situation is dire. "Unemployment is close to 50 percent."
Therefore, he says, "I will continue to resist what I think is an arrogant display of power."
That is if he gets the chance. Greek authorities are making it difficult for the flotilla to leave, according to the American contingent, which is organized by a group called U.S. Boat to Gaza. (You can see bios of passengers and follow the flotilla's progress on the group's website.) The Greeks are investigating a complaint that challenges the seaworthiness of the American vessel. Two undercover police officers, posing as fishermen, sidled up to the boat around 3 a.m. this morning and sat outside "glowering," according to Schermerhorn. Another boat has suffered sabotage.
If the flotilla does get onto the water, the Israelis have promised they will not let it through to Gaza. The Israelis see the flotilla as supportive of Hamas, which they consider a terrorist organization, an Israeli minister told The New York Times. The Israeli Defense Force has also said it will use attack dogs to board any ships in order to better protect its troops, according to The Jerusalem Post. (The Israelis claimed they were beaten and stabbed when they boarded a flotilla ship last year.)
From a public-relations standpoint, such a response would seem to play right into the hands of the flotilla, which is trying to cast the Israelis in as bad a light as possible. "We are obviously unarmed," Schermerhorn says. "We are obviously not terrorists. And yet the Israelis are prepared to use violence to stop us."