Bay Area activists hope to join flotilla

A group of Americans has left for Athens to join a flotilla of ships planning to challenge Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. The group was to include four Bay Area residents, according to the Berkeley Voice newspaper: novelist Alice Walker, Paul Larudee of El Cerrito, former San Francisco Chronicle reporter Henry Norr of Berkeley and Kathy Sheetz of Richmond

The three dozen or so U.S. participants, along with four crew members and nine journalists, hope to sail on the Audacity of Hope, a U.S.-flagged boat expected to participate in what will reportedly be a 10-ship flotilla. The exact departure date of the flotilla is being kept secret for security reasons, supporters said, although press reports indicated at least some ships will set sail from Athens on Saturday, June 25.

Meanwhile, the State Department issued a warning, saying potential U.S. participants in the flotilla may face arrest, prosecution and deportation by Israeli authorities. Also, Israeli authorities say they will seek to ban anyone attempting to break the blockade from traveling to Israel for 10 years.

If the U.S. activists secure a ship, it will have no humanitarian aid or other cargo on board, only passengers, according to reports. The flotilla reportedly will include up to 600 activists from 22 countries.

Nine Turkish activists participating in the flotilla last year died during clashes with Israeli Navy commandos trying to stop the ship Mavi Marmara. — jta & ap.