BERKELEY -- Henry Norr, a passenger on the Audacity of Hope and part of the "Freedom Flotilla," returned to the Bay Area late Friday after a failed mission to reach the Gaza Strip.
Norr, of Berkeley, along with poet and author Alice Walker, of Anderson Valley, and Kathy Sheetz, of Richmond, were among the Northern California residents on the Audacity of Hope that was intercepted by the Greek Coast Guard about 30 minutes after leaving a Greek port July 1.
"Only a fool thought we'd get to Gaza given what happened last year," said Norr, a 65-year-old former San Francisco Chronicle reporter turned activist. "We knew we'd be stopped, so it's not a surprise we didn't make it to Gaza. We got stopped sooner than we had thought."
The U.S. boat was one of a dozen vessels in this year's Gaza Freedom Flotilla. It was the second attempt to try to break Israel's siege of the Gaza Strip. On May 31, 2010, Israeli commandos boarded six ships attempting to bring supplies to Gaza. Nine activists, including one American, were killed and dozens more, including seven soldiers, were wounded as a result of the raid.
Norr said this trip was a political demonstration.
"As a demonstration I think it was surprisingly effective, beyond our wildest dreams," said Norr, who traveled to the West Bank after the Sept. 11 attacks and signed up with the International Solidarity Movement.
The flotilla was covered widely by national and international newspaper and television reporters, some of whom grilled State Department officials at press briefings on their stance on the situation in Gaza.
"Our point of view got an amazing range of media attention," Norr said. Norr said that on this trip the Israelis persuaded the Greek government to intervene when the boat, with 50 Americans on board, set sail July 1 after docking at a Greek port for roughly two weeks.
"The Israelis had hoped to deter the flotilla by military actions -- attack dogs, snipers -- and I think they had some hope they could scare people off with that kind of bluster," Norr said. "And when that didn't work, their plan was to persuade the Greek government with carrots and sticks to prevent us from leaving."
Greek officials stopped the boat, citing problems with paperwork, insufficient life jackets, and a dispute over whether the hull was made of fiberglass or steel, Norr said.
Before the Americans left in late June, Daniel Morgan, director of public affairs for the Consulate General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest, said the flotilla was being organized by "radical anti-Israel elements, some of which have terrorist ties."
"The main purpose of this flotilla is to provoke Israel into a confrontation by trying to break the naval blockade on the Gaza Strip -- which is considered legal under international law -- and is necessary to prevent weapons from being smuggled to the terrorist organization Hamas, and used against innocent Israeli civilians," Morgan said.