Day 3 in Athens: A Dose of Reality

Posted by CODEPINK Staff

It’s nice that we now start out our training sessions with song. I love how it changes the energy in the room and puts a smile on our faces.

Instead of doing our training at the hotel, where the room is cramped, we went to a gym nearby. It was actually a boxing workout room, with big punching bags hanging from the ceiling. It was an ironic backdrop for our nonviolence training!

Leading us on the training is one of the best direct action activists in the US—Lisa Fithian—so we are in good hands. We began the day with discussions about power in society---who has it, how they keep it, what it means to challenge it. Then we moved on to the issue of emotions, particularly fear and anger. We shrieked in fear and screamed in anger. We modeled and discussed what was going on inside us when we experienced those emotions. Then we hugged each other and talked about how that felt. It sounds hokey, but it was great to try to get more control over our emotions. Then we worked on grounding ourselves, moving across an imaginary boat in a calm but purposely way when we heard the Israeli military might be coming to intercept us.

Then we broke into smaller groups according to what we might want to do on the boat—be on the upper or lower deck, try to protect the computers or the engine room, etc. I helped to form a group that wanted to be on the upper deck, linking arms and singing. We were just getting into our different groups, deciding if we wanted to be sitting or standing (some said if the Israelis brought attack dogs it was better to stand), when all of a sudden soldiers started rushing in to attack us. We quickly discovered that they were part of our own group dressed like commandos, but they scared the bejesus out of us. Their faces were covered in black masks and they were wearing the boxing paraphernalia that made then look twice their size. They were swearing and pushing and pointing fake guns at us, telling us to shut the fuck up, pulling us apart and tying our hands behind our backs. It was all so quick and so violent and so scary that we all of a sudden realized just how dangerous this mission was. All our ideas of what we might doing (including the singing!) vanished. We suddenly felt extremely vulnerable and overwhelmed.

To exacerbate that feeling of vulnerability, our trainers then showed us video smuggled out last year from the Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, that was attacked last year. We saw two people get killed (9 in total were murdered on that ship). We saw the blood dripping down from the upper deck; people drenched in their own blood, medics desperately trying to treat the wounded. If we weren’t in a state of shock after the last role playing, we certainly were after seeing the real live footage from the last flotilla. There was a look of distress on many of the faces, especially the younger ones, as if it suddenly dawned on them the tremendous risk they were actually taking. When we went around in a closing circle for that session with a one-word answer about how people felt, overwhelmed was the predominant word.

The other session we had was a briefing from one of the organizers of the first boat to Gaza in 2008, Huwaida Araf. She is a young Palestinian-American lawyer who is one of the Israel military’s worst nightmare because of her courage and tenacity.  Huwaida gave us a legal briefing about the nature of the Israeli occupation of Gaza, and how the term occupation was more accurate than siege, and then a more practical briefing on the process we were likely to go through after we were arrested and brought on land (how we would be taken to a jail to be turned over to the police, then taken to a deportation center). She said the process would probably take 3-7 days, and it would not be pleasant.

It was a good thing that some of us went out for a few beers afterwards, for it was indeed a sobering day. But as Lisa told us later, she wanted to get us out of the mindset that this was going to be fun. This ain’t no Mediterranean cruise we’re embarking on!

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