Freedom Flotilla Update: Sicilian Mayor Famous For Taking Down Mafia Renames Port In Honour Of Yasser Arafat


The Mayor of Palermo, a town in Southern Italy, has this week renamed a section of the sea front in honour of famed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to mark the arrival of the Freedom Flotilla in Sicily, a global movement aimed at breaking Israel’s decade long naval blockade of the Palestinian sea port of Gaza.

The Freedom Flotilla Coalition – which includes New Matilda editor Chris Graham, on board as a journalist covering the mission – arrived in Palermo on Monday July 16, to prepare for the final leg of a two month voyage across Europe, to Gaza.

Mayor Leoluca Orlando – famous for taking on the Sicilian mafia, and winning – made the announcement this week at a function at the Biblioteca comunale di Palermo, in the presence of Ambassador of the State of Palestine in Italy and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Dr Mai Alkaila.

Mayor Orlando said the international community’s silence on the oppression of Palestinians was a “time of terrible shame”.

“I’ve decided to dedicate the sea front of Palermo… to Yasser Arafat,” he said.

More than three-dozen Palestinian supporters from countries all over the world – including New Zealand, Malaysia, Canada, America, France, Germany, Italy Denmark and Sweden – will leave over the weekend to make the final voyage from Palermo to Gaza.

The journey is expected to take up to 10 days.

There are four boats participating – Al Awda, Freedom To Gaza, Falestine and Mairead. Three of them will attempt to break the naval blockade of Gaza in the next week, amid renewed violence in the region.

In eight years from 2008 through 2016, international activists have sailed 31 boats to challenge the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza.

Mayor Orlando formally invited the Freedom Flotilla Coalition to base itself in Palermo in future years to prepare for the final leg of the sail to Gaza.

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. In more than three decades of journalism he's had his home and office raided by the Australian Federal Police; he's been arrested and briefly jailed in Israel; he's reported from a swag in Outback Australia on and off for years. Chris has worked across multiple mediums including print, radio and film. His proudest achievement is serving as an Associate producer on John Pilger's 2013 film Utopia. He's also won a few journalism awards along the way in both the US and Australia, including a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards. Since late 2021, Chris has been battling various serious heart and lung conditions. He's begun the process of quietly planning a "gentle exit" after "tying up a few loose ends" in 2024 and 2025. So watch this space.