International Aid Convoy to Gaza
Day 18: 5 October 2010
Bolstered by substantial reinforcements from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Mauritania and Malaysia, the convoy waits to embark at the Syrian port of Latakia.
“Everybody is keen to move,” reports Kiwi volunteer Mousa Taher.
But first, however, convoy leaders must seek permission from Cairo to sail to Egypt’s port of Al-Arish. From there it’s a short drive on Egyptian soil to the Rafah gateway into Gaza.
While Hosni Mubarak’s government in Egypt has long been an ally of Israel’s blockade of Gaza, strong winds of change are blowing across the Arab world.
After Tel Aviv gave the order last May for a bloody attack on the Gaza aid vessel Mavi Marmara, a hardening stance against Israel’s colonial domination of Palestine has been evident on the Arab street. And popular opinion in countries far from the Middle East, including New Zealand, has swung against Israel’s mistreatment of Gaza.
That shift in public mood is finding echos among political elites. Many governments in the Arab world, and often beyond, are demanding that the siege of Gaza be lifted immediately and totally.
This is the context in which high-level negotiations are now taking place to allow the international aid convoy a peaceful passage into Gaza.
On Tuesday morning a convoy delegation heads to Damascus, capital of Syria. The delegation is headed by Viva Palestina leaders George Galloway and Kevin Ovenden, and includes Kiwi Team captain Roger Fowler.
A key meeting is with Egypt’s ambassador to Syria. George stays out of this meeting because he has been declared persona non grata by senior politicians in Cairo.
Kevin leads discussions with the ambassador. The talks are friendly, with the main sticking point being George’s entry into Egypt.
At midday, George addresses a crowd of journalists.
The convoy, carrying valuable humanitarian aid, pledges full cooperation with Egypt, says George.
Referring to Cairo’s ban on him entering Egypt, George appeals to “his excellency” Hosni Mubarak to allow the convoy and himself to pass into Gaza.
“We want to focus international attention on the crimes of Israel,” he insists, not quarrel with the government of Egypt.
George says he would sacrifice his place on the boat to Egypt if that was the price of allowing the rest of the convoy to pass into Gaza.
He points to the international composition of the convoy, which has volunteers from nearly 30 countries, including “from as far away as possible in New Zealand”.
The convoy plans to sail past the very spot where Israel’s commandos murdered “our brothers” on the Mavi Marmara, George tells the media. “Maybe their commandos will come back. This is our message: we are not afraid of you.”
Israel’s intention was to so terrorise the world that everyone turned their backs on Gaza.
“Their massacre achieved the opposite,” notes George. “The blood of those martyrs has fertilised a groundswell of support for the Palestinian people around the world.”
It’s the duty of all believers in freedom to act in solidarity with Palestinians who continue to resist Israeli occupation, declares George. “They show the rest of us what dignity and honesty means.”
Roger Fowler also addresses the international media conference.
“New Zealand is as far away from Gaza as you can possibly get,” begins Roger. “But like people of goodwill all over the world, New Zealanders have been outraged at the murderous attack on the Mavi Marmara, and Israel’s barbaric treatment of the Palestinian people.”
There’s a proud tradition in New Zealand of standing up for peace and justice, he continues. “We heard the call to join this epic international mission to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza and break this cruel siege.”
The convoy, he says, represents ordinary people around the world from many backgrounds, cultures and faiths.
Roger wraps up with a saying: “In our thousands, in our millions – we are all Palestinians!”
Following the media conference, convoy delegates share lunch with Khaled Mashal, the Damascus-based chair of Hamas, Gaza’s governing party.
After welcoming the convoy, Mashal says: “Don’t feel disappointed that the siege still exists. Politically it is already finished due to your efforts. The siege will continue to be broken.”
He hopes the convoy will make it to Gaza and “stand alongside our people and give them hope”.
In reply, George speaks about the last convoy where Israel killed nine civilians on the Mavi Marmara, left another brain dead, wounded dozens more, and kidnapped hundreds of aid volunteers who were robbed of computers, money, clothes and even their underwear.
Quoting Viva Palestina director Kevin Ovenden, George quips: “These are people who stole a whole country. Why should they stop at stealing our underwear?” Much laughter from everyone!
In the evening, convoy delegates attend a rally at a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus.
Meanwhile, back at the convoy camp in Latakia, volunteers from the European, Maghreb and Arab East columns get to know each other and the Palestinian refugees living nearby.
“Lifelong friendships are being forged here,” reports Azra Banu, team leader of Viva Palestina Malaysia. “Being given glimpses into each others’ lives, families, beliefs, culture, lifestyle is a privilege and honour. What an enriching experience this is proving to be.”
While convoyers are itching to move on to Gaza, they mingle with Palestinian refugees who are barred from returning to the homeland from which their families were expelled 62 years ago.
“It rams home to us the desperate situation of a people with no home,” Mousa Taher comments sadly.
Mousa is himself struggling with a problem. Our Kiwi volunteer hurt his leg a couple of days ago, and now the injury has become so infected that he can hardly walk. Get well soon, mate!
This bulletin was compiled by Grant Morgan from the field reports of Kiwi Team members, Azra to Gaza blog, PSC to Gaza blog, Echorouk and Day Press. If you wish to communicate with our Kia Ora Gaza team, email email@example.com