Every helper can be proud of our collective win

14 Oct

International Aid Convoy to Gaza

Days 25-26: 12-13 October 2010


A couple of Italian volunteers at Latakia, Syria, celebrate the news that Egypt has opened the door to the convoy


Just when convoyers begin to think they might be stuck in the Syrian port of Latakia for quite some time longer, news breaks near midnight on Wednesday that Cairo will allow the convoy free passage across Egypt into besieged Gaza.

After days of waiting, the 400 convoyers from 30 countries go wild.

“Everyone is dancing, hugging and singing,” chortles Mousa Taher, a member of our six-person Kiwi Team. “Guys are giving each other high fives. Our spirits went through the roof.”

Pat O’Dea, another Kia Ora Gaza volunteer, texts a more measured response: “Egypt has just granted us entry. In chess terms, the Queen has moved to the top of the board. Checkmate is now inevitable. Gaza, here we come!”

Meanwhile, political analysts are asking why Egypt has reversed its previous ban on solidarity aid convoys to Gaza.

Aljazeera says the policy shift in Cairo comes after a “tense eight-day standoff” with convoy leaders, and “followed mediation by several countries including Syria to persuade the Egyptians to agree to the passage”.

These inter-state negotiations are driven by deeper dynamics. Following Israel’s murderous attack four months ago on the Gaza aid ship Mavi Marmara, there is heightened world opposition to Tel Aviv’s sea, land and air blockade of 1.5 million Palestinians on a tiny strip of land.


Algerian and Syrian leaders bring a message of solidarity to convoyers at Latakia. Abudjarra Sultani, a minister in the Algerian government, called on all Arab couintries to "make a siege on those who make a siege on Palestine". Some Arab governments lobbied Cairo to open Egypt's door to the convoy.


On the Arab street, popular feeling is so intense that many local politicians are compelled to take a harder line against Israel’s siege of Gaza.

This is happening at a time when Egypt faces a presidential succession after 30 years of rule by Hosni Mubarak. Cairo’s political elite, who are looking to instal Hosni’s son Gamal as the new president in 2012, are already facing street protests. Enforcing a wildly unpopular ban on the Gaza aid convoy would risk more uproar from below.

New Zealand is as far away from Gaza as you can get. Even here, public opinion has swung hard against Israel’s colonial wrongs to Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere. That’s why, in just a couple of months, Kia Ora Gaza could raise almost $100,000 to send a strong contingent to join the international aid convoy.

“Our Kiwi Team is part of a convoy that’s making history by breaking the inhuman Israeli siege of Gaza,” says Grant Morgan, co-organiser of Kia Ora Gaza, in a media release following Egypt’s announcement of an open door for the convoy.

Cairo’s announcement follows intensive lobbying of Egyptian diplomats in many countries by grassroots networks backing the convoy.

For instance, Egypt’s ambassador in Canberra gets a flood of emails from residents of Australia and New Zealand after a call out by Kia Ora Gaza.

In Malaysia, a Viva Palestina network meets with a local Egyptian diplomat, then fronts a TV interview to publicise their request for Cairo to welcome the convoy.

And convoy leaders were planning to send a high-profile deputation to the Egyptian Embassy in Syria’s capital Damascus the day after Cairo laid out the welcome mat.

Palestinians have refused to surrender at the point of Israel’s gun. Their fortitude has been the rock on which solidarity movements could grow around the world.

Put all these sorts of factors together and, hey presto, the locked door to Egypt suddenly swings open. And maybe the mood for change is so profound that the door stays open.


Escorted by Syrian police, the first vehicles from Algeria roll out of the convoy camp to Latakia's port, ready to be shipped to Egypt


Back at convoy camp, however, the talk is less about geo-politics and more about the joy of the occasion and the work that must be done.

“As a wave of jubilation swept through the camp, txt fingers were moving vigorously as volunteers spread news of Egypt’s decision,” reports Chris van Ryn, vice-captain of the Kiwi Team. “It was a glorious moment for convoyers.”

Then, for most, it’s straight back to work. There’s supplies to be got, paperwork to be completed, friends to be farewelled and, last but definitely not least, security to be tightened.

Knowing that past convoys have been the target of state-sponsored provocation, sabotage and attack, a beefed-up security team is selected for the sea voyage from Syria to the Egyptian port of Al-Arish.

“We expect to sail Friday morning,” texts Kiwi captain Roger Fowler.

With Syria ten hours behind New Zealand time, that means the convoy’s departure from Syria should happen Friday evening by our clock if all goes well.

The ferry carrying convoyers to Egypt will pass the site of Israel’s criminal hijacking of the Mavi Marmara which left nine civilian volunteers dead and dozens wounded by commando gunfire.

At that spot, memorial wreaths will be cast on the waters of the Mediterranean. Flags from all 30 countries represented on the convoy will be flying. Our nine fallen heros live on in the inspiration they provide to new waves of social justice advocates.

The voyage from Latakia in Syria to Al-Arish in Egypt takes about 18 hours. After clearance by Egyptian authorities at the Sinai port, it’s a 19 kilometre drive to Rafah Gate, the only land entrance into Gaza not controlled by Israel.

It’s possible the convoyers could be in Gaza by Sunday or Monday. They will be greeted by throngs of cheering Gazans who appreciate the chemotherapy drugs, X-ray machines and other humanitarian supplies carried in by the convoy, and even more the international solidarity action helping to end Israel’s blockade.

As yet, there’s no official word about whether Viva Palestina founder George Galloway will be allowed to enter Egypt with the rest of the convoy. Conflicting reports on this issue have appeared.

Even so, there’s no disputing the magnitude of the victory scored by the international aid convoy. The size, determination and backing of the convoy, along with the determination of Palestinians to resist, have thrust open the gate to Gaza. Aid vehicles can now roll in and bust the Israeli siege.

This is indeed a world historic victory which every supporter of the Gaza convoy has helped to bring about. Every helper in the cause can be proud of our collective win.

This bulletin was compiled by Grant Morgan from the field reports of Kiwi Team members, Aljazeera and Azura4Gaza blog, along with photos by Hone Fowler. If you wish to communicate with our Kia Ora Gaza team, email grantmorgan@paradise.net.nz


Convoyers are finding it hard to leave Palestinian friends they've made in Syria. Roger Fowler, captain of the Kiwi Team (second right), and son Hone (to Roger's right), with a family of Palestinian refugees in Latakia.


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