Convoy undeterred by Egypt’s blacklist

18 Oct

International Aid Convoy to Gaza

Day 30: 17 October 2010

 

Convoyers blacklisted by Egypt line up behind George Galloway to face the international media

 

At last, the gates of Egypt have been prised open by the Gaza aid convoyers and their international backers.

Egypt’s back door to Gaza now stands ajar, whereas before it had been locked shut to solidarity convoys.

The barbaric Israeli siege of Gaza is about to be sliced apart by this humanitarian mission, making history in the process.

And yet volunteers at convoy camp at Syria’s port of Latakia don’t have the smiles on their faces that you would expect. There’s a sadness, a grimness, stamped into their travel-weary faces.

The reason? Cairo has blacklisted 17 of their comrades. They won’t be allowed into Egypt with the other 400 convoyers.

The blacklist is announced just as volunteers ready their 150 aid-packed vehicles for a sea voyage to Al-Arish, Egypt’s gateway to Gaza.

At noon on Sunday, a bevy of journalists are joined by hundreds of volunteers. They’ve all come to hear Viva Palestina founder George Galloway talk about Cairo’s blacklist.

 

George Galloway's media conference is jam packed with convoyers, all focused on the last leg of the long journey to Gaza

 

A standing ovation greets the man at the top of Egypt’s blacklist. George begins by congratulating volunteers on their “steadfastness” in the face of this “last minute obstacle” in the convoy’s path.

“Maybe some thought this would cause people to lose heart and leave. But the opposite has happened. The convoy is even more united and determined.”

The official reason for the blacklist is punctured by George.

“We’re not asking for a tour of the pyramids. We’re only asking for transit across a few kilometres of the Sinai, during which time we won’t see or talk to any Egyptians. So this is not a ban from Egypt, but a ban from Gaza.”

He says that “two countries are now banning people from Gaza”, meaning Egypt as well as Israel.

George ridicules the lack of logic behind the names on the blacklist.

Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak has banned Sheik Ismail Nashwan, a highly respected 83-year-old Jordanian who survived Israel’s massacre on the aid ship Mavi Marmara last May.

“He survived death at the hands of the Israeli commandos, but is banned by president Mubarak who thinks he’s Turkish,” George comments. “They have broken this old man’s heart.”

Perhaps the ban on UK volunteer Amena Saleem is the “most absurd of all”, he states. It looks like Cairo blacklisted her because “I used to be married to someone called Amena”, and Egyptian intelligence has got the two women mixed up.

“President Mubarak, I give you my word before God. I have never been married to this woman!” George declared, amidst laughter.

 

Convoy director Kevin Ovenden (green shirt) strides out at convoy camp in Lastakia, the main port of Syria. Soon Latakia will be left behind as the convoy ships out to Egypt.

 

Convoy director Kevin Ovenden points to another “absurdity”. Cairo has banned Zaki Rashid, a person who has never been on the convoy at any stage.

“We provided Egypt with a full list [of convoyers] two weeks ago,” says Kevin. “I ask: what list are they working from? This is clearly an incompetent mistake.”

George calls on Mubarak to reconsider these blacklistings which “make you look cruel and foolish, and we don’t want great Egypt to look cruel or foolish”.

Tomorrow the convoy will be sailing to Egypt, he says, and “all of Gaza will be waiting for us”. The hundreds of thousands of people around the world who donated towards the convoy’s mission have the right to see its aid delivered.

“The UK prime minister recently described Gaza as an ‘open prison’ and he was right,” notes George.

Addressing the volunteers, he says: “What these prisoners need urgently is a visitor. You are the visitors to the open prison. You have a right to go there. They have a right to see you. The hopes of millions go with you. I will stay and wave you goodbye.”

Kevin takes the mike. If there is “goodwill” from Egypt, its “national security concerns” can be addressed without banning any convoyers, he says. “We can all be escorted immediately to Gaza, and then on leaving we all go by bus to Cairo airport and leave Egypt.”

“We could all be blindfolded too!” quips George, sparking merriment.

George expresses readiness to keep on discussing possible solutions with Egyptian authorities “to the last second” when volunteers board the ship to Al-Arish.

Other convoyers on the blacklist also address their comrades and the international media. While their speeches echo their hurting, all want the aid mission to proceed as planned. And their voices ring with a commitment to see Palestine become free.

Amena, tearful but defiant, notes that the United Nations labels the siege of Gaza as “illegal” and calls for its end. Since the governments of America, Israel, Egypt and Britain are not acting to end the siege, people like us are doing it instead, she declares with passion and clarity.

 

Blacklisted convoyer Amena Saleem, tearful but defiant, gives a powerful speech advocating grassroots activity for a free Palestine

 

“The rest of us shared in the sadness and pain that these 17 convoyers were experiencing,” reports Chris van Ryn, vice-captain of the Kia Ora Gaza team. “It was like a part of us was to be left behind with them. I feel proud of the strength of character they have shown, and I aspire to be like them.”

While all volunteers hope the ban on the 17 will be lifted, “the convoy will tomorrow sail on the boat to Egypt,” Chris states. “Getting the aid to Gaza and breaking the siege is more important than each individual’s stake.”

Convoyers leave the meeting determined and united. Their focus is on boarding the boat to Al-Arish, expected to be the following day. Their minds are on Gaza.

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

 

The cause of a free Palestine will never be submerged

 

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