|On 6 December 2009, the third Viva Palestina convoy left Britain with the intention of delivering much needed aid to Gaza’s civilian population. The convoy hoped to enter Palestinian territory on 27 December, exactly one year from the start of the Israeli offensive that killed 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, 430 of whom were children.
Despite the obstacles put in the way of the convoy by the Egyptian government (which is now clearly exposed as participating in the Palestinian genocide), the convoy finally made it into Palestine on 7 January 2010, breaking the siege and shattering Egypt’s international reputation in the process.
A long road
Viva Palestina was established with George Galloway a central organising figure in the wake of the extraordinary barbarity Israel dished out to the civilian population of Gaza in 2008/09. Its aim is to transport essential medical and other supplies to the besieged people of Palestine, and the latest convoy was the third to break the siege. Travelling with this convoy was Palestinian solidarity activist, trade unionist and CPGB-ML member Joti Brar, who, along with three friends of Palestine from Swansea, purchased a minibus, filled it with aid and drove it all the way to Gaza.
The convoy’s route was arduous, particularly for a fleet of rather old ambulances and minibuses laden with aid. It traversed Europe, crossing mountains and seas, heading all the while for Turkey and the Middle East. Even on this European stretch it was hard, but once out of western Europe, the convoy was welcomed in every country it touched, with warm receptions in Thessaloniki in Greece and Istanbul in Turkey.
In the latter, the convoy was joined by many participants from Viva Palestina’s Turkish partner, the IHH (Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief). The convoy’s journey then took them to Syria, where the progressive government of Dr Bashar al-Assad of the Baath Party (supported by the Marxist-Leninist forces of the Syrian Communist Party) gave the convoy warm hospitality and much appreciated accommodation and laundry facilities. As Joti remarked on the blog that chronicled her journey,
“The love of the people for the convoy knows no bounds. In this part of the world, we can really feel the truth of the slogan ‘We are ALL Palestinians’.” (joti2gaza.org)
On 25 December, the convoy (now nearly 500 people and 200 vehicles strong) came up against the first true test of its resolve in Jordan. On Christmas Day, whilst we in Britain went through the usual festivities, the Gaza convoy was refused permission by the Egyptian consulate in Aqaba to land by ferry in Nuweiba. This state of affairs was brought about by the Egyptian authorities’ insistence that all aid should pass through Israel, or, if heading for the Rafah crossing (the short border between Egypt and Palestine), it should come via the shallow, Mediterranean port of El-Arish (a port that no commercial services run to, and which large ships cannot enter), and be checked by the Israelis into the bargain!
This was, in effect, an admission by the Egyptian authorities that Israel is in control of their border crossing; that there is a siege of Gaza and that the blockade is controlled by Israel, since all things passing into Gaza must be subjected to Israeli control and supervision.
The CPGB-ML and all friends of Palestine in Britain responded on Christmas Day and the days that followed by emailing and phoning the Egyptian Embassy and authorities, as well as various MPs and the BBC, who were maintaining a strict blackout of any information on the convoy, although it was British aid convoy, and was by now the main news story across the Middle East.
Days of negotiations and rearrangements followed, with the convoy being forced to retrace its steps back up to northern Syria, where it was eventually able to find suitable transport, at the cost of several hundred thousand pounds, by sea and by air to the port of El-Arish in Egypt.
Unfortunately, the cruelty and, let it be said, the stupidity of the Egyptian puppet government knows no bounds. Despite having agreed while the convoy was still in Aqaba that all aid and vehicles would be allowed into Gaza, the convoy was held up in the port while fresh negotiations were entered into over what the Egyptian authorities were prepared to allow into Palestine.
Meanwhile, as the convoy members protested this latest attempt to stop their aid getting to its destination, Egyptian agent provocateurs and the Egyptian riot police brutally attacked them at the gates of the port, seriously injuring many and forcing the convoy to stand its ground and battle unarmed the might of the Egyptian state in a desperate action to protect the vehicles and aid so badly needed by the Palestinians.
Joti reported that “much of the convoy spent the first half of the night in a pitched battle with Egyptian police, who used pepper spray, water cannon, rocks and metal batons against a couple of hundred of our volunteers. Middle-eastern TV broadcast five hours of live coverage of the battle into homes across the region, exposing still further the criminal role of Egypt in the siege of Gaza.
“Fifty-five convoy members were wounded during the fighting, several of whom had to be taken to hospital for treatment, being beyond the scope of the ad hoc first aid station we set up within the port compound. Six brothers of various nationalities were arrested and held all night and most of the next day in a police van without food, water or toilet facilities.”
Proletarian sends a militant red salute to these brave men and women who demonstrated a spirit of unflinching international brotherhood, of love for justice and hatred for oppression; they withstood the Egyptian aggression and proved to the world that the Palestinians are not alone in their fight against Israeli zionism!
The siege is broken
Negotiations over the crossing into Gaza continued, and the international outrage and opposition to the El-Arish barbarity helped to force an agreement from the Egyptians, who had by now made themselves the major focus of shame in the criminal blockade of Gaza. (This distinction should, of course, belong to the Hitlerite führers of Israel). Despite the intervention of the Turkish prime minister himself, it did not in the end prove possible to persuade the Egyptians to allow some 55 cars, which had been specifically requested by doctors and medical clinics, to cross into Gaza. Still, all the people, the rest of the vehicles, and all of the aid were finally allowed to reach their intended destination, and that which couldn’t enter Gaza found grateful hands in the Palestinian refugee camps of Syria and Jordan.
The next morning, most of the convoy members awoke in Gaza city, surrounded by the destruction wreaked by Israel not only last year but during more than four decades of occupation of their land by the invading forces of zionism. Joti recorded her feelings thus:
“We woke on the morning of Thursday 7 January to discover that our hotel backed onto a beautiful Mediterranean beach. The day was sunny and bright, but the halcyon vision presented by the little fishing boats dotting the near sea was blighted by the realisation that the long grey smudge on the horizon was an Israeli war ship. This reminded us that Palestinians are not in control of their own coastline; many beaches are mined, and fishermen who venture more than a mile or two out to sea in search of a decent catch are routinely shot at.”
Later in the same post, she wrote: “The hassles we went through in getting our aid to Gaza were as nothing compared to the tribulations faced by Palestinians every day. They welcomed us as heroes, but no-one on the convoy was in any doubt as to who the real heroes are.”
The Gaza massacre, brutal and barbaric as it was, was the final nail in the coffin of Israel’s carefully nurtured PR image. Since that latest genocidal assault, the international solidarity movement with the Palestinian people has been gathering ever-more momentum, and those who stand with Israel, whether it be the comprador regimes in the Middle East or the backers of zionism in Whitehall and the White House, are finding themselves increasingly isolated and exposed.
The crippling siege has failed to crush the Palestinian people’s resistance, but it is making their lives progressively more impossible. Now is the time for people all over the world to step up their resistance to Israel, its allies in the Middle East, and its backers in Britain, the US and Europe.
Our job in Britain is to make sure that more solidarity missions are sent out with medical, educational and reconstruction equipment in particular; not just because Palestine needs the aid, but because it keeps the issue alive in the world’s media in a way that the Palestinians by themselves cannot achieve. And also because the siege needs to be made unworkable, and the zionists need to realise that the people of the world will not stand by and let them squeeze the life out of Gaza.
We must step up the campaigns to bring the war criminals to justice, and against any change in the law of universal jurisdiction that the Brown government may try to enact. We must campaign in our workplaces, schools, universities and trade unions for a complete boycott of Israeli goods, for disinvestment from Israeli firms and for the severing of all links with Israeli institutions.
And we must refuse to cooperate in any way with the British efforts to aid the criminal regime in Israel, whether it be making and moving armaments to be used by the Israeli armed forces, or putting out the propaganda that normalises the occupation and siege and apologises for the massacres.
Let the zionists and their backers in the US and Britain see that the game is up, and that “In our hundreds, in our millions, we are ALL Palestinians!”
Break the siege of Gaza!