New Internationalist

The Gaza solidarity circus

In the two months since the ceasefire that marked the end of Israel's bloody offensive, the Gaza Strip has become a popular stop on the international conflict zone circuit. First of all it was the journalists, hordes of them, swiftly followed by lawyers, aid workers and then international delegations traipsing up and down the Strip looking at the aftermath of the destruction.  

These days the city centre cafés are crowded with foreigners who have either come to work on emergency programmes, or else arrive on solidarity visits. This week 60 women and a few men arrived en masse via the Rafah Crossing in southern Gaza. They were from Code Pink, which is based in the US and describes itself as 'A women-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement.' I met the code pinkers on 8 March, International Women's Day. They were all having dinner together at a local café, to the bemusement of the Palestinians drinking their coffees and smoking their nargila water pipes.

I asked one of the women why they had come to Gaza. 'To break the siege!' she told me cheerfully. I asked her how long they were staying. 'Three days,' she said. 'Most of us are professionals and we have to get back.' I spoke to her for a few more minutes and then went back to my own table feeling bemused by her responses, and told my friends what she'd said. 'They just come to watch us for few days, and then they will go back home and tell everyone they have seen Gaza,' said one of my friends, Mohamed. 'Welcome to the Gaza zoo!'

Maybe this was a bit mean-spirited: after all the Code Pink website says they came to Gaza at the invitation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which has been working in the Strip for 60 years, and later the same evening another code pinker told me he had camped out at the Rafah border (on the Egytian side) for three weeks in order to negotiate the delegates' crossing into Gaza.

But Code Pink did not break the siege: they arrived in Gaza through the back door (ie via Rafah instead of the Israeli crossing at Erez) and their visit here will make no difference to Israel's siege of Gaza, which is going as strong as ever. Gaza needs activists who are prepared to come and sit out the siege inside the Strip and work alongside communities, not international delegations flitting in and out laden with presents for Women's Day.

While Code Pink were handing out gifts, George Galloway and his Viva Palestina! convoy also arrived in Gaza - also via Rafah - with a hundred trucks (including a fire engine and 25 ambulances) containing aid, which they handed over to the Hamas Government. The Viva Palestina! website was jubilant, announcing that 'grown men cried' when the convoy arrived, 'on the day the Prophet [Muhammad] was born.'

George Galloway also stayed just a couple of days, though a few of his supporters have apparently chosen to stay on a bit longer. Before he left, I heard George speak at a rally at the bottom of my street, where the messianic Viva Palestina! message continued. He reassured the jubilant crowd their arrival marked the beginning of the end of the Israeli siege of Gaza.

The aid he and his supporters gave to Hamas is no doubt welcome - though whether these items will be useful is a different matter - but his arrogance was breathtaking. His delusions of grandeur are so great I doubt he noticed that almost the entire crowd consisted of male Hamas police officers with guns, flanked by a posse of local male journalists. Ordinary civilians, especially women, stayed away, presumably because they recognize overt self-serving political propaganda when they see it.

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