New Internationalist

Viva Palestina: a lifeline from Britain to Gaza

The third international convoy to Gaza departed from London 12 days ago, on 5 December 2009.

The convoy is made up of volunteers from Britain, Ireland, Belgium and Malaysia, who have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds in their local communities to pay for ambulances, minibuses, vans and lorries, and to fill them with medical and other aid that is desperately needed in Gaza.

decorated ambulance

We have crossed Europe via France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Italy and Greece, and arrived yesterday in Istanbul, the gateway to Asia, where we were joined by more drivers and vehicles from Turkey, Malaysia and the US. From here we will travel to Ankara and east to the border, before crossing into Syria, Jordan, and then Egypt. We plan to cross into Gaza via the Rafah Crossing on 27 December, the anniversary of the launch of last year's bombardment by Israel.

The war crimes committed by Israel during that attack have been well documented. What is less talked about is that the siege of Gaza - an illegal and barbaric act of collective punishment, which is itself a war crime - started well before that and continues to this day.

So as well as delivering much-needed medical aid, the convoy will be bringing a very important message of solidarity to the people of Gaza. We are coming to show them that they are not forgotten; that the people of the world will not stand by and let Israel starve them into submission.

And we are bringing the same message to the Israeli Government and all its backers in Britain and the US: that Palestine is not forgotten, despite the lack of mainstream media coverage; that Palestine has friends all over the world; that the siege will never succeed in its aims.

I personally am bringing with me messages of support and solidarity from friends, colleagues and comrades to let the people of Palestine know that they have friends among the British people, even while British corporations, government and media are busy arming Israel and excusing its war crimes.

Right now, the biggest potential obstacle to the success of the convoy is the attitude that the Egyptian authorities might take towards it. There's no doubt that the Egyptian people are supportive of the convoy and the Palestinian cause, but it is equally true that Britain, Israel and the US will be bringing maximum pressure behind the scenes to persuade the Government to deny us entry into Gaza.

To help with this effort, they are also doing their best to deny us the oxygen of publicity. Which is why we're asking everyone back home to do what they can to publicize the convoy and its aims far and wide.

The more attention there is on the convoy as it travels, the harder it will be for the Egyptian authorities to hold it up when it gets to Rafah. So TELL EVERYONE! 

Leaving western Europe, it became clear to those who didn't already know that this mission has the backing of most of the REAL international community. Not only were people everywhere happy to see us, but local mayors in Thessaloniki and Istanbul have turned out to greet us, local organizations have fed and sheltered us, national press and TV have reported on us, and local police have escorted us on parades through city centres.

On arrival in Turkey, we were overcome to find a big welcome rally taking place right at the border crossing, where both Greek and Turkish police and soldiers gave us victory signs!

The four 'aunties'

At the outskirts of Istanbul last night, my van, comprising four 'Aunties' from England, Ireland, Wales and France, was surrounded by emotional women who hugged us and thanked us for coming. It is clear that the fact that we have come from the belly of the beast makes our presence here especially significant to people outside the West.
A little while later, a small girl knocked on the window of our van. When I put the window down, she handed me a beautiful picture she had drawn depicting the friendship between the Turkish and Palestinian people, and asked me to deliver it to the children of Gaza.

We are determined to succeed. The children of Gaza especially deserve to know that we have not and will not forget them.

You can follow the convoy's progress at http://joti2gaza.org and http://twitter.com/joti2gaza

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