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Viva Palestina delivers aid to Gaza

Published Jul 23, 2009 8:34 PM
WW photo: John Parker

The largest U.S. humanitarian aid convoy to Palestine in history went over the Rafah border crossing into Gaza in the late evening of July 15. The 218-person contingent of activists brought more than $1 million in wheelchairs, walkers and medical supplies to the people of Gaza.

A genocidal attack on Gaza in December and January, on top of a two-year Israeli siege and blockade of the area, makes this aid essential for the people there. Israeli bombs and rockets destroyed more than 47,000 homes, and many thousands of Gaza Palestinians now live in tents.

That the Viva Palestina caravan came from the U.S. is especially important, as Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. government aid in the world. Israel uses U.S. weapons and missiles against the Palestinian people on a daily basis.

Overcoming obstacles imposed by the U.S., Egyptian and Israeli regimes to lead the Viva Palestina group across the border were New York City Councilperson and lead negotiator for Viva Palestina-USA, Charles Barron; former Congressperson Cynthia McKinney, just out of an Israeli prison for attempting to deliver aid by sea to Gaza with the Free Gaza Movement; and British MP George Galloway, who organized a caravan from Britain under the same name in March.

In spite of dishonest negotiations, arbitrary enforcement and ever-changing requirements for travel through Egypt to Gaza on the part of U.S. and Egyptian authorities, Viva Palestina was able to enter Gaza after making it through the Egyptian-enforced Israeli blockade. The challenges began on July 5 when the convoy arrived in Cairo.

Militant, unified protest actions met and overcame every challenge. The actions included letter-writing campaigns solicited instantly over the Internet and human chains surrounding buses at the Suez Canal. McKinney led an impromptu loud, chanted protest session in Egyptian Customs.

When it appeared on July 13 that the Egyptian government was going to deny passage into Gaza, Viva Palestina supporters held emergency demonstrations at Egyptian consulates in New York, San Francisco, Houston, Chicago and other cities throughout the United States.

One such hurdle, however, could not be overcome. The new vehicles purchased for medical agencies remain impounded by the Egyptian government in spite of the long back-and-fourth sessions endured by the negotiating team. One of the seemingly final offers by the government of Egypt left vehicles impounded, no entrance into Gaza until most participants were scheduled to leave, and the stipulation that medical aid could be delivered only by the Israelis.

At a Viva Palestina meeting led by Barron in Cairo two days before the departure to Gaza, this option was presented for discussion with alternative offers to the government.

Galloway stated the desires of the inhabitants of Gaza, whose homes the Israelis destroyed and who have lost half of the hospitals with little access to basic necessities. They wanted the delegation’s help in this order: first, convoy participants enter, then medical aid and finally the much-needed vehicles.

Why were the people in the contingent the most important for this effort in the eyes of the besieged people of Gaza? The mission had two goals. One was to provide medical supplies. The other was to expose the genocidal nature of this blockade and help create a political atmosphere that, if repeated enough, would chip away at the international silence and complicity in tolerating Israeli genocide.

All the aid in the world would be useless if Israel were allowed to stop its delivery. Putting pressure on people like President Barack Obama, who represents the country that holds the purse strings for Israel, is part of that political struggle.

The Viva Palestina-USA delegation, from the country Obama represents, entered Gaza and not only with the medical aid, but with the determination to continue to increase exposure and visibility of this crisis and put one more nail in the coffin of Israeli occupation and genocide against the people of Palestine.

Also participating in Viva Palestina-USA were representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Middle East Children’s Alliance, Cuba Coalition, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA), International Action Center, Answer Coalition, International Socialist Organization and Workers World Party.

For news of more Viva Palestina efforts, visit www.vivapalestina-us.org.

Parker was responsible for much of the media contact on the Viva Palestina convoy.