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As Egypt regime assists U.S.-Israeli genocide

Viva Palestina convoy breaks the siege of Gaza

Published Jan 15, 2010 10:39 PM

For the third time in a year, Viva Palestina, the international relief effort led by British Member of Parliament George Galloway, has broken the siege of Gaza.

On Jan. 6, 518 volunteers from many countries drove more than 156 vehicles loaded with tons of medicine and other humanitarian aid into the only part of Palestine independent of Israeli control. They were backed by a global outpouring of solidarity, especially from the people of Turkey and the Arab and Islamic world, and as far away as Malaysia.

Jan. 6 rally in support of
Viva Palestine caravan,
New York.
WW photo: John Catalinotto

When the convoy entered Gaza after its month-long, 5,000-mile journey, hundreds of thousands of Gaza’s 1.5 million people lined the streets in welcome. “The sight of people lining the streets virtually the full length of the Gaza Strip, after waiting for 10 hours for our last vehicles to pass (thanks to further Egyptian delays) was the only vindication that this initiative ever required,” said convoy leader Kevin Ovenden.

The third Lifeline to Gaza convoy defied an international conspiracy against the people of Gaza by the military/banker regime in Washington, D.C.; the U.S.-funded Israeli apartheid state; and the U.S.-funded Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt. The day before they entered Gaza, the international volunteers were assaulted and beaten by 2,000 Egyptian riot police and undercover cops with clubs, stones and water cannons. Fifty-five people were injured, some seriously, and seven arrested. Egyptian troops opened fire across the border on people in Gaza itself, who were protesting the attack on the convoy. Israeli missiles also struck Gaza while the convoy was there, killing three Palestinians. After returning from Gaza, MP Galloway was seized by undercover cops, forced on a plane to London and barred from returning to Egypt.

Lifeline 3 left London on Dec. 6 with 200 volunteers and 80 trucks and ambulances filled with supplies donated by people across Britain and Ireland. It drove through Europe, warmly welcomed and joined by people, trucks and supplies in Belgium, Italy and Greece. A huge popular outpouring greeted the convoy in Turkey, where 125 people, including 10 MPs, and 60 more vehicles joined the convoy.

International Action Center activist Ralph Loeffler, one of 62 U.S. volunteers on the journey, reported, “For the first time in 30 years the Turkish government permitted a political demonstration in historic Taksim Square, and it was to support Viva Palestina’s medical relief convoy to blockaded Gaza. A massive, enthusiastic crowd turned out in the pouring winter rain to hear George Galloway and Kevin Ovenden thank the Turkish people and government for supporting Viva Palestina’s third convoy to Gaza.

“After leaving Taksim the convoy proceeded to Adapazari [Turkey] to overnight in a sports stadium. Although the convoy arrived about 2 a.m., the citizens of Adapazari were there and ready to help. Locals swarmed the vehicles and buses to carry ... the 200 convoy participants’ sleeping gear and baggage into the stadium.”

In Syria, a British volunteer reported, “We were greeted by the sound of music and cheering. At the border posts, a huge reception was waiting for us, with speeches, music, flowers and flag-waving customs officers.

“There were also many, many Palestinians from the Syrian refugee camps, whose welcome was overwhelming. They told us we were heroes, angels, and thanked us over and over again for helping Gaza. We could only tell them that it was our duty, our obligation, and an honour to do what we can to fight the occupation — what else can you say when you experience such hospitality from people who’ve been exiled from their homeland for more than 60 years? It was a humbling experience. ...

“One 12-year-old girl said to me: ‘I’d like to come with you to my country, to see my land, but I’m not allowed. Thank you for going. It gives us the strength to carry on.’”

In Jordan too, the convoy was officially welcomed by the government and warmly welcomed by the people. But when they reached the Red Sea port of Aqaba, Jordan, whence they had planned to take a ferry to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and drive to Gaza, the Mubarak regime told them they could only enter Egypt through the Mediterranean port of Al-Arish. This forced the convoy’s return to Syria, from whence a Turkish ship conveyed the vehicles to Egypt while the majority of volunteers followed by plane.

The Egyptian regime’s open subservience to the Israeli state — which has twice invaded Egypt and murdered thousands of Egyptians, including schoolchildren and prisoners of war, and executed hundreds of Egyptian prisoners in cold blood — shocked even veteran political activists. It is in stark contrast to the attitude of ordinary Egyptians, who at every opportunity have expressed sympathy with the VP convoys.

When the first 167 VP participants landed at Al-Arish, Egyptian authorities seized their passports and told them the rest of the convoy would not be allowed in. After a sit-in at the airport, Egyptian authorities backed down temporarily, but the next day told the convoy leaders that 43 of the vehicles and their contents would have to pass through Israeli-controlled territory. When Viva Palestina leaders tried to negotiate that demand, pointing out the aid would be unlikely to reach Gaza, the Mubarak regime sent in police to try and seize the trucks. Plainclothes cops hurled rocks at the volunteers while uniformed police attacked with clubs, gas and water cannons. The activists stood up to the assault however, even capturing one of the assailants, and a standoff ensued. Viva Palestina agreed to the Egyptian regime’s demand in return for the release of convoy members arrested by Egyptian authorities. The supplies the Egyptians did not allow in will be sent to Turkey and distributed there to people in need.

The violence against Viva Palestina came only a week after Mubarak’s police attacked the 1,400-strong Gaza Freedom March and prevented it from bringing aid to Gaza. The regime took a very different attitude toward Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who received a warm welcome in Cairo on the anniversary of Israel’s assault on Gaza. In the 1970s Netanyahu was involved in terrorist operations in Egypt as part of the Zionist special operations unit Sayeret Matkal.

Viva Palestina’s third entry into Gaza was a people’s victory in spite of the force arrayed against it. It not only brought in much-needed aid, but it posed a powerful political challenge to the blockade. Said Ovenden: “We launched Viva Palestina with a strategic outlook that we could crack open the siege by fusing aid, a savvy understanding of the political context and campaigning. We think this effort is working and can contribute to the growing international movement in solidarity with the Palestinian people.”

While solidarity with the besieged Palestinians of Gaza is growing, so is their peril. With U.S. funds and help from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Mubarak regime is building an 80-foot-deep wall along Gaza’s southern border to block the tunnels that are Gaza’s primary lifeline. And there is growing evidence Israel is preparing another full-scale assault on Gaza.

The lengths to which the forces of oppression are going to crush the people of Gaza make it incumbent on the people’s movement to redouble efforts to break the blockade. The Viva Palestina movement appears determined to rise to the call. Upon his return to London, George Galloway told the media: “I’ve been banned from returning to Egypt, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going back to Gaza. There’s more than one way into Gaza.”

Videos and first-hand accounts of the convoy may be found at vivapalestina.org.

Cecil participated in the second Viva Palestina caravan in July.