Sunday, 31 January 2010

After Monday 4th January - leaving Latakia and onwards to Al Areish

Its now Sunday 31st January and I’ve been back at home and work for three weeks, and I’ve finally got the gumption together to start to finish the first stage of this blog. At the moment the intention is to carry on with it after wards to put in the work I/we undertake to raise consciousness about what’s happening in GAZA and Palestine more generally.

The previous entry in the blog explains how the vehicles were loaded onto the ship at Latakia port and went by sea to Al Areish. We were due to leave the next day at 9.00 p.m. to catch a plane from the airport in Latakia to Al Areish. 4 groups were going to catch the same plane which would do 4 trips – each trip would take up about 4/5 hours so we were due to leave throughout the day. This we were told was funded by the Turkish charity IHH with some contribution from our Malaysian partners, and the balance being charged back to us and our groups of (as I remember ) about 240$ per person which is the amount we would have paid had we gone on the ferry from AQABA to Al Areish. During the previous couple of days we had been told that 4 people from the convoy had been named as unwelcome in Egypt by the Egyptian authorities. Their names had been passed to the VIVA Palestina negotiators. One of them was a young guy in ‘F’ group (the kings and queens of the convoy). It wasn’t clear why he was on the list and he was upset and concerned. The decision was made by the 'convoy leadership' and communicated to us in one of the public meetings that we would not allow some of our number to be separated from us by Egyptian diktat (i agreed with this) and that George Galloway (who by this time had joined us at the camp in Latakia) would ensure that everyone got in. This was later translated to the guy who had been refused entry, through our group leader that (reportedly) GG had personally made a commitment to remain until the last flight left and that the young guy from group ‘F’ would fly with GG to Al Areish where GG would personally ensure that he got into Egypt with no problems.

As it was reported to me, however, about 5 minutes before the first bus was due to depart from the camp (on the day after the ship sailed) where we had been staying, 4 or 5 people were ordered from the bus so that GG and some of his entourage could go on the first flight. The young man from our group who had been excepting to go with him on the final flight under his personal protection was left behind without explanation.

‘F’ group waited throughout the day for our flight and as I remember it, got on the bus to the airport quite late that evening. As we left however word came through that the plane had had some sort of engine failure and had diverted to Damascus. More waiting. Finally the next day a further plane was chartered and we left early the next morning after very little sleep. By the way here’s a photo of ‘F’ group.

I and a few of the other people on the convoy were really well treated by the people from the PFLP in Latakia. (The popular front for the liberation of Palestine) and I will really miss them. In particular a couple of young guys who looked after us really well for 5 days, took us to meetings and introduced us to people in the local organisation. The PFLP are a secular organisation who have taken a position against corruption and are a split off from FATAH. They are a small organisation but have influence and some presence in Latakia and Syria more generally, and had (as we understood ) it been put forward by the Syrian Government to make sure the convoy members were looked after, probably as a way of counter balancing the influence and profile of HAMAS on people in the convoy.

There were obvious signs of tension between people from HAMAS and people from the PFLP. There were several meetings during the few days we were at the Camp, and the PFLP contingent were very assiduous about turning up with their flags and making themselves visible. There were obvious tensions and they were always careful to stay together. I was told that they had to be careful; when they were out as it wasn’t unknown fro HAMAS militants to get pretty heavy with them. I also saw another event where a group of socialist pioneers turned up one afternoon when we were going to take the vehicles to the port to take part in the formal send off. The pioneers are exactly what they are in any European country – scouts basically and they turned up with a band to perform, and were given very short shrift and were kicked out and not allowed to play by the hosts (who were clearly allied to HAMAS) – i.e. the people who had hired the camp for us to stay in. We had a really interesting evening the night we got to the camp. There was a fire pit on the beach with a circular stone seat and at about 10 or so a really chilled out session started with people signing and reciting poetry. One of our friends from the PFLP wrote his own poetry and got into a declaiming competition with a couple of other guys - one person would get up and recite in a very rhetorical, formal declamatory way a poem about the struggle. Someone would then get up and answer him – it was very humorous, chilled but also very powerful. After about an hour someone who was clearly very important turned up with a couple of security guys (we were told he was a local HAMAS leader) and sat down to listen. The atmosphere gradually changed and became much more militaristic and the singing turned to chanting. The PFLP guys suddenly said they wanted to go – it was a ‘bad scene’

Naomi Klein in Haifa launching her book ‘Shock doctrine’ - watch her on YOUTUBE

Naomi Klein is the author of the ‘Shock Doctrine’ in which she describes the development of what she calls ‘disaster capitalism’ since the early 70’s (a logical offshoot of neo liberal economics and neo conservative western foreign policy) This series of films is of a speech (altogether about 45 minutes) in which she launches the book in Haifa after a visit to GAZA. There’s a brilliant chapter in the book in which she describes the way that Israel’s permanent war against the Palestinian people has been a massive money spinner for a war/armaments and surveillance economic sector that is rapidly becoming a big source of foreign exchange. Watch the speech –s he’s a brilliant speaker and a great brain and a long term campaigner against the ‘Washington consensus’

Monday, 4 January 2010

Leaving Latakia at last

Well it looks like we are finally leaving at last - the boat left yesterday and docked some time in the night despite the fact that Isreal extended its exclusion zone further out to sea, and we were told this morning that the vessel has been unloaded in double quick time and that customs procedures are complete for the vehicles...... We are flying today and the first flight should have left as I write. F group (my group of 14 vehicles - my brothers and sisters - are flying out tonight at 9.00 p.m. We are now desperately hoping that the fact that customs has been so quick is due to a reconsidered strategy by the Egyptians -that the publicity of the attack on the freedom march in Cairo has created such bad publicity internationally that they have decided to get us in and out with the minimum of hassle - we wait to find out.

If we are blessed with clement bureaucracy at the port in theory we will get to
GAZA on Wednesday - which will give me time to get in and out and to Cairo with good time to get back.........

HAd a lovely evening last night - everyone went out - sat in my room on my own on my home made settee and read my book on quantum physics - 'the spooky world where physice encounters consciousness'. I am pretty ceratin that I now understand the concepts of quantum inbdeterminacy, the idea of quantum entanglement and the idea that observation collapses wave probability functions into an observed particle - which implies (does it not?) that there is no independant existence outside of the act of observation. Those of you with a philisophical education will understand me when I say that the implications of this are somewhat Kantian (one of the intellectual precursors of Hegel and Marx). The book I am reading suggest that the dominant interpretation of quantum theory(the copenhagen veiw) that it only applies to the micro-universe is wrong and that in principle indeterminacy can be demonstrated for large objects as well - the only limit being energy resources to perform experiments to demonstrate this...... But it is the case that wave function indeterminacy of larger molecules has been conclusively demonstrated (proteins and so on) - so, one can conclude I may be back or I may not be - it depends who is watching if you get my drift. Anyway nice glass of wine, some reading to take my mind for a walk, and a walk on the beach at 10 pm (moon out and a gale force wind) has put a spring in my step. Unfortunately I woke up Headley this morning at 7 when I got up to go for a piss - not a happy man - he is a nightmare in the mornings and if he gets woken up he is , shall we say, unforgiving........ Another war in the middle east! - but if you can conclude a peace agreement in these conditons, then Palestine will be a doddle.

All love to you all - see you in GAZA


Could someone ring Joth and tell him I'm fine (Cylla? = and send him big hugs from me - I haven't been able to get through)

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Final word

By the way if we leave tomorrow for Egypt this is highly likely to be my last blog till I get home

3rd January - Latakia

Hi everyone - we are still in Latakia in northern syria, and are staying in a strange place which we are informed is a children's summer camp, reminds me of my hop picking days in Kent - small concrete huts on a beach with wild surf - winds blow but its warm and dry. The only problem is there is a would be Hamas sympathiser DJ who has giant speakers about 25 yards from our hut who seems to consider his mission in life is to play martial music at mutant volumes directly into my face - I went up to him and knelt down in front of him with my head on the ground and begged him to turn it down - he did for 5 minutes - it must be difficult for people to live with other people who like loud music on all the time when they are in the kitchen area if certain people get my drift......... you know who you are

We have driven back from Aqaba through Jordan and Syria to get here and are now in Latakia a port in the north and we've been here for 3 days and arrived on new years eve, and immediately linked up with some leftist activists who have taken us under their wing (me and HEadley) We got a guided tour of the refugee camp (the camp of the returners cos they haven't given up on their dream of going home) Many of them come from an area near HAifa we met a guy in a cafe the other night who told us the story of the expulsion they suffered in 1948 - he was 73 and remembers the occasion in blood. He said Britain was responsible (the BAlfour declaration) and welcomes us - humurous and angry and sad... We got a guided tour of the camp (which is in itself an amazing example of the ability of humans to cling on and embed and survive) Syria has relatively progressive policies towards the palistinians in comparison with other middle eastern countries but they have great difficulty in getting out of the country (how to get a passport if you are stateless?)and are not allowed to own property. We have had political discussions about the role of religion in the movement and the issue about unity between hamas and Fatah - everyone we have met are really pissed off with the split and the consequences for the ability of the palestinians to present a credible position with strength - a spit encouraged and funded by Isreal and some people say with American military suppport to FATAH. I read an article the other day which suggests that despite the Obama administration's attempt to peddle out of th3e Guantanamo and extraordinary rendition mess there are american military and secret service personel supporting the torture of HAmas militants on the west bank, and that HAmas in GAZA are returning the favour on FATAH. The division strategy has obviously worked - mean while we are told that Milliband has just announced 53 million in aid to GAZA with the express intention of weaning people way from HAMAS. I love living in a democracy where foreign policy is under democratic control and scrutiny.

current situation is that the vehioles have been loaded onto a boat chartered we believe by the Turkish government and funded by Turkish and malaysian organisations as well as by ourselves (with our locally raised money). 47 american vehicles miraculously turned up here released eventually from the last attempt at a convoy from egyptian impoundment (is that a word?) - we have no idea how it was that it was known we would be in Latakia when we were solidly behind the attemnpt to get to Nureiba.... questions for later about the organsiation of VIVA PALEstina and how it intends to manage its internal organisation and decision making in the future. At the moment VP is a constituted charity registered with the Charity commission but managed by a self selected group. Someone could usefully see if you can get the VP constitution from the charity commission......should be accessible from the CC website as it's a public document - I am champing at the bit to see it......One thing I do know about is the charity sector!!!!!

The boat sailed today qithg our vehicles and two people from the convoy to loooik after them and despite the fact that ISreal has extended the maritime exclusion zone (unilaterally) further out to sea to make the voyage longer as a delaying tactic we are told it has permission to dock in Al Areish tomorrow sometime. We (hopefully) will fly to Al Areish tomorrow in 4 or 5 flights starting at 4 am. We then await the good offices of the Egyptians to unload the boats and put them through customs. We do not know how long this will take = from Al areish is about 40 kms from RAFAH. and as long as the delaying tactic of the egyptian police don't slow us down too much our estimates of when we will arrive in GAZA vary from Wednesday to Friday....... We don't know how long we can stay in GAZA.

Its really important know that anyone who has the time puts pressure on your political representatives (you remeber them - the people we elected) to put pressure on the Egyptians to co-operate with the convoy - we understand their international standing has taken a bit of a battering in the middle eat and globally cos of the attack in the freedom march ib CAiro the other day - people arrested and hospitalised - and the tack to take we are advised is to argue that they have the chance to correct this - please also e-mail/write to the Egyptian embassy informing them of your deep concern at their attempt to deny medical aid to GAZA and your concern that their foreign policy seems to be so aligned to the interest of the Isreali state - and the insensitivity of Mubarak's meeting with NEtenhyahu on the day after the first anniversary of th4e sdtarty of the bombing....

We are in good spirits and personally Although very tired and suffering from old mans water retention at the bottom of my right leg (not very attractive I assure you although possibly a bit late in my life to worry about how attractive my legs are ) I am having a fascinating time - I intend to invest a lot of time over the next few months expanding my knowledge of the middle sand the politics of this situation and working to raise consciousness about this crime - I was inveigled into giving a speech at a rally the other day (funny story) and One of the things I said was that although every where we go we are treated like heroes and people constantly thank us, we should thank the p[Palestinian people for refusing to give up on their right to a peaceful and independent and viable homeland and their right to return to it - British and American citizens have a particular responsibility to do something about the role of their governments which have been such a huge block to a negotiated settlement which encompasses the Palestinian diaspora, the settlements on the westbank, Jerusalem and the need to dismantle a military state (which is not the same as saying that Jews have no right to be there - its the elective military state that's the problem - not the people (I know this sounds simplistic!) - but we know from N.Ireland and South Africa that given the right incentives people will change) Our (i.e me and you) world would;d be safer if this happens - trouble is that behind Isreal stands us the EU and America - the Palestinians stand alone - we owe them a huge debt of gratitude, and I for one intend to do what I can to repay that by working to raise consciousness when I get back.

So rant over - I miss friends and family (*where are my gorgeous daughters?) and am looking forward to getting back to work (do what?) These old fat bones have still got a bit of kick in them yet but some nice music and a self cooked meal and a glass of wine and some top quality natter would go down well

Be well and remember - be careful out there (which American 70's police serial does this come from?) Sergeant Phil never really died he's still out there looking after Renko and company - and hopefully he's got his eyes on me...

Monday, 28 December 2009

Progress possibly maybe

Hi friends

yesterday we did a rather amateurish protest and hired two boats to take us out towards the Isreali coast and Eilat to display our banners towards the tourists on the corniche at Eilat. The ISrealis seemed to know about the plan as they started firing heavy ordinance down the red sea from a battleship - 10 huge booms directed down the red sea. We all agree that there are informers in the convoy and everyone takes this as a given - but given that the plan was only hatched a couple of hours before we did it, their communication is far better than ours. Other action included the start of the hunger strike and a group climbing the nearby mountain at 5.30 am to hang a paletinian flag (which you can just see from the town).

We were due to collect at the compound at 7.00 pm for a candle lit vigil to commemorate the 1400 lives taken in the bombing of GAZA a year ago last night. When we got there we found that the local union of muslims had organsed a full blown political meeting with a film of armies massing, children with guns and the whole nine yards. Definite anti semitic chanting. This caused upraor and the British contingent walked out in protest and some of the Turkish group as well. Goerge Galloway refused to be present and has apparently complained to our hosts. We understand that our hosts are part of the oppositon here and represent a very rural, conseravtive constituency who has failed to push forward a pro palestinain agenda at all - and therefore over compensate with the appearance of miltancy. Everyone who has been to GAZA or the West Bank say that the Palestinian organstions are far more sophisticated (including the HAMAS leadership) - we wait to see.

This minor crisis lead to demands for a mass meeting with GEorge and Kevin - the convoy leadership - and they are now far more upbeat about the situation.

We were told that one of the convoy members is a very senior politician from the office of the Turkish Prime Minister. He was in Cairo last night negotiating a legal agreement between the states of Turkey and Egypt. This would allow us into the port of AL Areish (which we now understand was always a fall back position for the convoy). We would have our right to deliver our aid direct to the people of GAZA without intercession by UNWRA, and we would not be asked to seek the permission of the ISreali Government. The Turkish government will, if the agreement is signed, charter a boat to take all our vehicles and us from Syria to Al Aresh. We are told once we are on the move we will drive continously (800 kms back to Syria) and the journey to the gates of RAfah will take 3.5/4 days. We do not know how long we will be able to stay in GAZA at the moment - this also depends on the Egyptians.......

That was last night - today we are told to be abck at the compund where we are hosted (10 minutes walk away from my hotel) at 3 p.m. ready to leave. It's hard to take this completely seriously because we are so often told to do things which don't materialise - however this is the mpost hopeful situation we have been in since this impasse started - keep yer fingers crossed!!!!!!

The media coverage on the arab world TV is quite signifiacnt and we got a double page speard in the Jordan times today - but there has also been some excellent programmes and documentaries on the situation in GAZA one year on - balanced and well put together - stuff you just don't see in the UK - also their coverage of Africa is fantastic -

I have tried and tried to get through to the Guardian and have tried to use old contacts from student days who are now senior Guardian Journalists - to no avail - if you have the time please arrange a letter campaign to the Guardian - disgusted readership stuff - yesterday they carried an editorial calling on Brown to press for the opening of the blockade and for aid to be allowed in - but failed to mention that we are 300 miles way - with millions of pounds of medical equiopment (one of the vans in our group has two electron microscopes on it and a dialysis machine and we in Gloucester have a $3000 EEG machine......... )

So hopefully we will be off later today - if you don't get another blog tommorrow we are underway ..........

all love to everyone -



Sunday, 27 December 2009


HAve a look at Muzzlewatch - an open letter from a feminist organsation in ISreal to the minister of education about the use of militarism in schools in isreal - remember its a falsehood that Isreal is a functioning democracy