Monday, 28 December 2009
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
Saturday, 26 December 2009
Another day in Aqaba, which as unexpected places to stay go is very nice. I'm staying with a few people in a hostel near the sea front. Very basic cheap and run by a really friendly Palestinian family who treat us with great respect and welcome. Everyone here recognises us and asks us about what we are doing - and wishes us luck. Last night about 40 of us went down to the beach - music chat and a drink or two - some Palestinian musicians turned up at about midnight and started playing songs accompanied by an amazing oud player. Loads of people came to watch an exchange of Irish freedom songs and Palestinian liberation music....... My inner traveller is being woken up in a way that it never really has before - I really like the middle east.
On a more serious note, here is an update
WE are informed that the convoy leaders have for the first time established a line of communication with the Egyptian Government at a senior level and that negotiations are underway. WE don't know in the proletarian part of the conoy (the drivers) the line that is being followed. The two unnegotiables from our side are that we insist on handing the aid directly to the people of Gaza, not through an intermediary like UNWRA, and that we have to go through the port of Nureiba. The note struck by George Galloway tonight was cautiously optimistic. We will accept any other conditions they apply
Tomorrow we start some early frors of action. A number of people (including George) have signed up to start a hunger strike (or fast) This will start at 11.25 am, the exact moment the bombing of GAZA started a year ago to the day. The fast will have a rolling start with more people joining each day. The fast will end when we get to GAZA. " if we can't deliver the aids to the people to whom it belongs, then we will deny oursleves the food we need in solidarity with them" (Ibid George Galloway), Personally I won't be doing this as I wouldn't remain functional and I've had some water retention round my legs which has been painful at times and I'm not taking any risks with my health but I salute the pople who are
There will also be a rally starting at 11.25 am with our Jordanian partners (the union of Muslims) who are providing us with food and support and a venue to meet and plan, as well as a huge amount of free accomodation. I don't yet know where the rally will take place but the obvious targets are the Egyptian consulate or the Israeli presence here. However the line being taken is that we must do nothing at all to 'annoy' the Egyptisns and make it clear we see the culprits in this situation as the Israeli sate.
There is a feeling that the main aim of the Egyptians is to avoid us getting to RAFAH on the 27th (tomorrow) on the first anniversary of the start of the bombing and invasion of GAZA, and that they won't want us on the ship tomorrow either (obvious parallels with Moses parting the red sea), but that once this is avoided they will let us in......... we wait to see.
Please keep up whatever attempts you are making to contact the media where you are. I used to live with Two really well known journalist (30 years ago) - Jackie Ashley and Ed Vulliamy of the Guardian and I'm going to try to get in contact with them which will probably be impossible so if you have any contacts like this use them,
I was sold a couple of story lines by a young women called Norah in F group who has been doing media work for the convoy for the last few months. The key words are : Christmas, fast, getting over the red sea, bringing aid to the children in GAZA, the fact that the medicines are siting in the vans up in the mountains going off in the very hot sun (by the way the Jordanians will not release the vehicles from the customs compound and will not allow us to retrieve anything but personal items so we can't protect the medicinal perishables - no idea if this is a political or administrative decision) Whilst Israel killed another 6 people on GAZA and the west bank today, we have essential medicines ands some very high tech equipment with us (The Gloucester Group I am with bought a $3,000 EEG machine with the money we raised, to my personal knowledge there are 2 electron microscopes, dialysis machines everywhere, blood scrubbers and loads of other very much needed stuff - god knows what the Turks have got but they are incredibly well resourced - the Bristol group have a 40 ft artic rammed with equipment)
Finally I asked Kevin the convoy leader to check out yesterday the point I mentioned in the blog about Anti Semitic chanting from some of the militants in the Turkish group - he tells me he has done this and has received assurances that this is not the case. I accept these assurances and hope they are true.
We hear the Israeli Government has been using the argument internationally that the strap line 'VIVA PALESTINA' proves that the convoy is not about humanitarian aid but is a political intervention in the affairs of a sovereign state - how Machiavellian is that?
Signing off - If I don't blog tomorrow it means we are on the move - although I suspect it won't be tomorrow -
yours cautiously optimistic
Friday, 25 December 2009
We face our first serious political challenge. We have known all along that the Egyptian government does not want us to enter the country or to enter GAZA. The politics of this are complex but basically they are a key american and Isreali ally and so do not want international attention or attention in the Arab world to focus on their collusion with the siege of GAZA.
The current position is that the Egyptian Consul in Aqaba has made it clear that we are not welcome, and will not be permitted to deisenbark at the Egyptian port of Nureiba (the destination port from Aqaba). We will be welcome to enter GAZA at Rafah when we get there but they will not allow us to enter Egypt at Nureiba. This has been reported in the Jordan times - and is basically a delaying/b;ocking tactic. They are able to say that we are welcome to cross into GAZA whilst making it impossible for us to do so.
They inform us that there are international protocols (which just seem to have been invented) that requires aid for palesinians to come in through the Egyptian Port of Al Areish. To get there we would have to retrace our steps hundreds of miles to go to LEbanon - we would then have to charter several ships and pay for them with money intended for GAZA, and then travel to Al Areish where the aid would have to be handed over to UNWRA (UN welfare and relief agency - the UN body set up to support the palestinains and notoriously corrupt and inefficient) Our response to this is that we do not recognise the palestinians as refugees in their own country, which we consider to be a sovereign nation and that the people of our respoective nations (Turkey, UK, BElgium, Malaysia, France, GErmany, Jordan and Syria, USA etc ) have chosen to donate the aid and send it directly to the people of GAZA, by means of the VIVA PAlestina Convoy
We are therfore respectfully asking Hosni Mubarek, the president of Egypt to show magnanimity to the people of GAZA. We are making it clear that we have no wish to create problems for the people or government of Egypt and wish simply to transit with much needed medical supplies worth millions of pounds.
What you can do
Please do one of all of the follwing -
contact your elected representatives and ask them to raise the issue with the foreign office (or its equivalent in South Africa (pete))
Go on the VIVA Palestina Website for more informaion ( I hope its working now) for updates - Pete there is a new branch in South Africa as of last week
Organise a letter writing campaign to the Egyption embassy in your country - polite and respectful letters please. On this note you may note that George Galloway reported last night that in a meeting with the Egyptian Consul in Aqaba, the consul let slip that we would have to negotiate entry into Egypt with the ISreali Government - it may be worth asking in the letters whether this means that the Egyptians have sub contrated their national sovereignty to the ISrealis on this issue - but politely !!!!!!!
Contact the forein office duty desk by phone, e-mail, etc to ask them what they are doping aboput this and ask them to ensure that the foreign misister raises this with the Egyptiona government at the firsat opportunity
Write to and e-mail your national embassy in Egypt - do not assume they are aweare of what is going on - and ask them to intevene to allow the people of the donor nations to be allowed to donate their aid directly to the people of GAZA
Forward the text of this blog to anyone you know who may be willing to support us in these ways and ask them to help - get this informaion cascaded out as widely as possible
This has all the makings of a long one - The key factor will be to focus international attention on the situation and to expose the fact that the Egyptians are colluding with the siege of GAZA and are doing the bidding of the ISreali state . There is a growing media presence here - Al Jazeera is now committed to staying with us until we get inot GAZA (their coverage is excellent)- if you have any contacts in the British media use them to try and raise the profile of the issue - we need Britsih media coverage - it doesn't seem to be happening at the moment.
PErsonally I am committed to staying here as long as I can and have at least till the 4/5th January but will negotaite longer with my employer if I can - In the meantime life is good - am getting over a bit of a chest infection which has been with me for 10 days or so - Aqaba looks like a lovely place to explore. My only concern at the moment is political - some of the turkish convoy are very miltant islamic activists and their chanting is (so I understand) sometimes extremely anti semitic - a group of us are going to raise this with the convoy leadership later on - I haven't spent my adult life as an anti racist to sit quietly whilst the convoy allows these men (inevitably they are men!) to hand a huge propoganda tool to the ISrealis, and I don't like racsists full stop.
It looks like I'll be able to blog regularly for the next few days so will keep you all informed -
All love to everyone - if anyone opens my presents before I'm there, there will be words - I have got presents haven't I!?
All love to all
Break the siege !!!!!!
(PS don't worry am still a lovable cuddly militant - not a militant militant!!!)
Saturday, 19 December 2009
Hi folks - another long drive today (400 kms) and amt ired so this will be short. We have had a tumultuous welcome in this city. 1000's of drivers alongside us waving flags - blues and two's going on thea mbulances (its a definite buzz driving an ambulance)and then a huge reception in a community centre - more welcomes and salaams.
tired but happy
Friday, 18 December 2009
Sittin another gym tonight - huge welcome with hundreds of people coming to greet us with a meal and 'salamms'. We are treated like heroes even though basically we are drivers. Thought you might like to meet the members of team F - we are the excellent, organised kings and queens of convoy driving and CB radio organisation. Headley and Mustafa are the ones in yellow coats...............
Thursday, 17 December 2009
You may have heard about the fact that we have lost one of the Gloucester vehicles! Abi and I were in the sprinter coming down a hill when the vehicle in front of us braked suddenly, so we had to brake as well, and were rear ended by a 20 ton cement lorry, which took about 2 feet of the end, rammed the drive shaft forward and split the engine block - kaput. Bit shocked but the 'F Group' (our imme3ditate vehicle family) worked like clockwork. Aid redistributed to other vehicles, deal struck with local garage, on the road again within 3.5 hours. Sad to lose the vehicle, but we will get the insurance which can go into the funds for next
We have heard the news about the arrest warrant issued in the English courts for Tzipi Livni,to answer we assume a prima facie case for war crimes against the inhabitants of GAZA, and were all encouraged by this. WE also understand that the government has appealed - presumably on the grounds that international law shouldn't apply to serving minsters of national governments. The whole convoy seems clear on this point that the Israeli state has to be internationally isolated in any way possible to stop the normalisation of the ethnic cleansing that is underway.
There are still fantastic conversations going on all over the place - my favourites include ' a horse walks into a bar and the barman says 'why the long face?', and my friend Yousuf from Dewsbury explaining why it was really important that we all understand that the religious, ethnic and gender diversity of the convoy is its primary strength, and that we all stand to learn from each other, and how unacceptable it is that a few of the sistsers on the convoy who are muslims have been pressured to cover their hair by unnaqmed persons.
Mustafa has left us to go back to England. His daughter has bene ill and he has an exam to revise for. WE are really sad to see him go and hope his baba gets over her chest infection..... One really really nice guy with a dry sense of humour - Jeadly misses him and the constant banter - now he hasd to make do with me.......One really really nice guy with a dry sense of humour - Headley misses him and the constant banter - now he dash to make do with me.......
We are tired and must go to bed soon - this connection is very slow and I am going to try to upload a couple of photos but not completely confident of the bandwidth(Brian - where are you?). Apparently Hadley is on the VP website - Hope they got his best side. Abi well and Ahmed (known as the doctor by everyone also........
All love to everyone and remember - the UK, EU, USA and others are all complicit in the actions of the Zionist state in GAZA - remember David Milliband's refusal to condemn instantly the use of illegal weapons against civilians,or Blair's refusal to condemn the attack on Lebanon, or the USA's £4bn a year to the Isreali military and oher state institutions, or the EU's refusal to recognise and engage with the democratically elected HAMAS government ( a refusal that directly ( and deliberately) lead tot he current impasse in palestinian society and the divide and rule approach now being adopted by the Isreali's. We all need to ask ourselves about what is done in our names.....This situation is no more intractable than South Africa or N Ireland- but external actors need to pull out and broker open ended negotiations. Stop the aid to Isreal and they'd be at the table overnight.
Rant over its time to go to ZED land
Sunday, 13 December 2009
now its the Sunday 13th. We've been in Thessalonian for a day. Greek society is very pro Palestinian so we were welcomed last night by the mayor of the suburb where we are staying, two agree MP's, and a Greek MEP, and a Palestinian community leader. We are staying in a huge basketball court in a working class suburb, so there was this 70's feel to the whole event - a platform at the front of the room, with all the speakers sitting in a line, and that very formal leftist protocol that I last came across when I was a member of the ligue communiste revolutionnaire in France in the 70's ! WE went out for a coffee last night and chatted to people who were all very supportive and seemed to have some knowledge of the situation in the Palestinian territories. This morning we had a police escort to drive all 100 vehicles into the centre of the city and rallied on the sea front. Lots of ambulance sirens, lights flashing, noise, people waving and all.......
There are lots of conversations everywhere - political, theological, discussions about the rights of women, the role of marriage and I have made some friends I think. The Gloucester group are in good form and everyone getting on well and we are all really sad that Mustafa has to come bail from Istanbul. He's got an exam, but also feels as an Algerian that going to Egypt is a bit of a risk at the moment (something to do with football apparently!) He's one seriously nice geezer. Some of us are beginning to talk about what happens after the convoy and how we all keep in touch afterwards for political support and to keep ourselves active to repay the investment that the People of GAZA will be making by hosting us. We have to keep active raising consciousness about the issue. At the rally this morning, Kevin, the convoy leader made refere3nce to the fact that where were were there had been a massacre of the Jewish population of the city in 1943 under the Nazis. What a thread of abuse! The holocaust was most savage expression of racism that Europe has ever seen, and it is commonly used as an excuse or explanation for the actions of a racist Israeli state - The Palestinians have been paying the price for Europe's racism for 60 years and we are all responsible for doing what we can to bring about an equitable solution in the region. Rant over. Love from Abi, Bob, Mustafa, HEadley and Ahmed. Will next communicate from Istanbul