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...
Al love and happy new year XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX