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’