Palestine: Aid convoy breaks Gaza siege

Issue 

After 8000 km on the road with 100 vehicles and 500 volunteers, the passage of the Viva Palestina convoy into Gaza City brought out thousands of jubilant Palestinians to celebrate the latest breakthrough against Israeli oppression.

The Viva Palestina convoy, carrying much needed humanitarian aid, was organised by volunteer solidarity activists from Britain. The activists appealed for donations to assist the people of Gaza, who are not only facing the task of rebuilding after Israel's devastating recent war but are still subjected to a near total siege.

The campaign raised more than £1 million worth of aid to be sent to Gaza in order to break the Israeli-imposed siege and help counter the humanitarian crisis.

The convoy had left London on February 14, running into its fair share of setbacks on its way. Its significance was written on the faces of the thousands of Palestinians that celebrated the convoy's eventual arrival in Gaza.

As 25-year-old high school teacher and convoy member from Birmingham, Iftikhar Hussein, told AlArabiya.net on March 8, before embarking on the last leg of the journey, "Gaza has broken into many British homes and has touched many British hearts".

The convoy is a sign of the growing international support for the long-suffering Palestinian people who, in Gaza, continue to suffer low-intensity Israeli military attacks — even after most media networks have packed up and gone home.

As British MP for the anti-war Respect party and convoy member George Galloway explained at a Gaza City reception on March 9: "We travelled many miles but the joy in our hearts as we entered this land of heroes, were embraced by heroes, is difficult to put into words.

"We watched the agony, the pain, the tears of the Palestinian people under bombardment for 22 days and nights.

"We demonstrated in our hundreds of thousands in London, in Manchester, in Birmingham, in Glasgow, in Edinburgh. We clashed with the police outside the Israeli embassy in London night after night after night.

"But we decided this was not enough, our hearts were broken for you and we decided that when our children ask us, what did you do Daddy when this crime was being committed, that we would be able to say that we gave every breath that god gave us to try to come to the rescue of the Palestinian people."

Galloway explained that, unlike most of the world's governments who refuse to recognise the democratically-elected Hamas-led Palestinian government, the convoy respected Palestinian sovereignty.

"We have brought with us many vehicles, much equipment, much medicine", he said, "and we will hand it to Ismail Haniyeh, the elected prime minister of Palestine".

"The United States, Israel and Britain may not recognise Haniyeh as their prime minister but he is the prime minister chosen by the people of Palestine."

Referring to the fact that Hamas are listed in a number of countries as a banned "terrorist organisation", Galloway declared as he handed over cash and the keys to donated vehicles to Palestinian economic minister Ziad al-Zaza: "I say now to the British and European governments, if you want to take me to court, I promise you there is no jury in all of Britain who will convict me. They will convict you."

The trip however was not an easy one. After confronting anti-terror laws and breakdowns in the early part of the journey, the convoy confronted its most testing moments in Egypt while negotiating passage into Gaza.

On March 8, the convoy was attacked with clubs and stones, injuring two convoy members. Press TV journalist and convoy member, Yvonne Ridley, revealed that Egyptian police stood by during the attack.

It has been alleged that these assailants were linked to the Egyptian security agency.

The Egyptian authorities also attempted to divide the convoy. Medical supplies were to be allowed to pass through the Rafah crossing, while all other supplies would have to pass through an Israeli controlled border point.

However, the organisers of the convoy refused to heed Egypt's demand, explaining that "under no circumstances" would the convoy coordinate with Israel.

In the end, the Egyptian Red Crescent, along with the World Health Organisation and Oxfam, helped to transfer some non-medical goods through the Israeli controlled Awja border crossing.

In contrast, an aid conference was also held in Cairo on March 2, involving high-level officials from over 70 countries. Hamas, which won the 2006 Palestinian Authority elections, was not invited.

Despite the conference allocating US$4.5 billion dollars towards "restoration" in Gaza, aid will be directed to the illegitimate West Bank government headed by Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas. The Abbas-led government seized power in the West Bank in a US-backed coup, while the Hamas-led government successfully defeat the coup in Gaza.

"We welcome all Arab or international efforts working for the good of Gaza", Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum explained.

"But we reject any politicised investment in the reconstruction — of what was destroyed in the first place by the [Israeli] occupation — at the expense of the Palestinian people and their national rights."

As Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa al-Omrani explained in an Electronicintifada.net article on March 8, "Primary donors, including both the US and the EU, insist that funds be distributed through pre-existing aid programs operated by multilateral institutions such as the UN and the World Bank.

"Notably, all such programs are run in coordination with the US-backed Palestinian Authority (PA) — Hamas's bitter rival — headed by Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank."

In particular, the US has donated $900 million in economic aid to the Abbas-lead PA, with $300 million earmarked for rebuilding projects within Gaza.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has insisted that none will go to rebuilding works supported by the "terrorist organisation" Hamas.

As Clinton declared at the conference, "We have worked with the PA to install safeguards that will ensure our funding is only used where and for whom it is intended and does not end up in the wrong hands".

However, the chances of the aid entering Gaza at all are lessened by Israel's tight control over Gaza's borders. Israel now claims that the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to be a precondition to easing its siege.

Shalit was taken prisoner by Palestinian resistance forces in 2006 as a bargaining chip for the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners — including elected officials — held by Israel.

United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon told the Cairo aid conference: "The situation at the border crossings is intolerable."

He explained that essential commodities could not enter Gaza, and stated that the opening of Gaza's borders represented the "first and indispensable goal".

As opinion polls from the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research show, support for Hamas among Palestinians continues to grow. This is despite all Israeli and Western governments attempts to undermine them.

What the West and Fatah forget is that negotiations that go nowhere, due to Israeli refusal to offer any ground on any significant Palestinian demands for justice, which Fatah have continued to enter into, will not resolve the Palestinian people's demand for self determination.

Until justice is achieved, the Palestinian people will continue to resist their oppression.