[News] A Victory For Viva Palestina

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jan 8 12:07:38 EST 2010

A Victory For Viva Palestina

By Eric Ruder

08 January, 2010

Exactly one month after departing from London on December 6, the Viva 
Palestina convoy to deliver humanitarian supplies to Gaza finally 
reached its destination, crossing in from Egypt with 518 people, 156 
vehicles and all the relief supplies it brought.

The day before, with the convoy gathered in El Arish, Egypt, 
negotiations with Egyptian authorities broke down, and some 100 men 
in civilian clothes wielding police batons--backed up by hundreds 
more riot police--were set loose on the convoy, which had been forced 
to barricade itself in the port area as a defensive measure.

There was a three-hour standoff, followed by a 15-minute bout of 
brutality unleashed by the Egyptian police. Even the presence of 10 
Turkish members of parliament and British member of parliament George 
Galloway wasn't enough to avert the Egyptian assault.

As Viva Palestina organizer Kevin Ovenden reported via telephone from Gaza:

We had 55 injured, mostly by rocks and broken bricks that the 
plainclothes men threw and tear gas fired at us by the riot police. 
Four suffered fractures, and 10 were hospitalized with fairly serious 
head wounds, one particularly serious. All 10 required sutures. They 
also arrested six people and held them overnight.

The plainclothes threw sand at people with cameras to sow confusion, 
and then the police opened up with tear gas and some sort of acidic 
liquid from what looked like a fire engine. It was entirely 
premeditated. They had made themselves an arsenal of rocks and 
bricks, and then opened up on us. But as we retreated, we grabbed one 
of the riot police and took him with us. That gave us some leverage.

The attack wasn't sufficient to break the resolve of the convoy, and 
the repression only sparked more media coverage. Meanwhile, the 
Turkish government began applying some diplomatic pressure, and 
thousands of Palestinians began protesting on the Gaza side of the 
Rafah crossing, demanding that the convoy be allowed in.

Finally, the growing public spotlight on Egypt's collaboration with 
Israel's inhumane siege of Gaza persuaded Egyptian officials that 
they should allow the convoy's passage.

When negotiations resumed, Viva organizers demanded the release of 
the six arrestees, and safe passage of all 518 people and all the 
humanitarian aid they had brought. The Egyptians barred 43 vehicles 
from entering Gaza, but Viva organizers arranged to have them shipped 
to Turkey, where they will be distributed to 43 cities and made the 
focus of fundraising efforts for Palestine, then ultimately delivered 
with relief aid to Palestinian refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THE SUCCESS of the convoy marked a significant victory in ongoing 
efforts by activists to break Israel's siege, which continues with 
the blessings of the U.S. and active participation of the Egypt government.

A week earlier, Egyptian authorities stopped some 1,400 people from 
around the world from getting into Gaza--the group had planned to 
participate in a planned Gaza Freedom March in Gaza City on December 
31. Egyptian police blockaded participants in their hotels, canceled 
buses that were chartered to take people from Cairo to El Arish, and 
stopped those who found other transport at military checkpoints on 
the road to the Sinai Peninsula.

The Viva Palestina convoy drove all the way from London, through 
Europe, Turkey, Syria and Jordan, before Egypt threw up a series of 
bureaucratic hurdles to thwart its progress.

First, Egyptian officials insisted that the convoy couldn't enter 
Egypt from the Aqaba, Jordan, border crossing, instead requiring it 
to travel to the Mediterranean port of El Arish, Egypt. The entire 
convoy backtracked to Syria, and chartered a car ferry and airline 
flights to bring the vehicles, aid and people to El Arish. Then the 
standoff and police violence began.

But finally getting to cross into Gaza--with the vehicles and 
humanitarian aid--made the entire effort worthwhile. According to Ovenden:

It was an amazing experience. Virtually the entire length of the road 
from Rafah to Khan Younis to Gaza City was lined with people. Many 
had been waiting 10 hours to see us, and we were delayed because it 
took time for us to get our prisoners released, but I'm pleased to 
say we didn't leave a single person behind--either on our way into 
Egypt or after the arrests.

When they forced us back to Syria, I think they thought that we 
wouldn't have the nerve to get it together and get back to El Arish. 
But within 15 hours, we organized to get the necessary transport. In 
just 72 hours, we have raised nearly enough money to cover the extra 
cost, which amounts to about $300,000. But we still want to get more 
aid in, and I anticipate that we'll now raise even more for future aid efforts.

We had aimed at highlighting Israel's siege of Gaza, but due to the 
Egyptian posture from beginning to end, they themselves highlighted 
the Egyptian role in the siege. They've isolated themselves within 
the Muslim world. And after 10 Turkish MPs faced Egyptian riot police 
in El Arish, it's now a major issue in Turkey also.

It was really a major success all around. George Galloway appeared on 
Al Jazeera's most watched news program and ripped into the Egyptian 
regime for 60 minutes, we were on the flagship BBC radio show today, 
and we've received about 1,800 e-mails in the last 12 hours. And 
because Egypt viciously attacked the Gaza Freedom Marchers, that 
attracted attention which flowed to us later.

This has internationalized the whole issue, and we are looking to 
launch Viva Palestina efforts in even more countries. Already, we've 
had an encouraging meeting of 200 in South Africa interested in the effort.

About a year ago, just days after Israel launched its brutal assault 
on Gaza, we launched Viva Palestina with a strategic outlook that we 
could crack open the siege by fusing aid, a savvy understanding of 
the political context and campaigning. We think this effort is 
working and can contribute to the growing international movement in 
solidarity with the Palestinian people.

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