[News] A Victory For Viva Palestina
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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