7 January 2010 Edition
Convoy determined to deliver aid to Gaza
BY EMMA CLANCY
AROUND 2,000 activists from around the world have marked the one-year anniversary of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, which left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead, by converging on Gaza’s borders with Egypt and trying to enter the besieged territory.
Irish solidarity activists are among those who have joined the Viva Palestina aid convoy and the Gaza Freedom March demanding an end to the economic siege of the Gaza Strip, home to 1.5 million people.
The third Viva Palestina convoy – of more than 500 activists from 20 countries – departed from Ireland and Britain on 6 December, bringing humanitarian and medical aid, and was scheduled to arrive at Gaza’s Rafah border with Egypt on 27 December, a year to the day after the brutal onslaught began.
The convoy is due to finally enter Gaza as An Phoblacht goes to print on Wednesday after facing harsh repression from the Egyptian authorites.
Speaking to An Phoblacht from Egypt on Wednesday 6 January, Tyrone man John Hurson described how the convoy had been surrounded and attacked by 2,000 Egyptian riot police in the port city of El Arish the night before.
“Tensions rose on Tuesday night when Egyptian representatives walked away from negotiations with us regarding the passage of the convoy,” Hurson explained.
“They wanted 55 out of our 200 or so vehicles to pass into Gaza through an Israeli-controlled checkpoint. These vehicles are the ones most vitally needed by the people of Gaza, and included medicine and ambulances. Insisting that they pass through Israel means there is no chance the aid would have reached the Palestinian people.
“We were determined to defend the aid and several members of the convoy received injuries ranging from cuts and bruises to broken limbs and teeth when 2,000 riot police attacked us last night with tear gas and water cannons.”
He said the situation was defused because of “cool heads prevailing among the convoy” and that the 55 vehicles causing the standoff would now be rerouted to Lebanon, where they would be delivered to Palestinians living in refugee camps.
Hurson criticised the Egyptian authorities’ “total disregard for basic human rights”.
Expressing his concern for the safety of the aid convoy members, which include several Irish citizens, including five Derry men, Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney said: “I will be keeping in close contact with the relatives of the convoy members and will support efforts to ensure the men’s safety and well-being. Sinn Féin at the highest level will also be in touch with the Irish government urging their intervention with the authorities in El Arish calling for respect for the humanitarian nature of this convoy.”
Gaza Freedom March
Meanwhile, the Gaza Freedom March scheduled for 31 December brought more than 1,400 international Palestine solidarity activists to Egypt, where they planned to march through the border with Gaza to join Palestinians on the other side. The planned protest was to demand that Israel, Egypt and the international community end the deadly siege of Gaza, which has been in place for more than three and a half years.
But again, the protestors faced harsh repression from the Egyptian authorities, who announced days before the march that the international activists would not be permitted to enter Gaza. Protests by the activists in Cairo, including several delegates from the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, demanding they be allowed to enter Gaza were met with violent repression by the Egyptian police.
Eventually Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s wife announced that 100 Gaza Freedom March delegates would be allowed to enter the territory. The rest of the activists convened in the Egyptian capital and issued the ‘Cairo Declaration’ in support of Palestinian self-determination, denouncing “Israeli apartheid”. The declaration urged international support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign to “compel Israel to comply with international law”.
Raymond McCartney said: “A year has now passed and no real progress has been made in either ending the economic siege of Gaza or developing the conditions where meaningful dialogue can take place.
“We must now redouble our efforts to relieve the suffering of the Palestinian people; to hold Israel to account for war crimes; and to demand the international community engage in a vigorous and sincere attempt to facilitate an inclusive dialogue that can make progress towards a just peace in the Middle East.”