Convoy of Hope for Gaza
European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza
Tuesday 26th May 2009
Tuesday 26th – the delegates from the convoy that were permitted to enter Gaza by the Egyptian Authorities awoke to see Gaza City this morning. It has been a surreal 24 hours.
Only yesterday, we were waking up after a night on the floor of the Rafah checkpoint. Where we were inexplicably stranded when the Egyptian authorities after stamping our exit visas, then revoked our permissions and we were stopped from entering Rafah. From our arrival to the crossing area at noon on Sunday, there followed 24 hours of anxious waiting, discussing, waiting, rumouring and speculating and then some more waiting while the organisers and the elected representatives spoke to various officials to attempt to discover the cause of the delay and to negotiate the release of the medical aid convoy including 25 ambulances a kidney dialysis machine, wheelchairs and tens of thousands of pounds worth of medicines.
The Egyptian authorities had proposed allowing just ten people through. This would be the elected politicians and some representatives of the convoy – Then, the Egyptians said; After those 10 members had entered Gaza and the rest of the members on the Egyptian side had departed, at that point the aid would be driven across by drivers from Gaza.
This was unacceptable to the delegates, who had seen stockpiles of aid on the Egyptian border that had laid there for months. Much of it perishable and now ruined or destroyed. The delegates decided they would rather bring the material and goods home, in order to show the world what the Siege of Gaza means in practice, rather than leave it to rot in some Egyptian warehouse.
The Egyptians stood their ground, and in a move which shocked and confused delegates, the authorities announced that we had to accept their offer or remove ourselves immediately from the crossing within 20 minutes, or we would be forcefully removed. Scores of riot police were seen at the rear of the building.
With people in wheelchairs, and anxious children to be concerned about, the convoy decided not to give any excuse to those who would refuse to let medical aid reach a desperate people in Gaza. The delegates decided to drive their vehicles back to Port Said and sail the aid back home to Europe. Where the huge amount of humanitarian aid would then become a touring monument, to the inhumanity of the siege of Gaza.
The media that had been waiting on the Rafah side of the border for more than 24 hours began to try to contact delegates by mobile phone. Pressure mounted as word was spreading of the aid waiting just 50 meters from Gaza.
Two Irish women leaving Gaza managed to get to the door of the hall where we were camped and asked to see me having heard that a Sinn Fein councillor was with the delegations.
They told me of the thousands who were lining the streets of Gaza to see the aid convoy arrive. People were desperate they said, and they were so proud that an Irish person was with the aid convoy. They told of the desperate need for basic medical equipment and medicines; and hoped that we would get through. They told me that they themselves, had waited all day yesterday in the baking heat for the arrival of the aid convoy.
Then they told me a spine chilling report from inside Gaza. They said that earlier that morning, Monday 25th, Israeli planes had streaked overhead and a loud explosion was heard outside the Europa hospital in Gaza. Thousands of leaflets were released warning Palestinians that Israel had now decided to declare up to 300 m inside Gaza from the border – not just with Israel but at Rafah too – a security zone. Any Palestinian who entered there without their permission, would be shot the Israelis threatened.
The convoy delegates then attempted one more time to negotiate and move things forward. Eventually and offer was made and ultimately agreed upon. The Egyptians would allow 20 convoy members to cross, along with the aid and vehicles into Gaza. The remaining members would have to leave the border and return to Cairo.
This was a difficult issue for the convoy as it mean that the majority of them, who had saved so hard and collected so much to purchase this equipment would have to turn back after weeks of delay in Egypt and not see the aid going to those who needed. Unselfishly the delegates agreed to the restriction in order to allow the aid through to the people of Gaza who needed it desperately.
Then there was a difficult period where the leaders of each group tried to select the people who should enter. Eventually a list was prepared and whilst many people were angry and upset at their omission it was accepted that we had little option but to accede to the restrictions if the aid was to be delivered.
Ultimately the list comprised the following:
Italian MP Fernando Rossi and Monia Benini, Italian Mohammad Abu Ali, plus 4 European citizens with disabilities, Gerry MacLochlainn of Sinn Fein, and a representative from each member country of the convoy.
Later that night (around 10pm) the Egyptian authorities moved quickly – and we were re-issued with our passports. Yesterdays stamp was cancelled and a new one issued to allow me and 21 others (We managed to add another two children to the list at the last minute). We were hustled to the border and climbed into some of the ambulances – one last security check at the gate and we crossed into the no-mans-land of a security zone where we could see the Israeli checkpoint about a kilometre away and we were finally in Gaza.
People clambered over the cars to give us flowers, Palestine flags, and just to wave or shake our hands. We were in Gaza among the Palestinian people who are living in the “world’s biggest concentration camp” – imprisoned in their own country and even denied basic medical aid.
When the waiting throng, including the Social Affairs Minister, heard that I was from Ireland and from Sinn Féin, a man was pushed forward to meet with me. “Hello” he said, “I am a former prisoner – I spent 14 years in an Israeli gaol” he said. Then another man cried into my hear “Tiocfaidh Ar Lá” which means “Our Day Will Come” in Irish.
I was finally among a people I have admired for so many years; and amongst those people, I felt at home.
32 minutes ago