27 May 2009

Hope Convoy Diaries~Al Arish to Rafah

(These are a series of "hope" diaries with photos. This is the 2nd entry, if you missed previous posts, check the sidebar.For clarification, the "updates" I have been doing for days will continue until they leave Gaza tomorrow. The "hope" diaries are being done alongside the regular "updates" I may get. The "hope" diaries will take you from arrival in Egypt right through until the convoy leaves Gaza.)Additionally, after you finish here, visit my friend over at"DesertPeace" for some great photos of the convoy as well. check them out HERE
Egypt Part 2 below, remember you can click to enlarge the photos:

The convoy members travelled to Alexandria after spending several days in Cairo. Once in Alexandria they continued to wait for the Libyan boat to arrive. Rumours, stories promises and broken promises abound. Delay after delay, people are growing agitated, tired of waiting and wasting valuable time.

After more days the boat finally arrived. EUREKA!! Not so fast........

More delays. Much time being spent in back and forth conversations with the Egyptian authorities. Eventually progress is made and the aid with its vehicles is loaded onto the 2nd boat and it will now sail to Port Said where the members will be waiting for it.

So, the happy and hopeful members travel ahead to Port Said by bus, Italian MP Fernando Rossi pictured below in first photograph. CLICK ANY PHOTO TO ENLARGE IT

And when they got to Port Said, they waited more days.
Notice a "theme" here folks?

After the members and the aid boat arrives in Port Said, there are more negotiations and security checks and customs checks are carried out, yet AGAIN. The aid is finally allowed off the boat, see empty boat below FINALLY!!

With the Libyan boat emptied, the Aid is now happily in the waiting hands of the delegation members. But not after another final check by Egyptian security (pictured in white uniforms)

The 120 member Aid Convoy, will now be "escorted" by 250 Egyptian Security Forces , I mean Egyptian "tourism" police, to the Rafah border. Imagine that, what a ratio.........

Everyone is finally happy; the aid is off the boat at last. The convoy will now travel directly to the Rafah border, a sense of joy is in the air, people are feeling good now, they are finally on their way to Break the Siege on Gaza and deliver needed aid to those suffering the most. The convoy saddles up and starts its journey to Rafah below:

People begin taking pictures of the other vehicles as the convoy begins its journey. There is excitement in the air now, it's almost over......

But not quite..............

Upon arrival at the Rafah crossing (below), things are looking "go for launch" all members get their passports stamped allowing them to leave Egypt.

Let me explain this. Egypt has no real authority over Palestine, two separate countries. But, what Egypt CAN do is not allow you to leave Egypt. That's the bugger right there. So, they can withhold an exit visa to leave Egypt, which effectively stops you from entering Palestine, where the Palestinians have invited you and are waiting for your arrival. They are 50 metres from Gaza, almost there........

So, technically they were all approved to leave Egypt. But not so fast, Egypt strikes again. This time they decide to reduce the number allowed in suddenly. Then more delays and negotiations ensue, people are getting nowhere. This continues all day long until late evening. The Egyptians offer them transportation to return to Al Arish for the night and promise to allow them to cross in the morning. After much heated debate among members, it was decided to go against Egypt’s offer and remain at the border all night long in protest.

The women, children and the disabled members were taken to a mosque nearby that the Egyptians cleared for them to get some rest inside. The other members remained in the terminal all night long. Egyptians suppied members with mattresses, blankets, water bottles, a kettle for tea (I bet the Irish were happy top see that Kettle!)and some small food items.

The next day, things were no better. And very soon they got much worse. After continued negotiations for hours, where Egyptians wanted to allow only 10 members in without the aid. This obviously was refused by the convoy. At around 11 AM the Egyptians decided they'd had enough of talking. They informed the convoy that they were calling the riot police to have them removed if they did not leave the premises within 20 minutes. Panic sets in all around. Both sides can loose......

For Egypt, there is a huge media presence, both at the Egypt side of the crossing and at the Gaza side where hundreds have been waiting since the day before. Egypt does not want bad publicity. And for the convoy, they want the aid to get to Gaza to the people who need it so desperately!

After some time, both sides cooled off a bit and more talks took place.

The final offer by the Egyptians was to allow 20 members WITH the aid and vehicles to cross immediately into Gaza, providing the other members would leave the crossing if this was accepted. A heated discussion took place among the convoy inside the terminal building, pictured below:

Eventually the convoy decided to accept this last offer. After all, the point was to deliver the aid to those imprisoned inside. Then the members decided which 20 would go in. They decided that the politicians, followed by the disabled and Palestinians, and then one member to represent each remaining country. Additionally they later managed to get 2 more children added, for a total of 22 members allowed into Gaza.

Things happened very fast now, within minutes of this decision being agreed upon they were told to get the vehicles and go now. And they did........