Let the convoy through to Gaza

July 13, 2009

The Egyptian government has disrupted a convoy of solidarity activists bringing needed humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza. Members of Viva Palestina report that officials stopped buses carrying part of the group's delegation as they attempted to cross into the Sinai region on the way to the Rafah border crossing, where activists plan to enter Gaza with their aid convoy.

Here, we publish reports from tour coordinator Kevin Ovenden.

July 11, 9 p.m., Cairo time: The largest-ever U.S. humanitarian aid convoy is now gathering in Egypt to head across the border into Gaza on Monday, July 13.

Vehicles are coming from Alexandria, the medical supplies from Cairo and the advanced party of nearly 100 U.S. citizens is heading for the staging post of Al Arish, just before the border with Gaza.

That group, of four buses, has, however, been stopped from crossing over the Suez Canal and into the Sinai region, which leads to Gaza. The buses, carrying people, medical aid and bearing US, Egyptian and Palestinian flags in a spirit of international cooperation, have been held at a security checkpoint and given various, conflicting reasons for why they cannot proceed to their destination at Al Arish.

New York Councilman Charles Barron is leading the group and is negotiating with security officials to resolve the situation. He has contacted Washington and other elected officials in an effort to clarify the reasons for the delay and address any concerns as efficiently as possible.

Supplies for the Viva Palestina convoy ready for loading
Supplies for the Viva Palestina convoy ready for loading (Eric Ruder | SW)

Former U.S. Congresswoman and presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney will join the convoy on July 13, and British Member of Parliament George Galloway will also be heading to meet up with Councilman Barron and the advance group. He and the rest of the advance group of the convoy, however, are insisting on their right to travel with their supplies to Al Arish, where the rest of the convoy is to rendezvous with them before heading for the border crossing into Gaza.

This medical convoy is on the way to Gaza a month after U.S. President Barack Obama described the situation in Gaza as a "humanitarian crisis." "Our convoy is on an aid mission," says Galloway, "We come in peace; but we will not be stopped."

Update on July 12, at 2:45 a.m., Cairo time: The 100 Viva Palestina humanitarian volunteers have decided to stay the night in their buses at the Mubarak Peace Bridge over the Suez Canal, despite pressure from the Egyptian security officials to return to Cairo.

The official reason given at the checkpoint for refusing to allow them to cross is that the officials there did not have a list of the names of the members of the convoy. Such a list was--at the request of the Egyptian authorities before any of the convoy members set foot in Egypt--sent to the Egyptian ambassadors to Washington, D.C., and London.

Convoy to Gaza

Solidarity activists traveled from the U.S. to Gaza to deliver desperately needed humanitarian aid to the Palestinian victims of Israel's brutal war. SocialistWorker.org writers contributed to this journal during the Viva Palestina convoy.

The U.S. embassy in Cairo has now stepped in to forward a newly provided list of those convoy members aboard the buses at the bridge to the Egyptian foreign ministry to clear the way for the convoy's passage.

Nancy Mansour Leigh, a spokeswoman for the Viva Palestina delegation at the Suez crossing, says, "It's going to be an uncomfortable night, but it's nothing compared with what the people of Gaza must live through every day. We've already succeeded in securing Internet access and are negotiating other necessary facilities. But whatever facilities are provided or not, our determination will see us through the night and all the way to Gaza."

New York City Councilman Charles Barron is on the scene at the Suez Canal and acting as chief negotiator with Egyptian security officials. He said: "The Viva Palestina movement has had a great success this morning with our stand at the Suez crossing. We've now got an agreement for us to stay until the list of our convoy members reaches the foreign ministry. It shows what can be achieved with the determination and commitment of a collective body of people.

What you can do

For ongoing updates, visit the Viva Palestina-U.S. Web site.

Viva Palestina has called on supporters in the U.S. to gather outside Egyptian embassies and consulates for possible protests if the convoy is faced with further obstacles. Contact organizations locally for more details.

Contact the Egyptian embassy and ask that the Viva Palestina convoy be allowed to make its journey to Gaza without further delays. Call 202-966-6342, fax 202-244-4319 and e-mail [email protected].

SocialistWorker.org reporter Eric Ruder and a number of contributors to this Web site are part of the Viva Palestina convoy. You can read blogs from some at TheSitch.com.

"We are determined to cross onto Gaza, and no matter what happens next, out of this first small confrontation, we've achieved a success for the movement in support of the Palestinian people. The convoy is going to move on, and we ain't gonna let nobody turn us around."

British Member of Parliament George Galloway offered these words of encouragement for the delegation being held up at the crossing: "This is an American convoy. And Americans are used to refusing to give up seats on buses in the struggle for justice. I regard everyone who's putting themselves on the line tonight at the Suez Canal for the success of this humanitarian mission as nothing short of a hero."

Update on July 12, at 7 p.m., Cairo time: The Viva Palestina members who spent the night in their buses at the Suez Crossing after they were stopped by Egyptian authorities on July 11 are now making their way to the nearby city of Ismailia and are preparing to resume their travels toward Gaza imminently.

British Member of Parliament George Galloway, who has met up with former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney in Cairo, was working with Egyptian and U.S. authorities to expedite the passage of the convoy over the Suez Canal and into Gaza.

New York City Councilmember Charles Barron, who led the group at the Suez Canal, says, "Whether these requirements are genuine or not, we will get around these obstacles. We are going to Gaza."

Egyptian officials have held up the convoy on the grounds that it has not acquired the necessary travel permits from U.S. officials in order to cross into Gaza.

"If the Egyptian authorities want us to jump through yet another hoop, we will, even though their ambassadors in Washington, D.C.; London; and Tripoli, Libya; were already supplied with this information, at their request," said Galloway. "The U.S. embassy in Cairo was informed about the mission as was the Egyptian Foreign Ministry."

"So now we expect that there should be no further reasons for the delayed transportation of this urgently needed relief to the people of Gaza. We have hundreds of thousands of dollars of medicine, which are time-sensitive and perishable, and which need to reach the children of Gaza."

Another group of Viva Palestina delegates is in Alexandria to take possession of 47 vehicles that will be used to drive the group's humanitarian and medical relief supplies through the Rafah border crossing. A third Viva Palestina element is continuing to gather additional aid in Cairo.

Tomorrow, Viva Palestina plans to gather all its forces in Ismailia, load all of the collected aid on its vehicles, and make final preparations for the drive through the Sinai. The Viva Palestina convoy expects progress on all fronts tomorrow and is calling on sympathetic organizations to mobilize their networks and stand ready for actions such as solidarity protests at Egyptian embassies and consulates.

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