Viva Palestina mission to Gaza

Eric Ruder reports on calls for solidarity from activists on a mission to bring badly needed supplies to the Palestinians of Gaza.

One of 15 Viva Palestina ambulances stocked with aid, as it sets off from LondonOne of 15 Viva Palestina ambulances stocked with aid, as it sets off from London

THE VIVA Palestina convoy to deliver humanitarian relief supplies to the besieged people of Gaza is calling on solidarity activists everywhere to call, e-mail and fax officials of the Egyptian government and gather outside consulates and embassies around the world as the convoy embarks on the last leg of its attempt to cross from Egypt into Gaza.

The situation is changing by the hour, so Viva Palestina organizers are asking that activists be prepared to either demand that Egyptian authorities allow the convoy to cross into Gaza or to celebrate the successful and safe passage of humanitarian relief supplies that are urgently needed by 1.5 million Palestinians living under Israel's blockade in Gaza.

As Viva Palestina organizer Kevin Ovenden via telephone from El Arish, Egypt, near the Rafah border cross into Gaza:

This has been a hectic journey that is now in its final stages. The convoy has played a significant role in highlighting the ongoing siege of the Palestinian people of Gaza. As the world's attention is drawn to the Gaza Strip, we wanted Israel to be the focus of people's outrage at the humanitarian disaster one year after Israel's punishing onslaught that began on December 27, 2008. Unfortunately, the government of Egypt has made itself the bogeyman in this situation.

Be that as it may, we are being inundated with support from around the world from people who can now see who it is that bears responsibility for this siege. In the end, this has inspired more people to join the growing movement in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

What you can do

For updates on the situation in Egypt as it develops, visit the Viva Palestina Web site.

E-mail [email protected], call 202-895-5400 and fax 202-244-4319 to reach the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, D.C., and demand that Egypt allow for the safe and speedy passage of the Viva Palestina convoy.

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THE VIVA Palestina convoy set off from London with hundreds of participants and vehicles on December 6 and drove all the way through Europe, Turkey, Syria and Jordan before being told by Egyptian officials that they would not be allowed to cross into Egypt at the Aqaba, Jordan, crossing.

Instead, officials told them, they would only be allowed to enter Egypt at the El Arish port on the Mediterranean Sea. It seems likely that Egyptian officials didn't figure that Viva Palestina convoy participants would have the determination to take them up on this offer, but that's exactly what the activists did--first driving back to the Syrian port of Latakia, and then chartering a car ferry for their vehicles and planes for the people.

By Monday, January 4, one-quarter of the 518-person convoy had landed in El Arish, and the rest awaited flights from Syria. It seemed as if everything was proceeding according to plan. Then Egyptian officials put up a new set of obstacles.

First, they said that of the 198 vehicles that were part of the convoy, 60 would not be allowed to enter. Further, Egyptian officials demanded a $27,000 fee for using the El Arish port to offload the vehicles--a charge that was only incurred because Egyptian officials had denied them use of the Aqaba crossing.

But a representative of the governor of Sinai and El Arish appeared and reassured Viva organizers that these issues could be resolved, and the convoy would be able to head out in the next day with its vehicles.

A few hours later, Egyptian officials introduced a new wrinkle. While the bulk of the convoy was still awaiting flights to El Arish from Syria, Egyptian officials collected the passports of those in El Arish, marked them with an "exit from Egypt" stamp, and tried to get this lead group to immediately board vehicles and drive into Gaza, telling them they would receive their passports again as they made the crossing.

This proposal was rejected by the Viva Palestina convoy participants. They instead demanded that their passports be returned, and they be allowed to check into a hotel in order wait for the rest of the convoy to arrive, so they all could depart the next day. The Egyptian authorities refused, and the group began a spirited sit-down protest in the El Arish airport, banging pans and chanting.

Just as before, the Egyptian officials relented, saying that the Viva participants in El Arish would be allowed to wait for the arrival of the others before leaving for Gaza.

It is apparent that Egyptian authorities are looking for a way to divide, demoralize and frustrate the convoy--just as they did with the 1,400 international activists who made their way to Cairo in the hopes of crossing into Gaza for the Gaza Freedom March on December 31.

That's why it's essential for activists to be prepared to step up the pressure in order to insure that Egypt not be allowed to deny urgently needed supplies to the people of Gaza. "With the situation backwards and forwards by the hour, we are calling on all friends of Palestine to make their voices heard to the Egyptian government, in person where possible, but by e-mail, phone, fax and any other means available," said Ovenden.