Viva Palestina Convoy Nears Egypt
- A fine tribute to human goodness
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Mar 4, 2009, 00:50
The caravan of 300 kind hearts that set out on Feb. 14 from London to
Gaza, under the auspices of the Viva Palestina organization, is nearing
the Libyan/Egyptian border. And the great news is Egypt has agreed to
open its Rafah border long enough to let their 100 aid-bearing vehicles,
including fire engines, ambulances, trucks, vans and a boat, through.
This is more than just an aid convoy. As the participants of several
ethnicities and faiths admit, UNRWA and other NGOs are far more
effective distributors of essentials urgently needed by the 1.5 million
residents of the Gaza Strip still subsisting under the shameful 14-month
long Israeli siege. The message due to be delivered by these 300
extraordinary "ordinary people" is all important: "We truly
care and we've driven across continents to prove it." For the
rest of us it surely signifies the goodness of human nature and the
strength of people power, which if correctly channeled, can move
Their belief in the seemingly impossible has already wrought a miracle.
Their sincerity has melted the hearts of Moroccan and Algerian
politicians who agreed to open their common frontier closed since 1994,
something the then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice strove to
achieve and failed. Their commitment to people less fortunate has been
exemplary. How many of us would dig into our own pockets and persuade
our families, friends and complete strangers to do the same so that we
could take off in the middle of winter on a mission with an unknown
duration unsure of the welcome we would receive en route? These
individuals had no idea where they would sleep or shower or how they
would get back home once they had donated their vehicles. Most had never
undertaken such a journey before and they hadn't a clue what to
expect. Thankfully, however, their faith has been rewarded.
A few days ago, I telephoned the award-winning journalist and television
chat-show host Yvonne Ridley, who, along with a team from Press TV, has
traveled with the convoy since Day One. As she was driving through the
snow-capped mountains of eastern Algeria, she described the experience,
thus far, as "absolutely amazing" and told me that everywhere
they journeyed they were greeted by smiling well-wishers carrying
goodwill letters addressed to the people of Gaza. They have also been
overwhelmed with gifts of money, bottled water and food, she told me.
Some people's generosity has been incredible.
In France, a boxer purchased a brand new van to replace one that had
broken down and insured it as well. In Morocco, a private individual
erected a marquee and prepared a feast for all, consisting of 22 lambs.
And after refueling in Algeria, they were astonished to discover that an
Algerian businessman had picked up the entire fuel tab; no small sum.
The governments of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia have been wonderful.
They have allowed the convoy to travel unimpeded and offered assistance.
But they have ensured it was kept well away from the main population
centers out of reluctance to whip up public emotion, which is already
high following Israel's slaughter of 1,400 Palestinians, a terrible
toll that includes 600 women and children.
However, Libya has spared no efforts to roll out the red carpet.
According to Farid Arada writing on the Viva Palestina website, "The
hospitality of the Libyan people, government and the Qaddafi Foundation
has left the convoy members in tears."
Apparently, the Qaddafi Foundation has "ensured the smooth and safe
passage of the convoy through Libya by providing everything the convoy
needs from free fuel to accommodation, repairs, etc."
Moreover, 60 Libyan vehicles loaded with humanitarian supplies have
joined it with another 240 expected. Indeed, the Libyan daily Libya
Al-Youm quoted one of the convoy members as saying, "This is the
best welcome we received. What is different this time is that the
authorities did not try to stop the people mingling and getting close to
us. Nothing was orchestrated; it was all natural and spontaneous."
This all-British effort, however, has not been supported by the British
government that has sent its own convoy -- British ships to assist
Israel in maintaining its lockdown of Gaza. Moreover, UK authorities
arrested nine members of the convoy before they could even turn on their
engines as terrorist suspects merely because they were carrying large
sums in cash. Well, of course they were. They had been collecting
donations for the journey. They were eventually released and they rushed
to catch up with their friends.
The government-owned BBC has been similarly unhelpful. After refusing to
air a charitable appeal on behalf of charities, such as the Red Cross
and Save the Children, related to Gaza, it has declined to cover the
convoy's progress. One frustrated Irish participant told how he had
approached the BBC several times to interview him only to be told
"no way." In the end, he had to resort to stealth. He managed to
persuade program executives to give him airtime on an entirely different
subject. But when he injected Gaza into the conversation, he says he was
promptly cut off. Sad isn't it?
This endeavor makes British people proud and represents tens of
thousands of donations from every corner of the country, yet British
people have to tune into Press TV -- the only network traveling with the
convoy -- for news.
Now all eyes are on Egypt. I am positive that they will get a rousing
welcome from warm-hearted Egyptians, whose hospitality is second to
none. That's provided they are given access. Whatever happens, the
most important thing is that they get to meet the people for whom this
journey was made and to whom it is dedicated -- the people of Gaza.
God bless them and God bless all those who battled against vehicle
breakdowns, lack of sleep, discomfort and biting cold nights to deliver
their message of love face to face.
"We're like one big family," Yvonne Ridley said. "We
love one another, we fight and we complain. Everyone will emerge
stronger and more capable from this. One young man told me `I think
we need the people of Gaza more than they need us.'" Surely, the
moral of this good news story is that all of us, regardless of
nationality, race or religion, need each other.
Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs.
She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at
Day 19 - A Night Under The Desert Stars..
Wednesday 4th March
It was an experience they will never forget. Spending a night under the
desert moonlight, ' I loved it' one of the drivers said. Even for the
novice campers, it was a unique insight into the beauty of the desert in
the middle of nowhere. I have personally experienced a night under the
desert stars myself in the Sahara Desert last year whilst on holiday in
Morocco, and it truly is an amazing experience!
The first group were about 30KM from Amsa'ad border crossing point
at midday today which is about 2k from the border. The second contingent
is not far away.
They will all gather there until tomorrow morning when they are expected
to start crossing into Egypt.
Depending on arrangements on the Egyptian side and on the processing
time from both the Libyans and the Egyptians border control, they should
start the final leg of their epic journey tomorrow.
According to an Email translated from Arabic (translated by Farid
Arada), sent by the deputy convoy leader, it is likely that the convoy
will take the following route:
The convoy should reach GAZA on Saturday or Sunday depending on
breakdowns and refuelling times.
Will keep you updated..........
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