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Viva Palestina Convoy Nears Egypt

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    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 4, 2009
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      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
      mountains.

      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
      heardonthegrapevines@....

      ===

      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:

      SALUM
      SIDI KRIR
      INTERNATIONAL HIGHWAY
      DUMYAT PROVINCE
      ALSALAM BRIDGE
      AL-ARICH
      RAFAH.

      The convoy should reach GAZA on Saturday or Sunday depending on
      breakdowns and refuelling times.
      Will keep you updated..........

      *********************************************************************

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