Int’l aid caravans confront blockade

By LeiLani Dowell

NYC FIST

UPDATE – Viva Palestina has entered Gaza!

A Jan. 6 post on the Viva Palestina Web site reports, “One month, thousands of miles, ten countries, one ship and four flights later, Viva Palestina has begun to enter the besieged Gaza Strip.”

The entry of the caravan into Palestine follows days of negotiations with the Egyptian government, who on Jan. 5 withdrew its negotiators and sent some 2,000 riot police to the VP camp at the port of Al-Arish. The police brutally attacked the VP participants and arrested seven of them. Ten members of the caravan were injured, four of them severely.

In response, protests were held on Jan. 6 at the Rafah border, where hundreds of Palestinians threw stones at Egyptian police, who fired weapons at them. Protests were also held Jan. 5 and 6 at the Egyptian mission to the U.N., called by the Break the Siege on Gaza Coalition, and at other locations across the U.S.

The caravan reports being “greeted [in Gaza] with cheers from hundreds of well-wishers carrying flowers, warm smiles and chanting ‘Viva Palestina!'”

For the most up-to-date updates on the VP caravan, visit http://www.vivapalestina.org.

Jan. 4 — The steadfast, courageous resistance of the Palestinian people is receiving a strong shot of solidarity on the first anniversary of Israel’s genocidal attack against Gaza in 2008. Two international caravans are attempting to bring much-needed aid to the area, which has been under a blockade for the past three years. Along the way they are bringing attention to the Palestinian struggle; challenging governments that aid the U.S.-funded, Israeli war machine; and receiving warm welcome and praise from the masses in neighboring countries.

After traveling throughout Europe to call attention to and raise donations for the Palestinian struggle, the Viva Palestina 3 caravan arrived in Aqaba, Jordan, on Dec. 24 with the intent of entering Gaza on Dec. 27. Consisting of some 450 activists from around the world, the caravan includes 250 trucks, ambulances and other vehicles loaded with medicine, school supplies, winter clothing and more.

International Action Center activist Ralph Loeffler, who is participating in the Viva Palestina 3 caravan, described in an email the reception in Turkey: “History was made Dec. 16 in Taksim Square, Istanbul. For the first time in 30 years the Turkish government gave permission for a political demonstration in historic Taksim Square — and it was given to support Viva Palestina’s medical relief convoy to blockaded Gaza. A massive, enthusiastic crowd turned out in the pouring winter rain to hear British [Member of Parliament] George Galloway, founder of Viva Palestina, and convoy organizer Kevin Ovenden thank the Turkish people and government for supporting Viva Palestina’s third convoy to Gaza.

“After leaving Taksim Square the convoy proceeded to Adapazari, Turkey, to overnight in a sports stadium. Although the convoy arrived about 2 a.m., the citizens of Adapazari were there and ready to help. Locals swarmed the vehicles and buses to carry the 200 convoy participants’ sleeping gear and baggage into the stadium. A complete, hot meal had been prepared and was served without any personal concern for the late hour.” Members of the Turkish parliament are also taking part in the caravan.

Treated ‘like family’

Loeffler reports similar treatment in Syria, where various political groups fed caravan members and filled caravan vehicles with water, drinks, bread and snacks and where the Palestinians in the refugee camps “treated us, literally, as family.”

A Jan. 4 update on the VP Web site (www.vivapalestina.org) reports that a convoy ship carrying all 250 vehicles has arrived in Egypt and that all the vehicles have passed through Egyptian customs. One flight of caravan members has landed in Al-Arish, Egypt, to join the vehicles; a second flight had engine trouble and was forced to return to Damascus, Syria.

Negotiations continue with the Egyptian government to allow VP passage through the border with Gaza. Egypt, which receives $2 billion a year in aid from the U.S., is extending the steel wall that currently separates Egypt from Gaza to reach some 70 to 100 feet underground. The goal is to block the tunnels that Gazans use to procure all manner of supplies that they are otherwise not able to obtain because of the blockade. The barrier, designed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is being built under the supervision of French and U.S. intelligence officials.

For its part, Egypt has been hostile to the VP caravan and out-and-out repressive to the other caravan, the Gaza Freedom March (www.gazafreedommarch.org). Not only has Egypt prevented 1,200 of the 1,400 GFM delegates from entering Gaza, but at a Jan. 1 protest near the Cairo Museum in Cairo, Egypt, some 400 activists were stomped, punched and kicked by hundreds of Egyptian police. The police then physically dragged GFM members into pens, where they were denied food, water or access to restrooms. Egyptian police also surrounded GFM members at one hotel, placing them under “house arrest” and preventing them from leaving.

Participants in the GFM include delegates from more than 40 countries, with such notables as author Alice Walker and Jewish holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein. They have carried out a hunger strike and numerous protests in Egypt to demand the caravan’s entry into Gaza. Despite the repressive tactics of the Egyptian police, the caravan reports receiving much support from Egyptians in the streets.

A Cairo declaration was created and signed by more than 100 members of the caravan, which includes delegates from South Africa. Noting “the many strong similarities between apartheid Israel and the former apartheid regime in South Africa,” the declaration proposed a number of tactics similar to those used to defeat apartheid in South Africa, as well as a speaking tour involving both Palestinian and South African trade unionists.

Protests around the U.S. and around the world marked the one-year anniversary of the attack on Gaza and demanded entry into Gaza for both the VP and GFM caravans. The attack, which began on Dec. 27, 2008, left 1,400 dead, many of them children, and tens of thousand paralyzed when U.S.-made weapons were fired at schools, hospitals and homes. The continuing blockade augmented the suffering after the attack; many died due to the lack of medical equipment and resources. Now, many Gazan families sleep in tents this winter because the materials needed to rebuild their homes are prohibited by Israel’s blockade against the area.

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