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The final countdown: tedious days and eventful nights

12 January 2010

Well what with one thing and another, getting this blog updated turned out not to be possible once we left El-Arish. Am back home now, so will catch up over the next 24 hours or so.

On Christmas Eve, we were only half a day’s journey away from Gaza. Two weeks later, we were just a few miles, but nobody knew how many hours or days from our destination.

Despite the full glare of middle-eastern press scrutiny, and the diplomatic backing of the current Turkish and former Malaysian prime ministers, Egypt continued to throw every possible obstacle into our path. Clearly, the Egyptian government and its western/zionist allies have no desire to see more convoys coming through, constant remiders to the Arab people that without Egypt’s cooperation, Israel would be unable to maintain the siege, and there would therefore be no need for convoys.

On Tuesday night, as the sun went down on another unpredictable day, the convoy was all together in El-Arish port, hoping that during the night or early in the morning, we would be allowed to make the short drive down the road to the border at Rafah. After all the delays and extra costs, Gaza was only 40km away, but there were more unpleasant surprises in store for us, when the local authorities walked out of negotiations about which vehicles and aid they were prepared to allow into Gaza. Instead of returning, they sent 2,000 uniformed riot cops and non-uniformed provocateurs to surround the port, blockading us in and then attacking those protesting at the gates with paving slabs and more.

So rather than sleeping or driving to Gaza, much of the convoy spent the first half of the night in a pitched battle with Egyptian police, who used pepper spray, water cannon, rocks and metal batons against a couple of hundred of our volunteers. Middle-eastern TV broadcast five hours of live coverage of the battle into homes across the region, exposing still further the criminal role of Egypt in the siege of Gaza.

Fifty-five convoy members were wounded during the fighting, several of whom had to be taken to hospital for treatment, being beyond the scope of the ad hoc first aid station we set up within the port compound. Six brothers of various nationalities were arrested and held all night and most of the next day in a police van without food, water or toilet facilities.

The next morning, Viva Palestina announced that negotiations at the highest level, between the Egyptian and Turkish prime ministers, had failed to persuade the Egyptians to let all our vehicles in, so cars and 4x4s requested by doctors and clinics could not be delivered to Gaza, but will instead be taken by Turkish drivers to refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon. All the people and the rest of the aid were finally agreed to, though, so then it was just a question of waiting for the army to open the gates and let us out onto the road to Rafah.

Of course, that wasn’t straightforward either. Having kept us hanging about all day under the impression that we’d be leaving any moment, the Egyptian authorities only started to let the first convoy members through as the sun was going down, some time after 4.00pm.

Our last hours at the port were cheered by the arrival of a few local lads, who came to give their support to the convoy. They told us how ashamed they were of their government’s actions, and explained that it did not speak for all, or even most, of the Egyptian people. Coming from Britain, we had no trouble identifying with their sentiments!

By 10.30pm, while some people had already been in Gaza for hours, many more of us were still waiting to have our passports checked by customs before finally leaving El-Arish. Which meant that for a sizeable section of the convoy, including us aunties, the cheering crowds that lined the roads from the border all the way to Gaza city, and who had been waiting for us for days, had finally gone home before we turned up between 1.00 and 2.00am.

It was sad for us to miss that welcome, after we’d waited so long to get to Gaza, but in the end, this trip was never about us. Knowing we had made it across the border and broken the siege; knowing that we had been part of a movement to highlight the siege of Gaza and the occupation of Palestine; knowing that we had succeeded in delivering some real solidarity to the heroes and heroines of resistance in Palestine, and a message of defiance to the apparently all-powerful forces of oppression – these thoughts kept our spirits high, even as our sleep-deprived bodies wilted and sagged.

When we finally tumbled into a very welcome hotel bed, our last thoughts were that, strange and surreal as our arrival may have been, we had made it into Gaza, against all the odds, and nothing that happened after could change that.

Some new things we have learned:

1. If you are expecting to get into a fight with well-equipped policemen, a certain amount of preparation would probably be helpful.

2. In a conflict situation, it is generally a good idea to have at least one first-aid station set up BEFORE the first cracked head returns from the fray.

3. Lemon juice is a good antidote to tear gas.

4. When you are bandaging someone’s head, it is preferable to find a way to do it that doesn’t involve throttling them.

5. If a hostile power wants to mess with your morale, they will keep you kicking your heels all day long and only let you move at night, once you’re really tired and frustrated.

6. The Egyptian government does not speak for the Egyptian people. With a bit of luck and a lot of agitation, its days of doing the US and Israel’s dirty work in the region will be numbered …

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Mohamed Hassan permalink
    12 January 2010 5:09pm

    God bless you…

    me > egyptian but always with the truth always supporting you….thanks for doing what we couldn’t

  2. 12 January 2010 5:38pm

    Well done Joti. Glad you and the sisters got home safely. Thanks for keeping us informed.

  3. Francesca permalink
    12 January 2010 6:15pm

    Your written account gave an orderly view of the troubles and tribulations all of you on the Convoy went through; but your photos gave the flavour and feeling, and some of them even the poetics of it…
    What a feat for ordinary/extraodinary people! In my book you are all real heroines and heroes!
    FrancescaV.

  4. Maryam permalink
    13 January 2010 2:52am

    Well done Joti, i’ve been following all the news of the convoy, and i’m so happy and thankful that you all made it there and made it back safely.

  5. gav permalink
    13 January 2010 11:49am

    Fair play to all of you. Was following you since xmas thanks to twitter, facebook, youtube, etc. A truely remarkable feat that has been noticed by a lot of people even though mass media won’t note it.

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