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
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.
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.