We finally set off next day for Gaza after an inspection by Egyptian officials of our cargo of aid. We told them we were carrying hypothermia blankets. Everything has to have a medical purpose, so we’ve saws for amputations rather than house building, maternity clothes, even a wind up torch became a pacemaker. Anything they did unload was spirited away and put back onto a van that had been cleared.
To be fair to the Egyptians, one or two were deeply compromised by what their government was asking them to do. However, we put cameras in the faces of the fascists and asked them what they thought about denying Palestinians humanitarian aid? I told them that if Egypt suffered a catastrophe the British would be amongst the first to help, so why not help the people of Gaza? The cruelty of some Egyptians was unbelievable. Their fear of their own population is entirely justified, they will be strung from lampposts unless they allow real democracy. The USA subsidises their military to the tune of £2 billion dollars a year. Shame on them! The loss to Gaza from the recent invasion is nearly £3 billion, every bomb and bullet blessed by our own government. Shame on us!
The last 40kms seemed to take forever. Would they stop us again, set the riot police on us on a quiet stretch of road, stone us as we passed? Despite the presence of the riot police they kept them at the roadside, observing but not interfering. Many of us had offered them food and water, something their own officers seemed incapable of providing. One young guard was offered food and shared it secretly with his mate. After the meal the man who had cooked them food wanted to hug the poor, skinny lads and so did. As he tried to pull away the young riot policeman pulled him close, sobbing his eyes out and apologising for having to do what he’d been ordered to do to us. Seeing them again today their willingness to obey orders would have been sorely tested.
We crossed into no-man’s land where we could hear, but not see, the people of Gaza waiting to greet us. Singing, car horns blaring, we hooted back as we waited for the convoy to be cleared through.
Some people had turned up on foot from Cairo, some had raised thousands of pounds back home and although they couldn’t be on the convoy deserved to be there, however some were just gobby convoy tourists who were blagging lifts and wanting to be a part of something they had no idea about. We have travelled nearly 6,000 miles in 25 days with less sleep than a teenage Raver. We have been force driven 18 hours a day, through the night, crossed two seas, mountains, deserts, pseudo democratic regimes have lied, cheated, bullied, injured, stolen from and attacked us. We have opened a border than had been closed for 17 years, persuaded governments that they would be exposed as hypocrites to their own people if they didn’t help us to help the Palestinians. We have been watched every step of the way and been largely ignored by a world wide media strongly beholden to Zionist owners. We, this disparate, crazily thrown together ensemble of the respectable, the rebel and the social misfit, have gelled in the face of the challenges we’ve faced but none more so than when brutally attacked by the Egyptian security forces.
Despite it all it has been the people of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt who have cheered us on in their tens of thousands who have sustained and inspired us. The truckers, road workers, shopkeepers and shoppers, the petrol station owners who gave us free fuel, the mechanics who refused money for fixing our truck, the people who offered us beds and their food, the children who chanted “Allah Akhbar” - God is great - when they saw us bringing aid to the besieged, bombed and orphaned children of Gaza. It was the women trilling their tongues with joy and offering up their children to be kissed. It was also the dignitaries, politicians, bureaucrats who showed genuine care and assistance. Also the Police who told us how much they supported what we were doing and truly helped and made friends with us. They wanted to be doing what we were doing but their own governments would not allow it. We have exploited our British passports, our expectation that we would be treated with dignity and that there would be consequences if not. We have shown courage but we have been enabled to by our British freedoms. Let us be aware of how lucky we are and how complacency is our biggest enemy. Our freedom and the remarkable people we have met have combined to drive us on.
Now a few hundred yards away stand the people of Gaza. People are congratulating one another for making it. The spirit of the convoy we have wanted from day one is now manifest. Its beautiful. This is what struggle reaps. This is what revolution feels like.
We have now crossed into Gaza where garlands of carnations and petals were thrown across our vehicles and through our windows by the hundreds gathered at the Rafah crossing. Immediately we saw homes collapsed by missiles fired from F16 Israeli fighter planes. A brief formal welcome gave way to the drive to Gaza City. 25kms of crowds waving, even in the rural areas villagers and farmers lined the route. It was deeply moving to see such happiness. We have relieved three years of isolation.
Three years where the Israelis, with our backing, have slaughtered innocents, poisoned farm land with chemicals, bombed hospitals, red cross, schools, water treatment plants and mosques with illegal weapons and been able to do so with impunity. If the people of Gaza thought that no one cared that the ethnic cleansing, nay, genocide of the Palestinians was happening and no one cared, then the convoy was destroying that idea. That’s how powerful a symbol of solidarity we were. Not charity, solidarity, there is a difference. We came to stand should to shoulder, not to patronise, to learn not to lecture, we came in humility before people who have suffered so much. Well…most of us did.
Immediately we could tell the difference in atmosphere, soldiers laughed at us as we screamed and shouted with joy, they welcomed us and shook our hands and by God these were tough looking men. They all knew that we had fought back against the Egyptian police and I think this helped earn their respect.
In Gaza City the crowds grew dense and vocal until we reached a huge parade ground in the city centre where we all parked up and were welcomed by thousands of well wishers who spoke remarkably good English. So ok, discovery number one, the Palestinians are very well educated and place great emphasis upon it. We went to a Mosque to hear some more speeches, God preserve us! What makes them worse is that they love having lots of echo on the mics so that the Iman singing the Koran has this effect of echoing across the city. Great for Imans, shit when you are trying to hear instructions about where you’re staying tonight. We ended up in a swimming pool.
Well, yeah, more speeches as we sat around the pool and at indiscriminate intervals fountains sprang to life and woke John up. We were then given the best food of the whole journey. Discovery 2. The Palestinians love their food and have the best cooking skills in North Africa. Discovery 3. Their hospitality know no bounds and is, I think, part of the resistance because it is a desire to make life go on, to show that they are not victims but people with culture and dignity.
Whilst we ate, mattresses were laid side by side on the floor, we looked on with silent groans. Others in the convoy were in hotels, others in apartments, we it appeared had drawn the short straw. The Egyptians had only allowed us about two hours sleep the night before and the thoughts of sleeping next to a load of snoring, farting men was not appealing. However, always the resourceful duo, I had noticed some men disappearing under some stairs and so followed and lo! The angels did smile upon us! For we had found the promised land! The massage room and three massage beds, one each and one for the next smartest guy who has learnt by now to watch and follow us.
The next morning I rolled off the bed and into the pool, heaven. We were fed a beautiful poolside breakfast of fresh mountains of feta, beautiful pastries, olives and jam. The food and the camaraderie made this place a palace and the only place to be, right here, right now, or for that matter at any time or place on earth.
We were driven back to the vehicles where a formal handover took place.
We were saying goodbye to our truck, donated by Rockwell Water, filled with articles of compassion by Welsh and Irish people, fuelled by them too so that she could be driven here. She has been a home, a frustration, a symbol, a trusty friend, a kitchen, a meeting place, a bar for the non believers; fun and fear have followed her all the way and sometimes pushed in front of her, why we have even slept with her, both at the same time actually. Now we packed our bags and left her full of memories and achievements, filled with love from hundreds of you. We have been through so much together, sometimes we nursed her, sometimes I think she nursed us. Of course we wept! What else would we do! It was a release of determination, a realisation that we had done what we set out to do, four long weeks ago.
I walked around carrying the Welsh flag I had cut down from the truck. People came up wanting to know what it meant and where it was from. Discovery 4. Unlike most North Africans the Gazans know where Wales is. We can work with these people!
From there we were driven to some of the most devastated areas. Let’s preface this by saying that nothing I saw on our TVs comes close to what we saw. Countless houses, whole streets in fact, blown up, collapsed, warping and contorted like strange dead beasts and there in amongst collapsed floors, amongst the rubble and dust, beneath tarpaulins, strung across pillars that once supported floors, sat people, children, bewildered by our presence, there they lived, orphans maybe, people cooking food for families now depleted. We moved on to a camp of tents regimentally in line. These had arrived this week. The Egyptians had refused to let them across the border for six weeks. To the coast where people are terrified to sit on a beach since a family were shelled and killed as they had a picnic. The waters now polluted, the fishermen murdered and boats sunk. On to the farms where tens of thousands of olive trees have been bulldozed and the land poisoned and now called a buffer zone. All the time the land is shrinking away from the Palestinians, Yard by yard the Israelis expand. The “chosen people”, denying their own teachings and committing the greatest act of genocide in our part of the world since world war 2. The orthodox Jew who shot two children dead as he casually ate chocolate and as they came from their house with their hands in the air. He didn’t kill the parents, better to watch them suffer their loss. The deliberate and illegal use of phosphorus still burning two months later. The stench of rotting flesh. The deliberate targeting of medical workers. The calculated destruction of the infrastructure. The destruction of factories producing building materials. The destruction of any means they might have of earning and exporting. This is genocide. Simply put, what I now know with my own senses and intelligence, is that the Israelis want every inch of this land for themselves and they will not stop until they are stopped.
Just to prove a point, 10mins after we left the area they shelled a police station killing two. It is illegal to kill policemen as they are considered civilians. Do the Israelis care? No, because no one tells the real story and we aren’t putting enough pressure on our government to stop them.
I tell everyone that friends of mine who are Jews gave generously and they understood the difference between being Jewish and Zionist. The people of Gaza remain remarkably rational despite such pain and turmoil. Do they have the right to defend themselves? You decide.
We sat in silence for hours. Perhaps each one of us was saying to themselves, “ We must come back. This must not stop here. What we’ve done is just the beginning.”
We defeated Fascism, Stalinism, Apartheid, can we defeat Zionism?