Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Good News from Gaza

IT'S not often we get good news to comment upon in this column, and we have had to wait anguishedly for some from Gaza. But here it is. Yesterday was Milad al-Nabi, for Muslims, that is the birthday of the Prophet. The good news was that the Viva Palestina convoy which began in Britain, and gained enthusiastic popular support along its way through Spain and the Maghreb, only to run into bureaucratic obstruction when it reached Egypt's Rafeah crossing, had finally got through.

A participant reports: "The convoy drove slowly along the Salah Eddine road leading to Gaza City. Along the way, thousands of Palestinians approached every vehicle kissing, touching, hugging the volunteers who had come from afar. in. "They handed their babies, their young children, to the convoy members so that they could be embraced, as if the angels were in town. Drenched in flowers, tears were flowing on both sides.

"Further up the road, people were coming out of their tents and the ruins of their destroyed homes running towards us rubbing their eyes in disbelief that the siege has been broken and they were not alone. In Gaza City, it was jubilations and celebrations tonight where the guests of honour did not want to be considered as guests - but as part of the ever-growing Gaza family. The Gaza authorities have organised a rally in honour of Viva Palestina and a program of activities that includes a tour of the damaged areas including schools, hospitals and other amenities".

The Egyptian authorities had persisted with their interference. After a morning of negotiations they agreed to allow all convoy members through, but Viva Palestina had to agree that some vehicles would have to cross the border from the Al Ouja Israeli controlled crossing point. This included the fire engine sent by British firefightrers, and the boat, due to the restrictions imposed by Egyptian law governing the Rafah Crossing.

"British MP George Galloway made an emotional speech thanking the people of Gaza for the wonderful reception and assuring them that for Viva Palestina and in our millions, 'WE ARE ALL PALESTINIANS' George also reiterated that the people of Palestine have voted and that their voice should be respected".
The media in Britain has either ignored this aid convoy, reported that some young men intending to join it were arrested under "terror laws" (released without charges later), or tried to belittle it as a Galloway stunt. In fact the convoy had wide support. George Galloway, whatever our differences, deserves credit for heading it, and has also made a point. Viva Palestina has brought aid to the people of Gaza, people to people, without telling them whom they should choose to speak for them, or how they should run their affairs, but with the message of real human solidarity, that they are not alone.

Compare this with the conference at Sharm el Shaikh where important world leaders like Hillary Clinton, Tony Blair and Sarkozy met to pontificate and promised $4.4 billion in aid to the Palestinians for reconstruction. Provided, that is, that the donors approved the channels, and that the Israelis would allow building materials through their border crossings. (The Israeli navy also controls the sea approach, and this pracy too has not been questioned, let alone challenged by Western powers).

As veteran Israeli journalist and peace campaigner Uri Avnery commented,
"It was a celebration of sanctimonious hypocrisy, in the very best tradition of international diplomacy. First of all, nobody from Gaza was there. As in the heyday of European imperialism, 150 years ago, the fate of the Natives was decided without the Natives themselves being present. Who needs them? After all, they are Primitives. Better without them. Not only Hamas was absent. A delegation of Gaza businessmen and civil society activists could not come either. Mubarak just did not allow them to pass the Rafah crossing. The gate of the prison called Gaza was barred by the Egyptian jailers.

"The absence of delegates from Gaza, and especially from Hamas, turned the conference into a farce. Hamas rules Gaza. It won the elections there, as in all the Palestinian territories, and continues to govern it even after one of the mightiest armies in the world spent 22 days trying to dislodge it. Nothing will happen in the Gaza Strip without the consent of Hamas. The world-wide decision to rebuild Gaza without the participation of Hamas is sheer foolishness".


Looked at less kindly, it makes the international donors' conference like a continuation of the war. First the IDF y bombs you, then the other states dangle the carrot of aid for reconstruction, and then if they are not satisfied with your submission, the Israelis can decide to bomb you again.

Some newspapers dutifully reported that Israel had insisted the release of captured soldier Gilad Shalit be part of any peace talks. The truth is Israeli governments could have sought his release any time, and in fact Olmert sanctioned unofficial negotiations with Hamas, on which he was kept informed, before his government launched the onslaught on Gaza, with as little regard for Shalit's life as for that of so many Palestinians. Gershon Baskin, who engaged in the talks, has revealed what went on behind the scenes.



US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her fellow leaders were most anxious about not talking with Hamas, or even allowing it a part in Gaza reconstruction. Evidently, their idea of a "two state solution" is one where the Palestinian "state" is fenced off enclaves whose leaders have to be approved by America and Israel. But even so, they might direct some of their anxiety at Israel, whose incoming premier Binyamin Netanyahu heads a party that explicitly rejects any Palestinian state west of the Jordan, and whose coalition partners are outspoken advocates of 'ethnic cleansing'.

The Viva Palestina convoy is a powerful message of real solidarity. The struggle to bring our governments up to the same standard, by exposing their hypocrisy, continues. Tomorrow there's an emergency lobby of parliament in Westminster. MPs will be asked to take their stand with the people of Palestine, and for peace with justice, in line with the growing feeling of the people of Britain.



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