Saturday, 26 December 2009
Joti writes from Jordan
Our arrival into Jordan was marred by an inexplicable delay, which left most of the convoy sitting for six hours at the border. Football gave way to irritation and a chorus of hornblowing, before we were finally allowed to pass, but not until officials had taken the passports of every vehicle’s driver.
Not surprisingly, this made volunteers feel rather nervous, but we did get them back again that evening, amid rumours that this may actually be standard procedure with commercial vehicles in Jordan. Standard or not, the information from various officials was neither consistent nor clear!
Our passage to Amman was further impeded by the apparent determination of police to divert us straight to the port of Aqaba. Knowing that we had a reception and press conferences waiting for us in Amman, however, we eventually resolved the situation via a little bit of (polite) direct action. The convoy pulled out from the inside lane, blocking the entire carriageway, including the hard shoulder, and created a rolling roadblock. Despite the inconvenience we were causing, local traffic caught up in the convoy was extremely supportive! The police, finding themselves sidelined, gave up their attempts at redirection, and moved to the side to wave us on.
Once more, kind hosts among the Palestinian community in Amman provided food and hotel accommodation for us, as well as a full programme of rallies and press conferences. Many of our hosts invited volunteers to their houses, where they enjoyed home-cooked food and convivial company.
By now, the convoy had become a major news story (in some cases the lead story) across the Middle East. The Turkish president even appeared on Syrian TV asking Egypt to facilitate its smooth passage.
Sadly, however, this appeal seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Despite Viva Palestina’s organisers spending months trying to coordinate and cooperate with the Egyptian authorities regarding the convoy’s passage from the Red Sea to Rafah (only half a day’s drive), at the last minute, the Egyptian consulate in Aqaba announced that all aid for Gaza must either be handed over to UNWRA, travel through Israel, or be approved by Israel (!) before coming to Rafah, and that therefore we would not be allowed to land at Nuweiba.
In a meeting with the convoy volunteers on Christmas morning, George Galloway pointed out that if we thought UNWRA was up to the job, we could have simply written them a cheque months ago! He also reiterated that we had no intention of asking Israel for its permission to deliver aid to a sovereign people via a third, also sovereign, country. He begged the Egypian authorities to change their minds, emphasising that on Sunday 27 December, the anniversary of the bombardment of Gaza, the world’s attention should be on Israel and its war crimes, not on Egypt, a fellow Arab nation.
So now, on Christmas Day, nearly 500 volunteers are waiting in Aqaba while negotiations with Egypt continue. At this time of year, it is especially poignant to know that 150-odd vehicles, carrying medicines, paper and pencils, toys, maternity and baby supplies should be sitting less than a day’s journey away from their destination, while Gaza’s children continue to suffer under the criminal blockade.
We know that the people of the Middle East are with us. I have no doubt that that goes for most Egyptian people, too. Meanwhile, the convoy volunteers are determined to complete their mission, and prepared to be patient.
We are asking all friends and supporters of the convoy and of Palestine to please contact the Egyptian consulate in London and the Egyptian government in Cairo asking them politely to reconsider their disastrous decision. Contact your MP and the foreign office and request that they take action. Phone and email the media, asking them to report on the story, which ought to be big news at Christmastime. And forward info to all your friends asking them to do the same.
The Egyptian government, the British government and the British media all need to know that British people care about this issue, and will not stand by and let the convoy be turned away so close to its final destination.
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