By Soozy Duncan
Allowed only 24 hours in Gaza under threat of not being allowed to return to Egypt, the Viva Palestina convoy has been a whirlwind of activity since crossing the border at Rafah Wednesday night. Organizers have attempted to compress 3 days of planned activities into a single day.
Thursday started by watching a press conference featuring Gazan Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh with members of the Neturei Karta, an organization of anti-Zionist Rabbis from Munsey, New York, who traveled with the caravan. Haniyeh emphasized that the government and the people of Gaza take no issue with Jews, but rather with Zionism and the ongoing oppression and blockade by Israel. Rabbi Dovid Weissman concurred that Jews, Christians and Muslims had coexisted peacefully in Muslim countries for centuries prior to the birth of Zionism, and asked for the people of Gaza to join him in praying for the peaceful dismantlement of the state of Israel.
The group then drove around the Gaza Strip in buses to see the aftermath of the bombing onslaught 6 months ago before attending another press conference at the Legislative Assembly and traveling to Shafa Hospital in Gaza City to deliver the medical aid which was brought from the United States and gathered in Cairo. Finally, delegates met with families of some of the 11,000 prisoners being held in Israel at the Ministry of Prisoners in Tel Alhwa, where children of parents killed in December and January also addressed the group.
Fraser Gaspard of Denver, Colorado, said of seeing the devastation firsthand, “It really shows how effective the American weapons we give Israel are, and how deliberate Israel was in its attack from the spots that were hit, schools, hospitals, a cement factory, homes in refugee camps. You could see it was a war of terror against the Gazan people.”
For Mahmoud Elayan from New Jersey, the most impressive visit was the meeting at the Ministry of Prisoners. Elayan shared, “Three little girls spoke about losing 29 other immediate family members. I have 2 little kids, and I can’t imagine them going through anything like that. To see them still keeping hope like that when they’ve suffered so much, it was touching. I had to leave the room.”
Bringing medical aid was only one of Viva Palestina’s stated purposes. The convoy also sought to learn and share the stories of the Gazans who have lived under 61 years of occupation and the severe assault from December to January. Nour Mattar, a Palestinian born within the borders of Israel who now resides in Orange County, California, said of his experiences, “With all the blockade and all the pressure, if you drive around and talk to people you find they still have great spirit. They‘re not willing to give up or stand down, even though Israel has used every possible weapon they could, militarily, economically and politically.”
Having lived in Gaza for most of the years between 1997 and 2005, the journey was a homecoming for Bethany Gonzalez of Kansas City, Kansas. “Today I realized how much I really miss living in Gaza,” said Gonzalez. “The city and the people, everyone is so kind and hospitable, even with all they’ve been through.” She intends to return with the second Viva Palestina convoy from the U.S. in December, scheduled to coincide with the first anniversary of the attacks.
Mohamad, a recent graduate from the Islamic University, volunteered to serve as an interpreter for the delegates. Asked about the current state of the people of Gaza, he said, “The children now are still suffering from psychological pain and suffering. Whenever they hear any sound they say ‘Bomb! Bomb’ and start crying. For adults it is almost the same.” Mohamad expressed excitement about the past Viva Palestina convoy from London and the plans for future caravans from Venezuela, Moscow, Beijing, and the next from the U.S. “They decrease the suffering among the Gazans. The convoys break the siege and bring us medical aid. The people of Gaza feel really grateful and proud. These convoys uplift our spirits and help us feel stronger and more steadfast.”
Asked what he hopes for himself and all Gazans, Mohamad states simply, “We hope that we will have enough to live, and be able to live in peace, just as the other people of the world.”