(For details on how to protest the outrages described here see next blog item)
Viva Palestina: Navigating Egypt’s Obstacle Course
By Soozy Duncan, Indymedia correspondent and VPUS convoy participant
The Viva Palestina U.S. convoy has been facing barrier after barrier in recent days despite having initially hoped to cross into the Gaza Strip this morning. The Egyptian government, collaborator in Israel’s severe blockade for the past 2 years, has set up a course of administrative obstacles which will delay the group’s entry into Gaza.
George Galloway, the British Member of Parliament who organized this effort as well as the first Viva Palestina caravan which drove from London to Gaza in March, sent a letter to President Mubarak of Egypt prior to the departure of the U.S. convoy. This letter informed the president that over a million dollars had been raised with the intention of purchasing vehicles, medical supplies and other humanitarian aid to bring to Gaza. Viva Palestina was also in contact with the Egyptian ambassadors in London, Washington, DC and Tripoli, Libya, who, at their request, were provided with a list of the names and passport numbers of all convoy participants.
Yet when the first contingent attempted to cross the Mubarak Peace Bridge to the Sinai peninsula Saturday evening, they were denied entry. That group spent 12 hours at the checkpoint and entered into a stand-off with authorities as they negotiated the length of their stay in successive increments. Members of the delegation demonstrated at the bridge, obstructing access to the vehicles, and also held keys and occupied driver’s seats in order that the 4 buses could not be moved. Although Egyptian officials first stated that the convoy could not pass due to unrest in the region and potential danger to the delegates, ultimately Viva Palestina was informed that each of its members required a Gaza affidavit signed and notarized by an official at the U.S. Embassy in order to pass. That contingent decided to return to Cairo to obtain the affidavits and regroup with other delegates, thereby strengthening their numbers for the next crossing.
The Gaza affidavits are essentially indemnity agreements asserting that the individual has signed away the inalienable right to the protection of the U.S. government. Previous delegations of U.S. citizens to Gaza have not been required to sign these, and these were not requested prior to reaching the Mubarak Bridge checkpoint, despite Viva Palestina’s well-publicized plan. The Egyptian government refused to accept one group affidavit on behalf of the entire convoy. Each individual affidavit will cost convoy members $30 USD.
Yesterday, Egyptian officials asked for a detailed inventory of all aid items, which has now been compiled and will be submitted to border officials at the Rafah crossing.
Late this afternoon, the Head of the Palestine Desk of the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who has been tasked by the Foreign Minister with logistical planning, informed convoy leadership that only the 2 ambulances, of the 47 total vehicles which were purchased earlier in the day at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, would be allowed to enter Gaza. The people of Gaza, with whom MP Galloway has been in frequent contact, have indicated that new vehicles are sorely needed in Gaza for various public services.
Viva Palestina organizers were also informed that convoy members would be permitted to spend only 24 hours in Gaza. Individuals overstaying that time period will not be permitted to leave until the next general opening of the Rafah crossing, which has been continuously closed since June 2007.
New York City Councilmember Charles Barron, who is traveling with the convoy, believes the reason behind these new requirements and restrictions is clear. “They don’t want this to be successful because they don’t want any more convoys,” Barron said. “They want to set an example with us. They were hoping that they would discourage. That’s why the delays, that’s why adding on stipulations. Because they want us to implode.”
Viva Palestina leadership has emphasized that these tactics will not dissuade the group from its avowed purpose of breaking the siege on Gaza, nor will future convoys be canceled. MP Galloway has announced that he intends to lead caravans this year from Venezuela and Moscow, as well as a second U.S. convoy in December to commemorate the first anniversary of Israel’s brutal attack.
At a private meeting of the Viva Palestina delegation this evening, an agent of the Egyptian government was found to be present taking notes. His notes were confiscated and he was escorted out of the room by MP Galloway.
Convoy members Barron and Cynthia McKinney, former U.S. Representative and 2008 Green Party Presidential candidate, will be contacting President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tomorrow to pressure the Egyptian government to allow additional vehicles through the border and a longer stay in Gaza for convoy members. Additionally, Viva Palestina is calling for supporters to organize demonstrations at Egyptian consulates in the U.S. and to call on the White House and the State Department to support Viva Palestina’s effort in bringing medical supplies to what Obama called the “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza during his June 4 speech in Cairo.