Viva Palestina: A Personal View

This is a guest post by Charlie, whose sister is on the Viva Palestina convoy

The followers of the Viva Palestina Convoy arrived the night before last in Gaza with vans full of aid and food to deliver to those who, as a result of the continuing conflict in the region, are under what some call an inhumane siege, and others a necessary security measure.

Whatever the views of the struggle between Israel and Palestine, surely the arrival of a convoy of aid, helping those most in need, and brought about almost entirely as a result of personal sacrifice and charity should be celebrated?

For some, this is not the case – and, looking at the past few weeks, it is not hard to find the reasons behind that. Violence has sprung up not only between convoyers and the Egyptians, but between Palestinians and Egyptians, leading to the tragic loss of a border guard’s life on Tuesday night. In addition, the inability of truly neutral players to get involved in events such as this – which highlight the situation, as well as address the lack of necessities – has led to the efforts of many being maligned by the association with extremism and anti-semitism.

Those volunteers who took part clearly wanted to ensure, primarily, that aid reached the Gazans who needed it. When I donated to my sister, currently bedding down for the night in Gaza, my money went into buying medicine and medical equipment, blankets and educational supplies that were put into the back of her van before she left the UK.

It is also clear that this aid was to come with a message – the situation in Gaza as it stands is utterly unacceptable, and it has to change. That message was always going to be a part of the convoy, and there is no point in denying it. What is does not mean, however, is that all the followers were enthusiastic supporters of Hamas, and rockets flying over the border hitting Israeli families in their sleep.

Unfortunately, George Galloway, the man heading the Viva Palestina convoys, is a man not known for his diplomatic approach, or his lack of bias against Israel (to put it mildly). Many people, and certainly many I spoke to in the press, were weary of what they have come to expect from this man – usually a tirade and hanging up the telephone, as he did with Al Jazeera when questioned over why he blatantly ignored Egypt’s request to go into the country via Al Arish. Did this help his cause? No. Did it cause more people to shake their head and give up on him? Probably. Did he cause the situation to generate more publicity for himself? Almost certainly.

Egypt had a clear need to protect not only it’s borders, but it’s border policies, but the lack of flexibility it showed – although of course there was absolutely no requirement for it to do so – contributed to yet more unrest, and the disturbances along the border that could have been avoided easily by such flexibility.

Israel, too, missed a trick. By allowing Galloway’s accusations that aid channelled via it’s crossing would never arrive to go unchallenged, they missed the opportunity to deflate his bubble – a statement early on from Israel along the lines of ‘While we are in a state of de facto war in the Gaza Strip we recognise the need to maintain basic healthcare and education and will be happy to offer support where requested’ would have shown that it is not against aid going to the region, and would have deflated it’s detractors’ and Galloway’s ‘zionist’ rants.

The convoy in and of itself may make comparatively little difference – as other posters have written, more aid comes in each day than multiples of this one convoy. But to belittle it for that reason is shameful. The aid WILL help people who need it, however few, and that is should not be something to go unpraised.

The fact it comes with an uncomfortable message to Israel is a good thing – the situation is clearly untenable in the long term, but Hamas should absolutely be alongside Israel in taking responsibility for the suffering of the people in the Gaza Strip.

But anything, anything at all, that makes one person, on one side, think before joining Hamas or building a new settlement, or firing a gun, is a good thing – whatever it’s faults.