A Gaza-bound convoy organised by rabble-rousing British MP George Galloway’s pro-Hamas British group Viva Palestina failed to reach its destination last month after being blocked by Egyptian authorities from entering the Sinai.
Earlier, the same caravan had willingly allowed itself to be exploited by the Syrian government for political purposes as it made its way through Syria.
The telling episode revealed growing fractures within the international pro-Palestinian activist community, especially on the divisive issue of Syria, but that is only part of the story.
While pro-Palestinian groups often attempt to portray themselves as having universal, broad-based support in the Arab world – both on a governmental and grass-roots level – the episode on the Egyptian border exposed the limits of tolerance in Arab countries for provocations by pro-Palestinian activists carried out from their territory.
At the same time, the convoy’s experience in Syria serves as an example of how the same pro-Palestinian provocations are often cynically coopted by Arab governments – either for a distraction, political gain or both – when it suits them.
The New Zealand pro-Hamas group Kia Ora Gaza reported on the failure in a blog post on May 30. The group identified many points of friction between participants and group organisers that led to a peeling away of participants as the convoy rolled along, and the eventual abandonment of the convoy at the Jordanian port of Aqaba. The most significant contentious issue was on Syria.
Viva Palestina Malaysia and Kia Ora Gaza were the two significant networks outside England signed up for the Viva Palestina Arabia convoy. But shortly before departure date, both networks withdrew when it became clear the convoy would traverse Syria, scene of murderous crimes by the Assad dictatorship against citizens wanting democracy. Their pullout halved the number of vehicles departing Bradford.
Kia Ora Gaza’s public statement on the withdrawal (which I drafted) said that “given the Syrian dictator’s inhuman behaviour towards his own citizens, we don’t want the Assad regime making political capital from any humanitarian mission to Gaza.” In addition, “the risk to convoyers crossing Syria would be unacceptably high.”(5)
In a Facebook posting, I explained that Kia Ora Gaza was “told about the Syria route on 11 April 2012, just one week before the convoy was due to depart from the UK. That news stunned us, since Kia Ora Gaza had been advised by a convoy organiser on 3 March 2012 that ‘it looks more than likely we will not go through Syria and look to sail across [to Egypt] from Turkey’. And Kia Ora Gaza had flagged Syria as a no-go zone in our communications with Viva Palestina Arabia on at least seven occasions between 5 February 2012 and 13 April 2012.”(6)
This decision to take the convoy through Syria came despite pleas from besieged Syrians for the group not to do so, as reported in the Syrian Sun:
As with any aid convoy going to Gaza we wish them the very best and would LIKE to offer them support. However we cannot because unlike previous aid convoys to Gaza, this one is passing through a country whose people are being exterminated, tortured and raped by those following orders of their leader. The Syrian people too are desperate for the very equipment that is passing through it. So is this deliberately planned route misguided, is it foolish or just downright cruel and uncaring? Why not fly to Egypt and buy the equipment needed by Gaza there as the other organisations who withdrew suggested?
The group reported being robbed in Romania and snubbed in Turkey, but perhaps most significant was its cool reception by Egyptian authorities.
Upon reaching Aqaba, Jordan’s port on the gulf leading to the Red Sea, convoy leaders asked Egyptian authorities about driving across the Sinai Peninsula to the Rafah gateway into Gaza. No way, responded the Egyptians. Okay, countered the convoyers, how about ferrying our vehicles through the Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea, Gulf of Suez, Suez Canal and Mediterranean Sea to Egypt’s northern seaport of Al Arish, with the drivers flying into the port to pick up the vehicles and drive to Rafah. Let’s talk about it, replied the Egyptians. A little while later they said the sea option looks like a goer if several big vehicles were left behind. The convoyers said yes, believing they had a deal. Then the Egyptians changed course and refused entry to Gaza.
Meanwhile, two weeks had passed, leaving the convoyers bored to death in their Aqaba hotel as they sensed that Viva Palestina Arabia had hit a dead end.
On 28 May the convoyers called it quits. All are flying home, which for most is England.
Meanwhile, in another sign that the Gaza Flotilla/ Convoy stunt is now exhausted as a propaganda tool, the NZ group said that Syria was the “only country in the world that gave extensive media to the convoy.”
Galloway himself has not issued a recent public statement on Syria (though in the earlier stages of the Syrian uprising he praised and endorsed the Assad regime – but called for instituting reforms.)
Emails leaked to Ha’aretz in February revealed close links between Viva Palestina and the Assad regime in Syria.
Galloway has, however found time to endorse the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi in the Egyptian runoff elections (with, strangely, a parting salute to former Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, who had been responsible for a purge of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egyptian politics – with the execution and imprisonment of many members – after an assassination attempt in October 1954.)
A message to the great people of Egypt, from George Galloway MP, House of Commons, London:
Bismillahirohmaanirohim, Assalamu alaikum, I salute the people of the great Egypt, the people of Al Azhar, the people of Suez, the people of October. I bow my head before the martyrs of your revolution. You are the hope of the Arabs, the Ummah, the world.
I appeal to all Egyptians to elect Dr. Morsi as president of the Republic. May God protect him and ensure the free and fair election next month. May God bless the people of Egypt and the memory of the greatest Arab Gamal Abdel Nasser.