At 4pm local time last Thursday [October 21], a convoy of 370 people in 150 vehicles carrying $5 million [€3.6 million; £3.2 million] of humanitarian aid crossed the border from Egypt into the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing.
The Viva Palestina convoy, which had set out on its journey across Europe from London four weeks and five days earlier, was the largest convoy to date to break the Israeli siege and deliver much needed aid to the long suffering and besieged population of Gaza.
As the activists from more than 30 countries, including a number of Irish activists from counties Antrim, Tipperary and Tyrone, entered Gaza they were met by thousands of jubilant Palestinians who had gathered to welcome the convoy and celebrate the breaching of the siege.
The convoy had eventually departed for Gaza from Latakia in Syria by sea last Tuesday [October 19]. This was after a 16 day wait in a refugee camp in Latakia, set up for Palestinians ethnically cleansed from Acre and Haifa by Israel in 1948, for clearance from the Egyptian authorities for the aid to be landed at Al Arish and transported through Egypt to the Rafah Crossing and onward into Gaza. While Egypt eventually agreed to allow the convoy to proceed, they denied permission to enter to 17 activists, including Viva Palestina founder George Galloway and a number of survivors from the Mavi Marmara ship.
Amongst the aid onboard were vital medical and educational supplies, which Israel continues to prevent from being brought into Gaza. Included were chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics for the old and sick, ventilators for newborn babies, refrigerator units, new wheelchairs, breathing tubes, surgical equipment, dental equipment and hundreds of different types of medicine, bandages and dressings. Supplies for schoolchildren included schoolbags that had been filled with copybooks, pens, pencils and other basic school items that many children take for granted but which are denied to the children of Gaza.
Also delivered on Thursday was an ambulance filled with medical aid and school supplies for the Al Awa hospital in Gaza. The ambulance was driven the more than 3,000 miles from Tipperary to London and onwards across Europe by Tipp to Gaza activists Jimmy Nolan and Joe Gilmartin.
Survivors of the Mavi Marmara massacre on May 31 also participated in the convoy. Soil from the graves of those murdered by the Israeli military on that Freedom Flotilla were brought into Gaza to be used to plant trees as a memorial to the martyred human rights activists.
éirígí spokesperson Daithí Mac An Mhaistír said the actions of the activists had put governments around the world to shame.
“The failure of the United Nations, the European Union and governments worldwide to take action against Israel to bring an end to this inhumane and illegal siege is shameful. It is indicative of the contempt with which these organisations view the most basic human rights of the Palestinian people,” Mac An Mhaistír said.
“The continued imposition of this siege has resulted in widespread suffering for the civilian population of Gaza. Essential items such as medical equipment, food and clean water continue to be blocked from entering Gaza in sufficient quantities. The result of this collective punishment by Israel is rampant poverty, needless hunger, extremely high levels of children with chronic malnutrition and unnecessary suffering and deaths from preventable illness.
“The most recent example of the real human cost of Israel's blockade was the death of two year old Nasma Abu Lasheen. According to Physicians for Human Rights, Nasma, who was suffering from Leukaemia, was referred for emergency treatment to a hospital in the Israeli state on October 6. Without any justification and despite pleas from a host of human rights organisations, the Israeli military delayed granting an entry visa for Nasma until October 14, eight days later, by which time the child was too ill to be moved and died just two days later.
Mac An Mhaistír added: “Easing the siege or lifting certain restrictions on certain items is not a solution. Only the complete lifting of this illegal blockade, the securing of freedom for the entire Palestinian people and the bringing to justice of the zionist political and military establishment for their countless war crimes is an acceptable solution. Freedom and justice are non-negotiable.”
Freda Hughes and Daithí Mac An Mhaistír
Also welcoming the news was Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign [IPSC] national chairperson Freda Hughes.
“These activists are to be commended and congratulated for their bravery and determination to breach this illegal blockade and deliver their humanitarian aid to the besieged Gaza Strip,” Hughes said.
“This was despite threats in recent days by the Israeli military that they were preparing to intercept the convoy and various obstacles placed in their way by Egyptian authorities. The people of Gaza must also be praised for their steadfastness in the face of the brutality and inhumanity of Israel's apartheid policies.
“While this convoy has breached the blockade, the cruel and illegal siege remains in place. The fact that these activists have had to resort to such actions is a damning indictment of the international community, who, despite acknowledging the illegality and barbarity of the blockade, have failed to take any meaningful action to end it.”
Hughes added: “It is long past time for the international community to finally live up to their responsibilities. They must take whatever action is necessary to force Israel to end the blockade and to secure justice and freedom for the Palestinian people. The EU and the Irish government regularly express a commitment to human rights, now they need to move beyond rhetoric and implement official sanctions against the rogue state of Israel or it will continue to act with impunity and the Palestinian people will continue to pay the price.”