Saturday, 23 October 2010

Some recent breakthroughs.... with reservations

Getting into Gaza is still tricky and uncertain but it is worth making the effort if you want to get in - determination and persistence, press and paperwork. I am trying to find out why policy has not changed in terms of Foreign and Commonwealth office assistance to people travelling to Gaza because Electric Circus did not get the paperwork they needed from UK embassy - this was their main hurdle. British citizens have to obtain a waiver letter from UK embassy which Egyptian border control want to see that effectively says "I've been told by my government not to go to Gaza but I'm going anyway". UK Foreign and Commonwealth office in Cairo told them they were not humanitarian aid (despite a letter if invitation from Red Crescent) and said they would not supply the required paperwork. The FCO is thus effectively maintaining the blockade of people through the border into Gaza from Egypt. Despite this the group travelled to the border with letter from Red Crescent and British Council - who supported them after their recent participation in Circairo Festival - and after being refused, waiting, asking again, hanfding over all paperwork they had they somehow were eventually allowed through. Unfortunately the group had to leave one German member behind because he was not British.

Good news is that Viva Palestina convoy Lifeline 5 got through into Gaza one or two days prior after departing London 18th September travelling overland through Europe into Turkey and Syria to put vehicles on a ship to Al-Arish. The group was kept waiting in Syrian port of Lattakia for two weeks while negotiations took place to get them into Egypt and on to Gaza and even then 17 of the participants were banned from entering Egypt so could not complete the journey. They succeeded in entering with 150 vehicles packed with medical and educational aid entering from Rafah border in Egypt. Well done Viva!

I can see from some of the video and photos that are coming out showing the warm reception the successful members received there, Yousef's report:

Another small group who returned recently from a 10-day trip were architects and engineers working on a joint project with UN-HABITAT from University of Westminster, I attended their feedback event on 12th October. Under the theme 'Green Gaza, Sustainable Neighbourhoods' they launched Palestine Regeneration Team (PART) . They are going to work jointly with Palestinian neighbourhood planners to develop an area in Gaza, this is the launch so it is very early days yet.

The event featured a singer Basel Zayed who sang beautiful songs.

Road to Hope convoy have made great progress on their exhausting journey from UK to Gaza - their route is through Spain and Morocco and across North Africa. I can see from pictures put up that great friends made on VP convoy and flotilla are taking part in this such as Richard Viner - childrens' entertainer and performer and Ken O'Keefe world citizen. One of the most admirable members of the convoy has to be Laura Stuart. On the first Viva Palestina convoy she by herself drove a vehicle to Gaza, she also took part in VP3, the one I went with December 09, was on the Mavi Marmara where she was treating the injured as a first aider and now is with Road to Hope. Go Laura!

On other matters we had an email from FCO in London - apparently the Turkel enquiry - the Israeli-led enquiry into the flotilla may be interested to hear from passengers now! They informed us on a Friday and gave us until Monday to let them know what we would do - another example of the contempt of the victims. After brief discussions with other members of the group we agree that we would cooperate in the interests of justice but if the playing field is flat - i.e. we want our belongings back, our media evidence, the soldiers to be interviewed, for our testimony to be heard in public - then we will cooperate. Haaretz covered this news.

This week our legal team travelled to Doha where they met with legal representatives of the other nationalities from the flotilla. They are all together forming the international Flotilla Justice Group that aims to co-work on the legal aspects of the incident and plans to improve coordination and support for future actions.

I have been keeping in touch with our circus group in Gaza and Ruth says it is 'full- on'. They have already completed several performances. They are trying to adapt the show and clothing so they can minimise exposing flesh so that the more conservative audiences in Gaza are more confident.

The amount raised in profit at the Electric Circus was just over £8K - an amazing achievement down to the hard work of volunteers. 25% of this is going to Fairtunes and rest to purchase items to take to Gaza and support the group's immediate expenses. Last Friday I went shopping with Tom who has now departed with the second group joining Road to Hope in Libya so he is loaded up.

I am very sad not to be joining them this time but Uni won't allow it.

Last night I went to Hackney Palestine Solidarity Campaign film night where the film made by Reel News of the assault on the Mavi Marmara was shown - seeing the dead and injured again brings back memories and makes me feel renewed energy and commitment.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Road To Hope Convoy departs...

Over the past few weeks aid has been gradually deposited in St Johns crypt and on Friday I finally manage to go through it and pack it into plastic boxes for protection during the journey with Road to Hope. I am not going with the convoy this time sadly because the commitments of studying are too much to do both. Instead I have donated £600 of funds raised to support Hasna and Laura to buy a vehicle and I have more to use to buy items to join the next leg of the convoy. We received lists of equipment wanted in Gaza - items like C-arm operating equipment allows X-rays to be done during operations I think - these are urgently required but we don't have time to source or fund one to go on this convoy.

On Friday I spend all day sorting and packing the aid - ideas of study time are out of the window for now. I take the boxes up to Chingford and have the new experience of hiring a streetvan. Its pretty convenient once you have registered. Its amazing how quickly the company's system has customer info ready - I registered at 7.15pm and was picking up the vehicle at 7.30. It was easy to get the delivery done within two hours. Then back to meet Anwar and Walid who have made me an iron-on transfer image for the costume I want to wear for the fundraiser tomorrow night. They are on their way to pick up their vehicle from Chingford as well so I give them a lift up in the car to where Tox's friends and supporters are having a football tournament - raising more money for the trip. They don't get done until 1am. Tox has been sold a 1956 Green Goddess fire engine amongst many other vehicles for the trip!! But it is going to be too expensive to run the vehicle all the way so instead it may be sold on after some publicity work. It is frustrating I still do not have a camera since Israeli forces removed such items from Mavi Marmara.

On Saturday it appears the drains at home are blocked for the whole building. I cycle to town to a friend's home and get ready for a wedding in the afternoon. This involves travelling to Bromley and back with my bike on the train. Very tight for time because the big fundraiser event at Scala is tonight yeeeehaaaa!! Theme is 'Lunatics have taken over the Asylum' and has 150 volunteer performers and producers involved. I got to So High Soho to get a piece of costume - a straitjacket. This is white cotton and when I get home I iron on the transfer requested which says "Lunatic State" with an Israeli flag formed from guns a barbed wire. A bit of time to make some calls about final arrangements for the convoy such as news that a paint shop in Bethnal Green has donated 150 paints for use in graffiti work in Gaza. Funds raised to be shared between Fairtunes and Circus to Gaza .

Anwar and Walid arrive and pick up the paints and trainers and drop me at the venue. At 10pm the queue is growing and I work on the door with two other girls and Steve B. It's a long busy night with people flowing through the doors and we are still admitting people at 3.30am. The performances are amazing, a massive effort has gone into areas of the event such as the Slumbarave Sanitarium where people are being strapped to beds and given treatments, face and body paint etc by charming and slightly crazed nurses...great music and fantastic dancers doing stage shows. Its a great night by all accounts and we have succeeded in raising several thousand pounds (final figures and destinations tbc).

This morning the Road to Hope convoy converged and then departed - carrying many people and items for Gaza including 15 boxes of medical aid, graf spray paint and Public Nuisance trainers collected by us. See short video report:

I can't make it to the departure location because I left Scala at 8.30am and need to sleep. I am later told that 30 or so vehicles set off. They have a massive task as they are travelling through Europe to Northern Africa then across North Africa to Libya before joining further vehicles there around 23rd October.

In the evening I can see Hasna has updated Facebook to say the convoy have reached France - well done crew...wish I was with you.