“Solo” is the last word I’d use to describe the week that ensued.
After befriending some locals in el-Arish, a town in the Egyptian Sinai, and after waiting all day and searching all evening, following the sounds of sirens and car horns… I finally managed to meet up with the convoy. VIVA VIVA PALESTINA!
Maybe it was my naivety of not being with the convoy from the start which made me think the next day would provide a smooth passage into Gaza.
We woke up early on “the big day”, the day we would finally reach Gaza. As we waited around in the massive compound where all the tens and hundreds of vehicles, each one full of humanitarian aid for the Gazan people, the suspense built in anticipation of our planned exit at noon. And, inevitably, then tension burst in a blaze of an hour of madness.
At the last minute, the Egyptian authorities announced that only 25 vehicles per day would be allowed to carry on towards Gaza. Considering we had hundreds waiting, this was a clear attempt to sabotage the mission.
After weeks of frustration, the people weren’t having it. The barriers were stormed down and the barricade of policemen forced through. I was in one of the last vans to make it through, and one policeman tried to pull open our door to steal the keys from the ignition.
But it was to no avail. Within seconds, military police had surrounded the area and batons were flying. It wasn’t to be our last run-in with the Egyptian authorities. And we would be staying here for a while.
It was unclear what would happen next. Within seconds of walking away from my friends, I was surrounded by cameras, dictaphones and interviewers, with questions being fired from all directions, which some of the answers to were greeted with tears.
George Galloway was already at the border, but made the 40km journey back like the hero he is. In a rousing speech, he promised that we would enter Gaza the next day, “on the birthday of the Prophet, peace be upon him!” But the authorities were not finished, and next chose to hit us with the bombshell that only medical aid would be allowed through Rafah. There were more tears as officials transferred children’s toys, nappies and blankets from our vans into Egyptian trucks which would have to travel through “Israel”.
In fact, the pressure for us all to travel through the illegimate Zionist state was consistent, but the mood was defiant:
“We have never negotiated with Israel, and never will!”
We were beginning to realise that Egypt was only Israel’s Arab spokesman. Of course Mubarak will never truly sympathise with the plight of the Palestinian people – this would result in losing hundreds of millions in aid from the US.
But it was in the evening when events really started to turn ugly. After a supposed “power strike”, throwing the whole area into a sea of darkness, we were attacked by a suspected Fatah faction, with stones and bricks raining down onto us. Panic followed, and four people were taken to hospital. One person was spotted throwing a stone, and then running into a police van for cover. The hundreds of officials, who had managed to keep us under siege for the entire day, and still insisted their presence was “for our protection”, now simply stood by and watched.
But Gaza is under siege every single day, and we will not stand by and watch.