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Mar-04-2009 21:21printcomments

A Fine Tribute to Human Goodness

The BBC has BBC has declined to cover the OK-based convoy's progress.

Viva Palestine
Viva Palestine
Photo courtesy: Press TV

(EGYPTIAN DESERT) - A "caravan of 300 kind hearts" that set out on February 14th from London to Gaza, under the auspices of the Viva Palestina organization, is nearing the Libyan/Egyptian border.

Egypt has agreed to open its Rafah border long enough to let their 100 aid-bearing vehicles, including fire engines, ambulances, trucks, vans and a boat, through.

This is more than just an aid convoy. As the participants of several ethnicities and faiths admit, UNRWA and other NGOs are far more effective distributors of essentials urgently needed by the 1.5 million residents of the Gaza Strip still subsisting under the shameful 14-month long Israeli siege.

The message due to be delivered by these 300 extraordinary "ordinary people" is all important: "We truly care and we've driven across continents to prove it."

For the rest of us it surely signifies the goodness of human nature and the strength of people power, which if correctly channeled, can move mountains.

Their belief in the seemingly impossible has already wrought a miracle. Their sincerity has melted the hearts of Moroccan and Algerian politicians who agreed to open their common frontier closed since 1994, something the then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice strove to achieve and failed. Their commitment to people less fortunate has been exemplary.

How many of us would dig into our own pockets and persuade our families, friends and complete strangers to do the same so that we could take off in the middle of winter on a mission with an unknown duration unsure of the welcome we would receive en route?

These individuals had no idea where they would sleep or shower or how they would get back home once they had donated their vehicles. Most had never undertaken such a journey before and they hadn't a clue what to expect. Thankfully, however, their faith has been rewarded.

A few days ago, I telephoned the award-winning journalist and television chat-show host Yvonne Ridley, who, along with a team from Press TV, has traveled with the convoy since Day One.

As she was driving through the snow-capped mountains of eastern Algeria, she described the experience, thus far, as "absolutely amazing" and told me that everywhere they journeyed they were greeted by smiling well-wishers carrying goodwill letters addressed to the people of Gaza. They have also been overwhelmed with gifts of money, bottled water and food, she told me.

Some people's generosity has been incredible.

In France, a boxer purchased a brand new van to replace one that had broken down and insured it as well. In Morocco, a private individual erected a marquee and prepared a feast for all, consisting of 22 lambs.

And after refueling in Algeria, they were astonished to discover that an Algerian businessman had picked up the entire fuel tab; no small sum.

The governments of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia have been wonderful. They have allowed the convoy to travel unimpeded and offered assistance. But they have ensured it was kept well away from the main population centers out of reluctance to whip up public emotion, which is already high following Israel's slaughter of 1,400 Palestinians, a terrible toll that includes 600 women and children.

However, Libya has spared no efforts to roll out the red carpet. According to Farid Arada writing on the Viva Palestina website, "The hospitality of the Libyan people, government and the Qaddafi Foundation has left the convoy members in tears."

Apparently, the Qaddafi Foundation has "ensured the smooth and safe passage of the convoy through Libya by providing everything the convoy needs from free fuel to accommodation, repairs, etc."

Moreover, 60 Libyan vehicles loaded with humanitarian supplies have joined it with another 240 expected. Indeed, the Libyan daily Libya Al-Youm quoted one of the convoy members as saying, "This is the best welcome we received. What is different this time is that the authorities did not try to stop the people mingling and getting close to us. Nothing was orchestrated; it was all natural and spontaneous."

This all-British effort, however, has not been supported by the British government that has sent its own convoy -- British ships to assist Israel in maintaining its lockdown of Gaza. Moreover, UK authorities arrested nine members of the convoy before they could even turn on their engines as terrorist suspects merely because they were carrying large sums in cash. Well, of course they were. They had been collecting donations for the journey. They were eventually released and they rushed to catch up with their friends.

The government-owned BBC has been similarly unhelpful. After refusing to air a charitable appeal on behalf of charities, such as the Red Cross and Save the Children, related to Gaza, it has declined to cover the convoy's progress.

One frustrated Irish participant told how he had approached the BBC several times to interview him only to be told "no way." In the end, he had to resort to stealth. He managed to persuade program executives to give him airtime on an entirely different subject. But when he injected Gaza into the conversation, he says he was promptly cut off. Sad isn't it?

This endeavor makes British people proud and represents tens of thousands of donations from every corner of the country, yet British people have to tune into Press TV -- the only network traveling with the convoy -- for news.

Now all eyes are on Egypt. I am positive that they will get a rousing welcome from warm-hearted Egyptians, whose hospitality is second to none. That's provided they are given access. Whatever happens, the most important thing is that they get to meet the people for whom this journey was made and to whom it is dedicated -- the people of Gaza.

God bless them and God bless all those who battled against vehicle breakdowns, lack of sleep, discomfort and biting cold nights to deliver their message of love face to face.

"We're like one big family," Yvonne Ridley said. "We love one another, we fight and we complain. Everyone will emerge stronger and more capable from this. One young man told me `I think we need the people of Gaza more than they need us.'" Surely, the moral of this good news story is that all of us, regardless of nationality, race or religion, need each other.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs.

She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at heardonthegrapevines@yahoo.co.uk.




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