The fifth Viva Palestina convoy from Britain left London last Saturday. Hundreds of activists will join the convoy carrying medical aid to Gaza to beak the Israeli siege.
Human rights lawyer and socialist Jim Nichol reports from the convoy:
On Saturday the 35 vehicle convoy left London and arrived in Paris 16 hours later, well after midnight. We are sleeping in a sports hall for two nights – communal living at its best.
The people on the convoy are of all shapes and sizes, and from all walks of life.
Some of my favourite people so far are from Belfast and County Antrim. The Antrim van has “Antrim to Gaza” written in that lovely Gaelic script down the side of the van and, on the back, a long list of names.
Cara McShane, James McGarrity, the McGaughey family, Connell McShane, Seamus McGinn and Orla McShane, the Donaghy family and the O’Hara family. This might be the fallen from the Republican struggles, but a few other names – including Bally Castle United FC – make it clear it's not that. These are the people who have collected more than £100 each in donations for Gaza. There must be hundreds of people who have contributed.
So far my favourite vehicle comes from Belfast. Down the side it says “Our children’s revenge will be their laughter”, and on the front “The James Connolly surgical unit”. These guys, all in their early 40s, just ordinary guys, have already established a surgical unit inside a hospital in Gaza.
In the car park of the sports hall four or five middle-aged women arrive. They are probably North African. They look as if they have the contents of an entire car boot sale. There are black plastic bin liners full to the top, those square type laundry bags that you get, scores of supermarket carrier bags and many old suitcases. All full with clothing.
We are told that the Egyptian authorities will probably not allow adult clothing so the women are asked if they can please sort through the clothes. The women are clearly poor. The clothing in the bags has belonged to their children and others in their community. The women spend four hours sorting out little jumpers, little vests, little trousers, little coats and rows and rows of little shoes.
The journey to Lyon takes a day and an age. We are well received. The mayor of the suburb that we are staying in, Vaulx-en-Velin, permanently flies the Palestinian flag. The Prefect (state's representative) of Lyon has ordered that it be taken down. There is a stand-off.
The convoy makes its way to the main square in Lyon outside the town hall. A very respectable couple approach me – they are probably in their mid-50s. I get in their car and drive to my ambulance. They unload surgical and medical equipment and tell me that it is “surplus to requirements”. They wish the people of Gaza well and drive off as quickly as they arrive.
A colleague tells me he has just met a woman from Spain who has driven all the way to Lyon to deliver a trolley load of medical aid.
It is difficult to gauge the extent of support from ordinary members of the public for the convoy but it is significant. People clap, young women raise their hands, others hoot their horns.
In the sports hall in Lyon, three young girls, maybe 16 or 17-years-old, approach my co-driver Naseem and each in turn give some euros and ask for something to be bought for the children of Gaza. They are embarrassed and run off. We count the euros – 80.
Lyon to Milan via Turin on Monday 21 September. A good reception in Turin and we pick up five Italian vehicles. There is now representation on the convoy from New Zealand, Australia, the US, Canada, Sweden, Belgium, France, Italy as well as Britain and Ireland.
Milan – overnight in a tent. My first time for over 30 years. At least there are toilets.