Our impressive 35-vehicle convoy arrived in Paris early on Sunday morning two weeks ago—and we slept in a sports hall.
There are people from all walks of life. Some of my favourites so far are from Belfast and County Antrim. Their van has “Antrim to Gaza” written in Gaelic script down the side and a long list of names on the back—including Bally Castle United FC. The people listed have each collected more than £100 in donations for Gaza.
I particularly love one vehicle 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 have already established a surgical unit in Gaza.
Later five middle-aged women arrive with black plastic bin liners full of clothing. They are clearly poor and the clothing belonged to their children and others in their community.
We have been told that the Egyptian authorities will not allow adult clothing so the women spend hours sorting out jumpers, vests, trousers, 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 convoy makes its way to the main square where a professional couple approach me and unload surgical and medical equipment saying it is “surplus to requirements”. They tell me they wish the people of Gaza well.
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.
The extent of support from ordinary members of the public for the convoy is significant.
In the hall in Lyon, three young women approach my co-driver Naseem and each 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.
On Monday we travel from Lyon to Milan via Turin where we get a good reception and pick up five Italian vehicles. There is now representation on the convoy from New Zealand, Australia, the US, Canada, Sweden, Belgium, France, Italy, Britain and Ireland.
We spend three and a half hours processing at the Turkish border in sweltering heat. From the customs compound you could see the reception committee, the IHH—a Turkish humanitarian NGO—plus about 200 ordinary people. As we pass they drop apples and pears into drivers laps.
I’ve been reading the report by the UN Human Rights Council into the Israeli attack on the last freedom flotilla on 31 May as we drive. They found that the action by Israeli commandos, which left nine dead, was “disproportionate” and “betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality”.
It said there is clear evidence to support prosecutions of the following crimes within the terms of article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention set out to protect civilians in times of war: “wilful killing; torture or inhuman treatment; wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health”.
The report also said the Israeli blockade of the Palestinian territory was “unlawful”.
I am typing this as Naseem drives us to Istanbul. Other cars constantly hoot and bystanders wave and shout “Viva Palestina”.
Half an hour ago we pulled off the road to be greeted by 100 donor kebabs—now that’s what I call true international solidarity.
We arrive in central Istanbul for a midday press conference. There are lots of news media present including those that did not show up in the UK. Shortly we will be joined by 40 vehicles from Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey which will put us to over 100.
The logistical problems are immense but there is an astonishing amount of talent.
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Israeli naval forces intercepted an aid ship carrying Jewish activists to Gaza on Tuesday. The ship was escorted into an Israeli port. Seven Jewish activists from Britain were onboard