The fifth Viva Palestina convoy from Britain is nearing Gaza. Human rights lawyer and socialist Jim Nichol reports from the convoy:
Istanbul to Ankara
On the convoy is Vince from Hull. He says he's the wrong side of 50. Joined the Marine Cadets when he was 13. Straight into the Marine Corp for a nine year stint. Then a youth worker and for the last 15 years housing the homeless.
He's left his job – 15 years ago it was 20 percent paper work and 80 percent help. Now it’s the other way round. He speaks kindly of his homeless heroin addicts. He's a fighter.
He used his savings to pay for this trip. He was distraught when the truck he was driving, 'Bravo 11', was given the last rites. Overjoyed when he was allocated the newly resurrected passenger ambulance.
Kayseri: the school children at the Hisarciklioglu high school have been lined up to wave as we pass by. This was the school of Furkan Dogan. Only 19 years when he was killed by the Israeli's on the Mavi Marmara. He was the youngest.
The convoy climbs high into the mountains. Outside the hall of the municipality of Talas Belediyesi the town has assembled. Condolences are offered to his aged grandad, uncle and his brother Mustafa. Inside there are warm welcomes. The Kayseri broadsheet has published Furkan's handwritten notes of his journey.
Pictures of the notes, scribbles and crossing outs.
At the head of his grave is a poster with Furkan's photo. He looks much younger than his 19 years. So much younger. The grave is planted with blues, yellows, pinks, orange and whites. A single red rose. There are tears. Furkan was shot five times.
I'd like to get your sympathy by telling you that I was living on the baked beans that I bought in Tesco. But It would not be true. In every town we have been feasted and cared for.
Young people have been very noticable. Last night perhaps 200 young 14 to 24 year olds formed a welcoming cordon. Everyone fighting passionately for Gaza. Our convoy has been excited throughout. Noisy. Blowing horns and overwhelmed by the solidarity.
We leave for Syria from the graveside of Getin Topguoglu. He was killed on the Mavi Marmara. His wife Gigdem was by his side. She picks up a handful of earth from her husband’s grave and asks that it be sprinkled on the land of Gaza in Palestine.
The reception at the Syrian border was extraordinary.Hundreds of people swarming to meet the convoy. Many are Palestinians. A ten year old boy yells to me that he came from Haifa. Make no mistake the welcome is warm and genuine.
This is my first Presidential welcome. He’s not actually present but he is here in spirit. At least you would think so from the number of posters and banners bearing President Assad’s portrait held high by boys in blue school uniforms.
Speeches are delivered with the ferocity of a Mach 10 machine gun (25 rounds per second) Max volume. Cake is served to those of us who are dignitaries reclining in rows of soft armchairs underneath specially erected canopies. And still more cake. Let them eat cake. Speeches over. Palestinian music at the same volume.
Men dance with men.
Women dance with women.
Men in uniforms stand by.
This gig rocked
Question: What does a smart lawyer from London do when he is lost in Syria?
Answer: Ask a police officer. And so it happened that J Nichol and six trucks were lost in Lattakia. I enlisted the help of my new best friend Yasser from the Ministry of Culture,the nearest building to where we stopped.
His screen saver was a photo of President Assad. Off we went to the police station where I met not any old officer but the Chief of Police. Two sofas and two arm chairs in his office. From one of the several phones on his desk he made a number of calls. We waited. He gave me tea. We talked. Everyone so willing to help. A knock on the door. Enter PC Motorcycle. Clicked his heels. Saluted. The Chief and I shook hands. The remnants of the escorted convoy sped off.
We are staying in a camp formerly used by Palestinian refugees. The facilities are good. Think Skegness. But sunshine.
Everyone but everyone is looking after us. Breakfast this morning provided by the Association of Lattakia Engineers. Palestinian families come on to the camp. Smiling and smiling and smiling and smiling and more smiling. We want you to come home with us. We have cooked for you. Do you like fish? Do you like chicken? We have sweets. We want to go to Palestine.
They tell of the town from which they come like I tell about Newcastle. But I have been to Newcastle.
The Algerians, Tunisians, Moroccans and Mauritanians have arrived. The Jordanians are on their way. Tonight I will take the road to Damascus. Part of a delegation. Keep the jokes short.
Monday afternoon we spend in the sweltering heat sorting out some of the medical aid. Some is past its sell by date. Not aid bought by Viva Palestina but that donated by well-wishers. We go through each big box, small boxes inside big boxes and smaller boxes again: gloves, bandages, medication, intravenous drips, saline solutions, surgical equipment. All inspected under the supervision of a French doctor.
The rejected aid will be found a use.
About to set off for Damascus. The Jordanians arrive. Like the cavalry but with lights and horns. Nose to tail they enter the compound – 40 vehicles. They're smart. Some woman drivers. A huge refrigeration truck to keep some aid cool. It will be left in Gaza.
It's all very exciting.
Monday midnight: We finally set off for Damascus. The road is long. Too long. Five hours 10 minutes long. Time enough to reflect on the meaning of life.
We arrive and George Galloway is waiting for us. Press conferences, negotiations and a rally.
We wonder whether the Egyptians are going to let us in. They say that they will not let George in.
The original sailing day was Tuesday. Today is Tuesday. Not a ship in sight.
I am part of a small press conference. Introduced as an international lawyer.
Get that. I call for the prosecution of Israel for war crimes.
GG says that if the price of the convoy reaching Gaza is his exclusion then so be it. He repeats this late at night at a Palestinian rally near to a refugee camp. How many ways can you say that a reception is welcoming? It was.
Negotiations continue. Appear positive. We hope to sail soon.
For background and updates go to www.vivapalestina.org