Socialist Worker

Diary 6 - Gaza convoy: blocked but defiant

by Jim Nichol
Issue No. 2224

Jim Nichol in the cab

Jim Nichol in the cab

The fifth Viva Palestina convoy from Britain is nearing Gaza. Human rights lawyer and socialist Jim Nichol reports from the convoy:

Lattakia, Syria, 16 October

We have a mass meeting: 400 people from 30 countries are there speaking many languages.

We are told of the arrangements for the next stage.

The place buzzes.

Like Babel, with simultaneous translations. Al Jazeera transmits it.

Morale is sky high.

The Greek owned Strofades IV, with an Egyptian crew, is our vessel. It flies the Maltese flag.

It is a cargo vessel. We buy additional life-vests and expect limited facilities.

There is a farewell party tonight. Anyone who is anyone will be there.

George Galloway will be there but he will not be going on the ship. His landing was refused.

Neither will Russ Ball. Like the child in the playground I want to be on his team.

He's the best. Sponsored by his union Unite, he has kept this convoy on the road.

HGV driver, ex-army he’s built like the Battleship Potemkin. Tattooed and with a bandanna, when he speaks you know he means it.

Soft inside. A socialist.

In the morning he tells what is required of you. At night he's the last vehicle on the convoy. Picking up the lost, the stragglers and the broken vehicles.

In Istanbul he took ten vehicles off the road for repair. He got a local mechanic to recruit his mechanic friends. All vehicles fixed. No payment accepted. He caught up with the main convoy two days later.

Russ didn't tell anyone of a telephone call while in Istanbul. His father had died. Nor several days later, on a Monday, when we arrived, whole convoy intact, that his father was being buried that day.

Job done. Russ has gone home.

Lattakia Sunday: Still here

A new condition at the very very very last minute.

17 convoy members have been refused entry into Egypt. It is shameful and disgraceful of the Egyptians.

George Galloway we always knew about but there is no rhyme nor reason for the others.

Amana Uddin from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign was excluded because she was considered to be a threat to national security. They said that she was married to George. She is not. She has never been married. George was once married to a woman with the same first name.

Ismail Nashwan was excluded because the Egyptians said he was Turkish. He is not. He is Jordanian. He is 83.

Amar Nazir and Ashan Mohammed both from Turkey. Excluded.

They were carrying the soil from the grave of Furkan Dogan who was only 19 years when he was killed by the Israelis on the Mavi Marmara.

Arshad Ali Mahmood is 47. Excluded. He could barely speak 'My heart bleeds. We have come so far. But not far enough. From Bradford we have raised thousands of pounds'.

Arshad has been wearing a light coloured suit and has a felt tip pen. Hundreds on route have scribbled and signed good wishes in many languages on the suit.

We sail tomorrow with Arshad's suit.

Monday:Back by Christmas at this rate.

The Greek ship has an Egyptian captain who keeps moving the goalposts. Now he will not take passengers. Other options are being looked at. Very few of us doubt that there is political pressure to obstruct the convoy.

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