Category Archives: Humanitarian aid

Commissioned letter in London Evening Standard

Give 1.5 million people a cargo of fish, and tomorrow they’ll be hungry again. Help those people break through an illegal siege, and tomorrow they’ll be able to fish for themselves. This is the reality for Gaza, and is one part of why the volunteer humanitarians on board the Freedom Flotilla are not interested in depositing their cargo in an Israeli port.

Another part of their reasoning is that Israel’s offer to pass the aid through land routes — in line with regulation — subtly refers to regulations that would see the bulk of the aid dumped. Israel allows a very specific, varying selection of goods into Gaza so it can claim to be helping. Including “sticks for brooms” and “cleaning products for tiles”, but not dental amalgam for fillings.

In fact, roughly enough dental amalgam manages to find its way into the country. But again, that’s a short-term solution. What Gazan dentists desperately want is young recruits to be able to study at universities. There are currently no anaesthetists in the strip. But the blockade prevents them travelling too.

In ten years as an aid worker, I’ve never been faced with such a one-sided problem. In Kosova, for example, we helped isolated communities of both Albanians and Serbs. One reason aid workers are so often accused of bias in Palestine is simply that precious few Israelis need our help!

Yet Israel insists on creating hostility where none need exist. The people who wielded sticks against soldiers two nights ago had no hostile intent. They were being attacked by armour-clad men leaping from helicopter gunships in the night.

Government responses must focus on this underlying cause: Israel’s inability to see that it is fomenting most of the trouble it tells us it is trying to suppress. William Hague has said directly the flotilla and its welcome “underlines the need to lift the restrictions on access to Gaza”. The UN and EU have said much the same. Why is the world paralysed until the US joins in? And if Obama does dare, will we see the next flotilla escorted through the Israeli pirates by NATO ships?

Gaza aid flotilla massacre – points arising

Some thoughts from the day’s discussions that arose on Facebook:

Jane asked: What I want to know is – how does dropping from a helicopter onto an aid ship constitute being “ambushed by activists bent on violence” ?

This is key. I am sad to see the Israeli footage of some of the people on the boat using sticks. This is being used to suggest violent intent on the part of the volunteers. But they were using them to fight against heavily armed and armoured soldiers who had already shot at them, and NOT with paint-ball guns as one ridiculous story goes, but with M-16 and M-4 assault rifles with live ammunition. Someone I know personally saw somebody in front of them shot in the head. In such circumstances – in the dark, in fear for their lives – it is hardly surprising they defended themselves. Not everyone is Ghandi himself.

The attack happened at approximately Latitude:32.64113, Longitude:33.56727, which is outwith Israeli territorial waters (by a good 40 km). The Israelis brought the fight to them, without question.

It has also been reported that the Israelis offered an alternative docking opportunity in Israel. This would however have been akin to throwing the aid in the sea, so little would have been passed on. (The regulations allow kitchen cleaning cloths, but not paper or pencils for schools, not dental amalgam… it is a ridiculous token list of permitted items designed not to help Gazans but to allow the Israeli government to claim they are helping.)

Additionally it would not address the issue of breaking the blockade overall. Gaza mustn’t be a place that depends upon humanitarian aid.

Gaza convoy update 2010december27th

Hospitality is perhaps not a thing to generalise about, but how many shops in the UK would insist that you sit down with them for a really good Turkish coffee, just because you went in to buy some board shorts, and despite the fact that you don’t share a word of the same language? So yes, I’ve just spent half an hour watching the business of the head of the Aqaba clothes-shop mafia. 🙂

Some of the convoy tried to begin a hunger strike today in front of the Egyptian consulate here. They were prevented from reaching it by the Jordanian police, but the hunger strike will proceed anyway. Taking part amongst others is John Hurson from Tyrone, a relative of whose (Martin Hurson) died in the Irish hunger strikes in 1981.

Meanwhile, Kim, Joel, Shak & Ryan got up at five and took a flag up a mountain today, then some of the rest of us took one out in a boat towards Israel. Not to worry you, but their navy fired a few intimidation shots out to sea just before we headed out (they were expecting us? The room IS bugged then… 😉 and then the Jordanian police came out to tell us not to film the border. The scene was pretty dramatic with our glass-bottomed tourist boat being rammed by the fast police inflatable (and losing his landing ladder in the process), but the glass boat dudes were very cool about it and even enjoyed holding up some of our banners on the way back. In fact the police were fine too, although I was a bit nervous for DashCam for a moment and it looked as though Hassan from Press TV might have his tape removed… the excuse was that our cameras were “too big” to be for tourists.

I was using DashCam, the dashboard-mounted camera that’s been filming those moments of the journey where you wish you’d had time to grab a camera. He’s been liberated from my dashboard while the trucks languish in the compound. I’m going to miss that camera when I have to give it back! Having been talking about DashCam as a “he”, I asked Kim the other day if his had a gender. Kim decided his was a girl, after which bit of anthropomorphising he realised he’d suddenly become even more attached to the thing! It’s fascinating for me as a keen photographer to watch the related but distinctly different techniques of video film-makers like Kim and Hassan.

On the subject of the compound, the Jordanians have sent a refrigerated truck up to help the medicine survive. Which doesn’t bode too well for how long they plan to keep us there.

SO, here is where you guys can help. Please, write to your MP, MSP, MEP, and to the Foreign Secretary — also to the Egyptian government. Stress that this is a peaceful convoy of humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza. Demand to know from the Egyptians the justification for denying it access to Egypt and thus through to Gaza. And plead with the UK to show some measure of care by pressing Egypt to allow us access; and indeed pressing Israel to stop the bombing, which recommenced today, killing several Gazans.