Scores of New Yorkers gathered last night to hear reports and welcome home the Viva Palestina Convoy that went to Gaza a few weeks ago.
As always, our ‘Star’ Associates were there to capture the spirit of the evening. Commentary is by Chippy Dee, photos by Bud Korotzer.
On July 29th, 2009, despite the heat, thunder, lightening, and periodic torrential downpours, people crowded into the House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn to hear a report from the Viva Palestina Humanitarian Aid Convoy to Gaza. Reverend Herbert Daughtry, often referred to as the people’s pastor, welcomed everyone and said that it was an honour to be part of this humanitarian effort. NYC Councilman Charles Barron, Nayo Joy Simmons (Operation P.O.W.E.R. Co-Chair). and Lamont Carolina, both on Councilman Barron’s staff, and, all three, convoy participants informally shared the presentation with the other convoy participants in the room.
Charles Barron first addressed the question of why they went to Gaza. He said it was all the same fight because the oppressors are the same all over. We won’t be free until Africa and Latin America are free. If a baby is starving in Palestine it is the same as if a baby is starving in Harlem. The Middle East is a complex place, he added, at what historical point do we begin? But wherever we begin, terrorism is the targeting of innocent people for violence. Israel is guilty of that. The babies of Gaza never shot rockets at anyone. There can be no justification. Collateral damage is terrorism. In Gaza he met a little boy who always wanted to be at his mother’s side because he knew she would be killed and he said he wanted to die with her. Children listen for the sounds of the aircraft knowing that the bombing and shelling will begin and then be followed by a naval and ground assault. Gaza is a death camp and our tax dollars should be used to feed the children there, not pay for Israeli bombs to kill them. The victory of the Viva Palestina convoy getting into Gaza was tremendous – they broke the siege.
Councilman Barron went on to explain how difficult it was to get the convoy through Egypt and into Gaza. The Egyptian people were very supportive but their government was not. They put roadblocks in the way at every turn. There was also no help from the White House or the U.S. State Department. In fact, all participants had to pay $30 a piece to sign an affidavit absolving the government of the U.S. from any responsibility for protecting them if they entered Gaza. At one point, at the Suez Canal, convoy participants stayed on their buses for twelve hours while there were negotiations about whether or not to let them pass. An Egyptian official told them that if they demonstrated there it could get ugly. The military was standing there armed and ready for whatever. Barron replied, yes, for both of us.
Finally all were allowed to pass at the Rafah crossing but only after nightfall to minimize the size of the Palestinian crowd waiting to greet them.
Then everyone at the church viewed a slide show. We saw photos of a demonstration of convoy participants at the Israeli Embassy in Egypt demanding that Cynthia McKinney be released from prison in Israel. She was placed there after the Israeli Navy, in an act of piracy, kidnapped her and twenty other humanitarian aid workers while on the high seas attempting to bring crayons, colouring books, and teddy bears to comfort the children of Gaza. There were photos of the buses which the convoy actually lived on. Egyptian Secret Service agents, fully armed, rode on the buses with them. There were slides taken at the Rafah crossing. Many Palestinian people were camped there, sometimes for months, waiting to reenter Gaza. They may have left for a day to visit family or meet immediate needs and then were not allowed back into Gaza. There was a photo of several Black convoy participants, including rapper M1, of the revolutionary hip-hop group Dead Prez (who made contact with Palestinian hip-hoppers) holding the red, black, and green liberation flag representing Africans in the U.S. The flag was taken on this important mission.
The slides showed the triumphant entry into Gaza where McKinney (after three tries), Barron, and British MP George Galloway got on their knees and kissed the ground.
There were many photos of the devastation Israel created last December and January. There was the American school, built with U.S. money and then destroyed with bombs that the U.S. paid for. The U.S. taxpayers send $6.8 million to Israel everyday. Homes, schools, factories, and government buildings were all turned to rubble. People without homes are living in little tents or within the rubble.
There were slides of the medicine, purchased in Egypt by a convoy medical team, along with walkers and wheelchairs, being delivered to a hospital. A doctor told them that when the electricity is cut off (from lack of fuel), even for a few seconds, patients die. Participants felt that their being there, breaking the siege, and showing Gaza that it is not alone or forgotten, gave even greater comfort than the medical supplies.
There was a slide of a group of women whose husbands were all in Israeli prisons. There are over 11,000 Palestinians in those prisons, including 700 children.
Charles Barron tried to converse with children in Gaza and found it very difficult. Israeli brutality has robbed them of their childhood. They have to be “little warriors”. A video was shown of two little girls that had lost their entire family. They kept asking”Why are the Israelis doing this?” “I lost my family and I could do nothing”. This tiny person felt that she should have been able to prevent it! “We will never forget. We will never forgive”.
Councilman Barron said that it was a life altering trip for all involved. He ended with “Long live the people of Gaza”.
Convoy members then came to the front of the room and briefly commented on why they went. Brandon King from the New Malcolm X Grass Roots Movement said he saw a connection between the people in Gaza and those in New Orleans who lost their homes and couldn’t go back because homes for lower income people are not being rebuilt. It’s the same enemy, he said. Ralph Lefler, from the International Action Center, said that the cruelty of the zionists made it clear that they wanted to destroy the people there. Sharon Eolis, also from the IAC, believes that it was important that there be non-zionist Jews on the convoy. They saw the cruelty and racist epithets written on buildings by the IDF. She added that the blockade is killing the people of Gaza – food, medicine, and fuel are all very scarce. Bill Doar, from Al-Awda, a long time activist for Palestine, had been there before. He said that Gaza was the largest prison on earth and that children were dying there. Ayman El-Sayed from Existence is Resistance said that the attack on Gaza was clearly an attack on the people, not Hamas. He made rapper contacts there. Soozy Duncan, a journalist from The Indypendent, pointed out that of the 1.5 million people living in Gaza half are children. Nancy Masour was able to visit family while there. She said that breaking the siege was a vast accomplishment against colonialism. Taking back what is stolen from you, she added, is a fundamental human right. The next convoy will be from Venezuela in October.
Although participants were very enthusiastic, brave, tenacious, and committed it was clear that this was not an easy trip. There was much frustration, waiting, tension, and discomfort. All two hundred members deserve our praise, admiration, affection, and appreciation. Their spirit of humanity and their internationalist understanding is overwhelming. It is reminiscent of the response to the Spanish Civil War in 1936.
Charles Barron is going to take the presentation anywhere there are people who want to see it – churches, schools, neighborhoods. All the convoy members made the commonality very clear to the audience. What is happening in Palestine is the same as what is happening in Africa, in New Orleans, and to Native Americans. The same struggle – the same fight.
The audience was very moved by what they heard and saw and got the message loud and clear. The evening ended with chants of “Free Palestine!” and “Free Africa!” and a determination to do everything within our collective means to stop the genocidal policies of the zionists against the people of Palestine.
Photos © by Bud Korotzer