- Palestinian flag made by an Italian activist’s mother. It is being brought to Gaza
WRITTEN BY MARY RIZZO, PHOTOGRAPHS BY DANIELA FILIPPIN
Yesterday, the Viva Palestina 5 convoy arrived in Ancona to end the first leg of their land journey, and sail closer to the final destination. We all think the destination is Gaza, Palestine, but actually, it’s freedom for all of us. Nobody among us is really free if we allow the atrocities against the Palestinian people to continue, and breaking the siege, while not in our power, is just one of the most urgent things that needs to be done. Until that moment arrives, bringing aid to Gaza is a human duty. Those words are not in any way rhetorical. If Palestine is suffering such injustice in our day and age, we are all doomed. Yesterday, passing through our part of Italy was a convoy that will grow in size and strength, hopefully it will achieve its goal without a single hitch. If good intentions determined it, they would sail directly through and into Palestine. I’d like to share just a few of the many impressions I had as a witness to their passage.
ISM Italia spokesman with the organisers in front of RAI, (Italian Radio Television)
I personally have been wary of land trips, since so many borders must be crossed, and there can be so many mishaps. It seems to be an organisational nightmare for documents and things can change in continuation. Yet, I must admit that while I can have my personal reservations about practical / organisational things, I do not deny that there is a power and a beauty in a trip that is a journey passing through places with different cultures, languages and landscapes and it meets with new people along the way. It will bring not only aid, because even if the convoy reaches a million vehicles, it will still only be a drop in the bucket of the needs of Palestine, but it does have a very special side effect: it brings awareness to the public and this can help reach the real goal, ending the siege once and for all as a first step towards the total liberation of Palestine.
I arrived in Ancona in the morning on the train with Daniela, who spent the night at my flat, as she left at 4 in the afternoon from Rome, and my town is about an hour south of Ancona. We got to a town with a gorgeous port, one of the major commercial and passenger ports in Europe, and met up with the local activists who had organised a fantastic welcome. Particularly active was Francesca (Rough Moleskin in Facebook names), who managed to organise an event divided into two specific segments. They obtained permission to hold a press conference at the centre of Ancona, at the foot of the RAI (Italy’s BBC). This was genial, because not only did all the passers by in that very busy area stop to see what was going on, but the presence obtained the maximum attention also by the RAI, which later broadcast a five minute service on it in the evening news from the region of Le Marche, where Ancona is located!
Stefano from Offida, about to go on his third mission to Palestine. His brother in the background.
There were around 80 – 100 persons gathered in this central place (and on a workday morning, this itself says a lot. Were it a Saturday afternoon, I have no doubt there would have been five times as many) to listen to the speeches by the coordinator of ISM Italia as well as brief explanations by the activist groups of the huge boxes right there, and what was contained in them. These activists had collected locally over 5000 Euros of aid, including boxes and boxes of medicines that they had specifically bought from a list of aid that the doctors in Gaza had requested. Not only that, they had gotten an ambulance and two medical vehicles to donate. They named the many contributors and there were a few TV stations, local and national, to interview them and the Italians from our region who were joining the convoy. There were banners that were quite beautiful and original and… a flag measuring SEVEN METRES! One of the activists had asked his mum to prepare a flag, and she created a real work of art!
After the press conference / rally, we had learned the convoy was beginning to arrive, and we moved down towards the port to greet them. There were many who had to return to their offices or appointments, but still others joined us down at the port, men, women and children.
Welcome Viva Palestina! Banner by the Pro-Palestinian groups of the Ancona area.
The groups carrying the banners lead the march towards the vehicles arriving into a large car park, and the rest of us followed, a bit shyly at first, because the groups that arrived needed for a few moments to join each other in prayer and to check that their particular assigned groups were all safely arrived. In the meantime, the flag was attached to the gate and I am sure it could be seen from quite a distance in Ancona!
Members of the convoy and a local man gather in prayer.
Once the moment of reunion of the members of the convoy was finished, our group came to meet and welcome them. I don’t know if they expected a reception, I can only say that we intended upon giving to them our support, to show our thanks and solidarity, but in return we received a welcome from almost every vehicle in the convoy and were greeted with such friendship and warmth.
In the red shirt, an Anconitan from Belbak meets with the London and Ireland activists
It was really an astounding thing to personally see the composition of the convoy, because for the first time I realised how truly international it was. There were people from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Canada, the USA, as well as from closer places around Europe. There were many who were born in Pakistan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan. There were French, Brits, Irish, Swedes…. It was simply inspiring to see them all there, all united in the common goal, all doing something important for love of justice. All taking time from their lives and loved ones to do this.
Part of the convoy with the Italians.
Then, when the ice was broken, an impromptu rally began, a bit for ourselves, a bit to document what the purpose was and a bit to connect all of us in the same emotion. It was great, all the Italians gathered behind the banners, arm in arm with the people of the convoy, and as one we raised our voices and declared out intent with a shout-out and chanting, calling for the freedom of Gaza and the liberation of Palestine. The chants were lead by the unforgettable Irish group.
Two of the amazing members of the convoy. Spirits were high!
After that, souvenirs were exchanged, t-shirts, posters, postcards, booklets, badges, and all the Italians began to individually meet with the folks from the convoy. It was really a moment to treasure forever. We gave them posters of the rally, and they asked us to translate them. They told us about themselves, their own personal histories, their interests, their backgrounds, their political ideas, and they wanted to know many things about us. There was warmth in almost everyone that was really strong, so much laughter, so many charming and interesting people. There was so much movement between everyone, it seemed more like a festival than the sober pre-boarding preparations that the car park must be used to.
Press TV’s reporter, the steadiest camera in the world!
It’s such a regret that we only had a little less than two hours to spend with them, because (and I am sure I speak for all the Italians) we would have liked to have met every single person, to have gotten to know everyone and spoken with those we met even longer, but it’s not possible. But those we did get to talk with were so lovely, so genuine and kind. Great sense of humour, optimism, intelligence. Just an extraordinary group of people! I have learned a lot from their conversations, and I will remember some of them forever. Almost all of them said that if we were willing to join the convoy, we would be welcome along. How wonderful that would have been, an experience that would have changed our lives completely and brought us to the land we love above all others and with people who we were bonding with almost as if we’d known them for so many years (sharing a struggle tends to do this at times)… but, children, husbands, dogs… they don’t take this kind of news without a bit of warning!
Mary and Daniela on the bus with Carole and Awad.
At a certain point, the gigantic flag that was donated became a board for everyone to leave their message of love to take to Gaza. Felt-tipped pens were passed round, and this too felt like a very intense moment as hundreds were gathered around the flag. Then the news was given that all had to return to their vehicles, as the boarding procedure was about to commence, and the convoy would have to go the 1 Km distance to the ferry, and this meant that all of us would part ways until the next time to meet. In the meantime, I had been talking with someone so adorable, Carole Swords, who I knew from Facebook. I can understand why she is considered a sort of magnet, because she literally exudes warmth and kindness. At a certain point, before I recognised who she was (well, I didn’t recognise her, actually, because not expecting to see someone, your mind refuses to recognise them), I was so moved by her emotions. You could see she herself was feeling those same powerful feelings of joy and hope that are so rare in this world we live in, especially in the cause we are dedicated to. She just is the sort of person you want to embrace, and we did. You keep talking, but you know the words don’t communicate the feelings you have. And, I don’t know… she says she’s English, but I presume there is a lot of Italian in her, she is exuberant in showing her emotions and very earthy.
Hugh, graphic artist turned convoy driver! Waiting to board.
And you begin to feel a new emotion, a bit of fear for them, because now they aren’t just the courageous folks who are going into the unknown to bring aid to those who need them, they are your friends going into the unknown, in a hostile place where they may be received as the enemy before they arrive finally at their destination. You worry for them, and you ask yourself how their families must feel. (And yes, I asked the Italians boarding how their mothers were feeling, and it’s understandable that they were frightened for their sons, who at the same time told me how they turned down the volume of the TV if the scene from Palestine didn’t look too positive).
The incredible KIWIS getting on the ferry!
Since the flag was being folded, and Carole noticed that Daniela and I hadn’t been able to sign, she invited us to board the bus driven by Hugh and with Awad and Hasan, and go to the ferry with them. Not thinking twice, we boarded, and for 15 minutes shared conversation and very much laughter, they gave us even more souvenirs, and we tried to keep Hasan from losing his balance as he was filming the boarding for Press TV through the open door of a moving vehicle, and then taking pictures of all of us for our own mementos. It was a bit like accompanying your friends to their holiday, that was the spirit, full of energy and happiness. At a certain point, Carole noticed we were dreadfully close to the ferry and if Daniela and I didn’t step off, in a few minutes we’d be attempting to sneak our way out of the massive vessel or find ourselves clandestine cargo on its way to Greece! So we hugged our friends, hopped off and then saluted each vehicle as it passed, stopping to chat any time they stopped for a few minutes. We learned that the “Kiwis” raised 60 thousand Euros, an astounding amount of money in a place where there are more sheep than people! The smiles and laughter of the Malaysian van didn’t betray the few hours of sleep that they had been able to catch, the Italians were all smiles and promises to tell us everything when they returned, and so on and so on. And until disappearing into the belly of the ferry, the victory sign was visible from every vehicle, the flags of Palestine and their own countries flapping their goodbyes to us.
The ambulance the Irish from Belfast are donating, loaded with supplies and Irish love of freedom.
It was really a special emotion to see them board safely, after so much road already passed, and so much more ahead. I can’t begin to imagine how they were feeling, honestly, because there was determination and optimism in the air, and boarding a ship is always something special.
We left the area, (the Greek members of the Ferry asking us many questions about what all of that was, when we’d be coming back, as if “we” were “them”). I tried to explain what the convoy was doing, but knew that the crew would be more interested in hearing it from the members of the convoy, so I gave them a few copies of the postcards that Hugh had printed, with versions in French and Italian so that wherever they went, they would leave behind awareness. Upon exiting, the three Italian State Police refused a copy, but I imagine they will ask the Port Authority Guard who took one what it said.
The Italian ambulance with health volunteers on board.
Daniela and I joined our other friends and returned back to the centre, to an outdoor café overlooking the port. Suddenly, Francesca said, “they are leaving right now”. And we could see dozens on the top of the deck Palestinian flags proudly flying against the sky, the outspread arms of some saluting the shores of Italy, and from a far distance, we shouted goodbye and sent our kisses to them and to Palestine.
The ferry leaving Italy.
Daniela and Francesca, glowing in the joy of a perfect day.