After trekking across two continents, seven countries and more than 10,000 kilometers (6,214 miles) a British convoy loaded with aid destined for Gaza reached Egypt’s Rafah border Monday following extensive border negotiations with Israel.
109 Viva Palestina trucks laden with medical aid and escorted by 500 people, headed by British MP George Galloway, crossed the Rafah border into Gaza in the final leg of a 24-day journey to reach thousands of destitute and displaced Palestinians in war-torn Gaza, just in time for Prophet Mohammed’s birthday.
“This is a story of epic proportions, one that speaks of human resolve and sacrifice,” Javid Ali, a 27-year-old electrician and convoy member told AlArabiya.net. “I am proud to be part of this humanitarian convoy and I look forward to meeting my brothers and sisters in Gaza,’ he said, adding that he wishes to enter every home in Gaza that has bore the brunt of Israel’s assault.
Muhammed Shousha, governor of Sinai, announced Monday morning the convoy’s entry through Rafah.
“The international convoy Viva Palestina is safely crossing into Gaza according to border regulations of 2005,” he said, adding that Egyptian security forces were ensuring the safety of convoy members.
Palestinian families will host convoy members as best as they can, given the post-war circumstances. “We are waiting for them and rejoice in their coming,” Adel Sakran, a 35-year old mechanic from Gaza, told AlArabiya.net.
This is a story of epic proportions, one that speaks of human resolve and sacrifice
Lengthy border negotiations between Viva Palestina and Egyptian authorities consumed days leading up to Monday’s border crossing. Initially planned for Sunday, passage to Gaza was delayed till the following day to allow the convoy to adjust to border regulations that determine what goes through the Rafah border.
An agreement was reached late Sunday afternoon between the Egyptian authorities and Galloway that medical aid and all 500 convoy members were to go through Rafah, while non-medical aid such as food, toys, and clothes would be emptied from Viva Palestina trucks and repackaged by the Red Crescent to enter Gaza from the Awja border, which Israeli security controls.
Israel requires specific packaging of non-medical supplies so the trucks had to be emptied in Arish and the supplies repackaged in 120 cm. wide wooden boxes and wrapped, Ahmed Orabi, Head of the Red Crescent office in Sinai, told AlArabiya.net. Israeli security officials then scan them on the Israeli side of the Awja border before taking the boxes to Karam Abu Salem border to be delivered to Gaza.
Everything Viva Palestina brought with it crossed into Gaza, but from two different borders according to the 2005 border regulations
"It is a lengthy process but it takes place because of two things: There is no man labor in Awja, so forklifts have to do deliver the aid in boxes mechanically across the border,” explained Orabi. “And there is the tedious border regulations to be followed to ensure that no scuffles or troubles ensue after aid crosses into Gaza."
At first, convoy members demanded that they enter together from Rafah to avoid dealing with the Israeli side. They also expressed their dismay over dividing aid across two different borders.
“We hoped that all the aid would go through Rafah with all of us,” Ali said, adding that all convoy members were upset at the obstacles put up by the Egyptian side after such a long journey.
But Egypt coordinates items passing through its borders with Israel and the Palestinian Authority so negotiations were required, Muhammed Shousha, governor of Sinai, told AlArabiya.net.
“The Egyptian authorities must coordinate with Palestinian Authorities and Israel regarding what passes through the borders. Everything Viva Palestina brought with it crossed into Gaza, but from two different borders according to the 2005 border regulations,” Shousha explained.
An anonymous security source in Rafah told AlArabiya.net that despite the delays, Egyptian forces have made exceptions for the convoy in efforts to ensure its success.
“Convoy members are frustrated because of the delay, but everyone must realize that if aid materials from the convoy do not cross according to regulations, this would cause further concerns for the convoy once it crosses into Gaza,” he said.
The security official added that despite the Rafah border-crossing is designated for medical supplies only, border officials allowed the convoy to bring in a red fire engine, a Bolton generator and a boat.
“Technically speaking, Egyptian authorities have their hands tied. On the one hand they want to let the convoy go through, but on the other, they cannot open the border for everything and cause security repercussions,” he added.
The convoy members were overjoyed at their long-awaited arrival, especially since it fell on such an important Muslim holiday.
“We negotiated and succeeded finally and now we are taking these useful items to the people of Gaza,” a convoy member yelled out loud from atop a vehicle as it rolled into Gaza.
Technically speaking, Egyptian authorities have their hands tied. On the one hand they want to let the convoy go through, but on the other, they cannot open the border for everything
As to what they will do after the leave Gaza, Ali said the convoy’s mission does not end after they leave Gaza.
“Delivering the aid ends after we cross Rafah border back to Egypt. But once we reach Britain, another mission begins, and that is bringing the voice of Gaza to the world” he said.
Viva Palestina is not just about providing humanitarian aid to Gaza, said Ali. The convoy is also a mission that aims to broadcast to the world the real situation on the ground in Gaza, something which western media outlets fail to cover succinctly.
“The media does not tell the story of Gaza in full. The BBC itself refused to give coverage to Viva Palestina,” he explained.
“This convoy will bring the reality on the ground in Gaza to the people of Britain. It will deliver a message to humanity about the suffering these people have gone through and still go through.”