Saturday 14 March 2009

We salute George Galloway: the Hero of Palestinian Cause

George Galloway was given a triumphant welcome today as he led an aid convoy into the impoverished Gaza Strip after a month-long journey across Europe and North Africa to the Hamas-ruled enclave.

Having been made to wait for a day at the southern Rafah border crossing by Egyptian authorities, the staunchly pro-Palestinian Respect MP for Bethnal Green was finally allowed into the blockaded territory, where he was handed flowers and kissed by Palestinian well-wishers.

Mr Galloway and his companions fell to their knees and bowed to the ground as they walked in.

“I have entered Palestine many times but the most emotional of these is after the 22-day genocidal aggression against the Palestinian people,” he said, referring to Israel’s offensive to end Palestinian rocket fire and smash Hamas.

The Scottish politician had been stuck on the border at Rafah as he haggled with Egyptian authorities who had refused to allow entry to ambulances, a fire engine and food aid he was bringing in with his Lifeline to Gaza convoy.

Egypt has signed an agreement with Israel to keep tight controls on the border, and in any case is no friend of Hamas, which is linked to its own Muslim Brotherhood opposition, or of Mr Galloway, who has publicly called for the army to overthrow Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s authoritarian president.

One of the convoy organisers said the £1 million aid shipment had been stoned and vandalised at the Egyptian town of Al Arish, close to the Gaza border, and several of its members injured. “It’s an absolute disgrace,” Yvonne Ridley said. “The power was cut. During cover of darkness members of our convoy were attacked with stones. Vandals also wrote dirty words and anti-Hamas slogans.”

Gaza is in desperate need of aid, and despite pledges of billions of dollars in aid made by the international community at a donors’ conference last week, only the bare minimum of survival rations are being allowed in by Israel and Egypt.

In the Gaza suburb of Hay al-Salaam, one of the worst hit areas in the Israeli offensive, some families are living in ragged shacks on the rooftops of their crumpled apartment blocks, looking out over a wasteland of tents where their relatives and neighbours now live in absolute poverty.

As a gesture of appreciation, George Galloway has received a Palestinian passport from a Hamas leader in Gaza. The passport was given in "deep appreciation" for his support for the Palestinians and their cause. The aid convoy was organised by the Viva Palestina group and supported by Mr Galloway. He personally donated £25,000 and a fleet of vehicles. The group visited sites which had been hit during the three-week offensive.

The aid convoy travelled 5,000 miles and brought aid worth more than £1.5m including medical supplies, clothes, food and toys as well as 20 ambulances, two buses, a fire engine and a fishing boat. interviewed Galloway, the main organizer who personally donated three cars and 35,000 dollars, a few hours before leaving the Palestinian territory.

Mr George Galloway can you tell us what's the real reason for your visit?

Thank you very much. My visit has more than one reason. The first one is to walk a step toward lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip.

The second is to tell the whole free world that they can do anything real to you.

The third and the main one is to stand beside the legal Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniya. The entire world knows that he was elected, apparently, democratically. I have offered him corporeal and financial support.

I know that what we have offered is not enough, but it is highly symbolic.

What kind of difficulties have you faced since you started to prepare for this trip until now?

A lot of difficulties have encountered us from the beginning of our journey until now.

But the most difficult stage was our entrance and exit from and to Egypt. There were a lot of restrictions on the members of the journey as well as on the people sympathizers with Gaza [who] burst to greet us in the streets. Our cars were vandalized in Al-Arish city with insults, but we removed them before entering the Strip.

Then, there were difficult procedure at the Rafah crossing regarding the journey members and the equipment we had.

Some donors decided to take their donations back when the Egyptians refused to let them in through the Rafah crossing.

Why did they refuse to allow their donations through the Egyptian Israeli crossing?

Donors don’t trust them. If they stole the whole country, what do you think about some equipment?

Where did you get the money and other donations?

We got them from the free people, collected them from mosques and churches and from our own properties.

How do you evaluate the size of Arab sympathy through your way to Gaza?

It was very good. The Arabs sympathize very much with the Palestinians and their cause, but there is a problem with the official regimes.

Mr Galloway most of the pro-Gaza activists are British, what is the reason for this?

Each one in the world has a duty towards Palestine. British have the biggest. [British Foreign Secretary Arthur James] Belfour has given the Palestinian land which he didn’t own to the people who doesn’t deserve. Not all the British are Belfour.

We don’t see much coverage of your journey on the BBC and many other British media. Why do you think this is?

In a meeting with the BBC before leaving the UK, they were astonished that a British parliamentarian gives money to Ismail Haniya despite that the British government considers him illegal.

I say that this siege is imposed against democracy and nothing illegal here in Gaza. The criminals are those who impose the siege on the Strip. Haniya is the PM of all the free people, not only in Gaza, but also all over the world. We accept him as a PM for the free people.

We salute you sir for the courage and determination.

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