An epic journey across eight countries is nearing its end. Gaza is almost within sights of the weary drivers and their navigators. On Day 21, the British convoy leaders decided to by-pass the towns of Benghazi and Bayda in Libya after consulting with Libyan officials to cut the time it would take to get to Gaza. This meant a desert crossing of some 400km – enduring not what many would think to be hot and stifling conditions, but rather the bitter cold of winter winds unbroken by vast expanses of emptiness. Perhaps few thought of what would await them on this journey when they first set out, but certainly, despite the hardships no one is complaining. What the Palestinians in Gaza are suffering is so much more and that is uppermost in everyone’s minds.
Nevertheless, poor and oftentimes non-existent phone signals, no landmarks, breakdowns, sandstorms and security restrictions are just some of the hiccups that have made the epic journey a writer’s dream story – after all, there are some 300 people sharing in the experience and each with their own story to tell. Under normal circumstances, it would be splashed across pages and TV screens in large headlines with a blow-by-blow account of various travellers’ tales. Not so on this voyage. The media is strangely silent, seemingly uninterested even in the historic opening of the border between Morocco and Algeria that has been closed since 1994.
The first time The Guardian decided to cover the convoy’s journey was to paint a negative picture of the successful progress made through eight different countries by reporting gossip picked up from the blogosphere. (1) Undeterred, George Galloway’s office responded to the malicious rumours of graft and corruption by reminding people that the intrepid volunteers who have come thus far "deserve celebration, not denigration by The Guardian."
Everyone knew why they were going. The 100 aid-filled trucks would never be enough to make a difference to a starving population of 1.5 million people (although the few that will benefit is surely better than nothing). No, it was not just about aid, but about sending a message to the world that there are people who care about what happens to the people of Gaza. It was about some 300 volunteers who have been prepared to sacrifice time and the comforts of home for fellow human beings they do not know, hoping that their trek would resonate with the world’s conscience and make a difference to how governments respond to the plight of the Palestinians.
Well all that may have happened if the media was on side, but they are clearly not. And that is not surprising when the media mogul Rupert Murdoch blithely announced yesterday (2) that Israel should be welcomed into the NATO alliance saying "in the end, the Israeli people are fighting the same enemy we are: cold-blooded killers who reject peace, who reject freedom, and who rule by the suicide vest, the car bomb, and the human shield." That is obviously how Mr Murdoch sees the 1.5 million Palestinians who have been left to rot after Israel’s 22-day merciless bombardment of Gaza’s impossibly cramped cities, neighbourhoods and farming lands. No compassion there for the women and children, the sick and the aged, the doctors, teachers, health workers and hundreds of thousands of ordinary people trying to make sense of Israel’s illegal collective punishment.
I wonder how long Mr Murdoch would have survived under the blistering phosphorous rain exploding from Israel’s war planes, or how he would have liked Israel’s conventional bombs dropped down on him with no safe place to which he could run, or how long he would last on Israel’s enforced "diet" on the Gaza population before the griping hunger pangs begin to drive him crazy, or how he would cope without any pills when illness begins to prey on his ageing body and mind because Israel refuses to allow medicines in or patients out. But of course, Israel and Mr Murdoch already have a cosy relationship so he will never have to suffer what Israel is making the Palestinians endure. And the world is not being told because Mr Murdoch’s media empire is colluding in Israel’s crimes by ignoring the human disaster in Gaza that lurches from doom to death without a word of outrage or calling Israel to account. Well may Mr Murdoch sit comfortable in the twilight of his life propped up by his trainer, herbalist and beautician, but their miracles alas for him are finite, and he too will wither and pass the way of all of us when his time comes. The Palestinians though will endure from generation to generation, no matter how many bombs are dropped on them or how silent the world remains. They will outlive Mr Murdoch and Israel’s never-ending parade of corrupt politicians to whom the rest of us are expected to bow and scrape as if we owe them some allegiance for our very existence.
When will we wake up? When will we say "enough?" When will we realise that we are being deluded in the world’s biggest charade of lies and cover ups to preserve an internally decaying Israel? Is the ethnic cleansing of 1.5 million people not enough for breaking news headlines, news alerts, and daily updates? Obviously not yet. Instead, we are sacrificing the Palestinians to rest easy in our beds without the hassle of defending ourselves against the usual diatribes unleashed whenever Israel is criticised? Be assured that these diatribes will not stop with the demise of Palestine. The more we close our eyes and turn our backs, the more we will find ourselves unable to raise a whimper about the bigger targets Israel has in its sight and more people will suffer and die on the flimsy pretext of Israel’s security.
The aid convoy is in Egypt now and the question is will Egypt let them into Gaza? They probably will and then what? If they’re lucky the aid will be distributed, the now battered vehicles will be left for a limited life in Gaza and some 300 people will know what they always knew – that the Palestinians are being cruelly subjected to a life of universal contempt and utter humiliation in the open-air prison Israel has created with the world’s help. They will return home to families and communities and tell them their stories and some of them will be heard far and wide, but no thanks to the media usually so adept at shaping public opinion.
Really, it is up to everyone of us who knows what is happening to spread the word. Tell your family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues, and acquaintances about the amazing 5000km trek from London to Gaza. Tell your local communities, church groups, schools, volunteer organisations, talk-back radio. Write and talk and ask for help: never be afraid to speak up for human rights. One day your own rights may be in jeopardy.
What this convoy has achieved is worth celebrating, just as those first lone boats which sailed into Gaza, deserve our admiration. There are indeed people who are willing to act on what they believe, and if we cannot do it, let us at least give them resounding support and encouragement for trying to make a difference against the might of institutionalised power. The ripple effect has a way of creating a tsunami and that is what Israel fears most. Do not believe for a moment that things cannot change for the Palestinians: they said the same thing about the African slaves in America, apartheid in South Africa, child labour in the factories in England and the coal mines in Wales, the emancipation of women, indentured servitude in the colonies, the demand for an 8-hour day, the oppression that stirred resistance and revolutions, and the list goes on. None of these things would have changed or come about if people had remained silent and inactive. The Palestinians though need our help because they are in prison. They are not the "cold-blooded killers" that Mr Murdoch propagates through his media outlets, just people like you and me, yet all the more extraordinary because they will not be intimidated into oblivion. And, it would serve us well to remember that none of us would be either, if faced with same cold, stark reality.
(2) "Murdoch backs Israel’s NATO bid" by Carly Crawford, THE HERALD SUN, 6 March 2009
Sonja Karkar is the founder of Women for Palestine and co-founder and co-convener of Australians for Palestine. She has written numerous articles for newspapers, magazines and on-line journals in support of Palestine. She can be reached through her email firstname.lastname@example.org