A humanitarian aid convoy has arrived in Gaza nearly a month after it embarked from Britain. Members of the Viva Palestina convoy began passing through Egypt’s Rafah border crossing into Gaza on Wednesday. They are expected to spend the next forty-eight hours distributing the aid supplies. We go to Gaza to speak with British MP George Galloway, who led the convoy. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: A humanitarian aid convoy carrying food and medical supplies has arrived in Gaza nearly a month after it embarked from Britain. Members of the Viva Palestina convoy began passing through Egypt’s Rafah border crossing into Gaza on Wednesday. They’re expected to spend the next forty-eight hours distributing the aid supplies.
The convoy was delayed by more than a week following a dispute with the Egyptian government. Hours before the convoy’s entry into Gaza yesterday, an Egyptian soldier was shot dead during a clash with Palestinian protesters who had gathered along the border to protest the delay. At least thirty-five Palestinians were wounded. On Tuesday, Egyptian forces clashed with members of the Viva Palestina convoy, wounding more than fifty.
AMY GOODMAN: Egypt and Israel have been maintaining a strict blockade on Gaza since 2007, allowing only the most basic supplies to get through. Viva Palestina’s arrival in Gaza comes a year after the three-week Israeli assault that killed over 1,300 Palestinians.
British parliamentarian George Galloway led the Viva Palestina convoy. He joins us now on the phone right now from Gaza.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
GEORGE GALLOWAY: Thank you. Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what happened? We hear a number of people in your convoy were beaten up, were hurt, some hospitalized.
GEORGE GALLOWAY: Yes, fifty-five, in fact, were injured, some of them quite severely. Ten of them had to go to hospital. All of them entered Gaza with us, but we have a collection of broken heads and plaster casts and bloodied faces and clothes.
It’s quite a testimony to the role that the government of Egypt is playing in this siege that you have just admirably described. It was entirely unprovoked. It was an attack on unarmed civilian people. And it was very frightening and brutal. And, of course, it was of a piece with the way that the Gaza Freedom Marchers were treated in the center of Cairo in the middle of the tourist season just days before.
JUAN GONZALEZ: What kind of coverage did that attack receive in the Egyptian media? And did it have any impact on the government’s decision to then let the convoy pass?
GEORGE GALLOWAY: Well, the good news is that nobody watches the Egyptian media in Egypt. All of them watch the pan-Arabic stations like Al Jazeera, satellite stations, which have broken the censorship walls of the dictatorships in the Arab world. And so, everybody in Egypt knows what happened in that little port of Al-Arish, and the vast majority of them, I’m sure, completely disapprove of it, indeed denounce it.
The Egyptian people are entirely behind the Palestinians under siege. Unfortunately, they are ill-served by a government that is playing a quite despicable role, actually, just few yards from where I am now. The Egyptians are building what we call the wall of shame, which is being done in conjunction with the United States military, to try and choke off the tunnels, which are the only other means of bringing life into Gaza, in which sheep and chickens and petrol and gas and the other means of staying alive, other than medicine — because if I may correct something you did say in the introduction, you said we were bringing food and medicine, but we were only bringing medicine, because food is actually not allowed to come through the Rafah gate from Egypt into Gaza. Food must pass through the Israeli lines, because, of course, they say they are concerned about the safety of the food. They don’t want to cause any food poisoning in Gaza, you understand.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe the condition of Gaza? It’s been a year since the Israeli assault. You were there last year also trying to bring in aid.
GEORGE GALLOWAY: It’s desperate. If I give you a tiny example only to give you an example, I’m here in quite a nice hotel, except there is no food in the hotel. There’s no food for breakfast, there’s no food for lunch. Now I make that point only to illustrate that if there’s no food in the best hotel in Gaza, imagine what the people are suffering. I’ve watched with my own eyes Palestinian women and girls in the early morning mists on top of garbage heaps, combing through the garbage heaps looking for food. In an Arab Muslim country in 2009 and ’10, it’s a absolutely scandalous situation.
And, Amy, remember why and how it came about. It’s been imposed by men. It’s not a natural disaster. It’s been imposed by men to punish the people of Palestine for voting for a party in a free election that the big powers, including yours and mine and Israel, don’t like. Now, I myself would not have voted for them; I’m not a Hamas supporter. But the only people entitled to choose the leadership of the Palestinians are the Palestinians themselves.
AMY GOODMAN: Have you been meeting — as a British member of Parliament, did you meet with any Egyptian leaders? And is there an explanation of why the Gaza Freedom March was kept out — they allowed in about a hundred people, but many refused under those conditions — and why the Egyptian government is stopping these peace activists from entering Gaza?
GEORGE GALLOWAY: Well, I’m glad to say that at every stage we insisted on all of our convoy entering Gaza, and we refused to leave Al-Arish without our prisoners, six people who were being held prisoner by the Egyptian government’s forces. And we refused to accept the exclusion from Egypt of some of our convoy members, all of whom were initially excluded, but all, in the end, were let in and are with me in Gaza. So, in terms of solidarity, I’m proud of what we have achieved.
No, there’s no explanation from the Egyptian regime at all. How could there be, in a way? How do you explain to anyone that Egypt, once the heart of the Arab world, is now playing a part in building an iron wall of shame around a suffering people who are being effectively starved, they hope, into surrender, but if not into surrender, then into death?
JUAN GONZALEZ: And George Galloway, your sense of how the Palestinian leadership is regarding the policies of the United States? Now we’re a year into the Obama administration. He’s, on the one hand, attempted to reach out to the Arab world in a way the Bush administration never did, but in terms of Palestine and the conflict with Israel, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of change.
GEORGE GALLOWAY: Well, I must tell you, Juan, as someone who, myself, on my radio shows and TV shows and so on, campaigned for the election of Barack Obama, tried very hard to persuade people on the left that they were making a kind of utopian mistake in not supporting Obama, there is a tremendous bitter disappointment here in Palestine, and indeed wider than that, at the role that President Obama is currently playing, or rather not playing. His speech in Cairo was a wonderful piece of work. It was mesmerizing. It transfixed the Arab public opinion, that finally, after the Bush years, we had some hope. But in practice, his policy — and one assumes Hillary Clinton is carrying out his policy — is exactly the same as the policy of the Bushites towards the people here. And there’s bitter, bitter disappointment about that.
AMY GOODMAN: George Galloway, we want to thank you very much for being with us, a British MP leading the Viva Palestina aid convoy. Their whole convoy did get into Gaza through Egypt, though through a great deal of conflict, with a number of the delegation beaten up.