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February 16, 2009

To Gaza : From Dream to Reality

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by Yvonne Ridley

FIVE weeks ago Viva Palestina was a pipe dream and now it is a reality as more than 100 vehicles and 300 volunteers snake their way through France heading for Gaza.

Last night the show-stopping convoy rolled off a freight ferry in Ostend to embark on a historic mission of mercy to help the Palestinian people.

I spent the ferry crossing getting to know my fellow passengers and discovered they come from all walks of life from students to pensioners, estate agents to accountants, engineers, mechanics, housewives and doctors.

This morning I expect many of us are bleary eyed as the convoy heads for Bordeaux – I know I am, after a sleepless night trying to find a comfortable position to sleep in a car seat.
My eyes feel like sandpaper every time I blink.

You see this 5000 mile trip from London to Gaza isn’t a jolly or five star vacation for any of us, although some are more organised than others with regards to finding a comfortable nook or cranny in which to sleep.

Press TV is very much part of the convoy and the only TV station to be there from start to finish. Regular reports will be filed from our SNG vehicle along the route, and there’s already been some dramas and hitches.

A group who were carrying aid from communities in Blackburn were stopped by police shortly after they set off from their homes in the North of England but despite hysterical headlines in the tabloid media most have now been released and we’re told there are efforts by Manchester police to reunite the group with the convoy.

The news was relayed on board the freight ferry bound for Ostend last night by one of the organisers Kevin Ovenden amid great cheers by those who had set off from Hyde Park in London after a rousing reception. Sporting a green Viva Palestina t-shirt he gave the opening introduction before the assembled travellers.

There were more cheers in store when we learned our convoy of 100 plus vehicles would double in size by the time we reach Libya next week – news has just come through that 100 large lorries are waiting to follow us into Egypt carrying even more aid.

Meanwhile, back in the UK charities like Islamic Help and the Al Khair Foundation are continuing with TV appeals and fund raisers to swell the coffers of Viva Palestina which will buy even more aid in Egypt before entering war-torn Gaza.

The convoy carrying in excess of £1m aid is already a record-breaker and will be the largest British land convoy to cross North Africa since the Second World War. Led by a bright red fire engine, the convoy has more than a dozen ambulances, countless vans and trucks plus a whacking great big generator brought along by the Bolton Massive (my nickname for the men from the Lancashire town). The generator will have enough power to supply a small hospital or school, so I’m told.
When you consider Viva Palestina was nothing more than a pipe dream five weeks ago, the achievement of pulling together the convoy has been nothing short of staggering.

The brainchild and initiative of Britain’s best known politician RESPECT MP George Galloway, Viva Palestina has already motored its way into the record books and it is set to get even bigger. Not a man usually lost for words, the Bethnal Green and Bow MP looked overcome with emotion as he greeted and then waved off every single vehicle.

Much of the last few weeks have been spent travelling the length and breadth of Britain appealing for funds, support and volunteers by Galloway.

From the tears and anger of communities outraged by the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza, thousands rallied to his call for aid and help in whatever way they could, and the efforts were open for the world to see on Saturday in central London.

Well George, I also counted the vehicles out of Hyde Park and counted them all in again at Ostend. But from my pit stop on France’s Autoroute A10, I must sign off now and try and catch up with my fellow travellers. They shouldn’t be too difficult to spot, that’s for sure.

* Yvonne Ridley will be giving regular updates from the convoy for the duration of the trip. Her website is

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