Friday, 22 October 2010

Kia Ora Gaza: The Big Day – entry into Gaza!

From Kia Ora Gaza

Day 34: 21 October 2010

Talal of Kuwait waits at Al-Arish wharf for the "go" signal to Gaza
  • Times: All times given are those of Egypt and Gaza. Their clock is 11 hours behind New Zealand time.
  • Messages: The contents of this bulletin are real time texts from our Kiwi volunteers on their way to Gaza. Texts have been edited for readability.
  • Writers: Roger Fowler and Chris van Ryn.
The boys from Canada about to set out from Al-Arish wharf to Gaza

12.25pm: Chris
Arrived at Al-Arish wharf compound. Very heavy security. Armed guards are everywhere, looking ominous. All running smoothly so far.

12.53pm: Roger
Met up with Hone off the ship. Got passports back. Preparing vehicles to move off wharf soon under watchful eyes of over 50 armed riot police. 

1.12pm: Roger
Vehicles are flying Palestinian flags and the flags of the 30 countries which have sent volunteers. Jubilation. This is it. We’re off. The first Kiwis out the wharf gate are Chris and Hone.

1.14pm: Chris
I’ve left the compound. We’re lining up on the roadside, waiting for others. About every 10 convoy van there’s an armed police vehicle.

1.56pm:  Roger
Pat and Julie’s van is out the gate. I’m right behind. We’re pulling up to wait for others so we go as one long convoy. There’s no room for Mousa in my van, so he’s going in a UK vehicle. The sun is scorching.

2.04pm:  Roger
We’re moving off in single file. Gaza, here we come!

A crew from Italy show their excitement as they get ready for the short drive from Al-Arish to Gaza

3.06pm:  Roger
We’ve got an armed military and police escort in Nissan utes. 10 kilometres to go to Rafah Gate.

3.34pm:  Chris
Convoyers are entering customs at Rafah Gate.

3.39pm:  Roger
A “farewell, come back soon” sign is over the entrance to Gaza. Armed personnel vehicles are parked on the roadside and in nearby barren fields. There’s lots of barbed wire. Two long queues are waiting to go through the gate.

3.48pm:  Roger
More truck loads of riot police are at the ready, carrying automatic shotguns, although there’s no tension. Some police wave to convoyers. TV crews are arriving.

The convoy queues up at Rafah Gate, the only land entrance into Gaza not controlled by the Israeli military

3.54pm:  Chris
We’re through the gate! We’re in Gaza! Our heartfelt thanks to all our supporters back home in Aotearoa! Without you all we would not be here.

3.58pm:  Roger
Red Cresent youths arrive and pose for photos alongside convoy vehicles. A relaxed atmosphere.

4pm:  Chris
We’ve parked our vehicles just past the border, and are being guided to seats for a media rally.

4.23pm:  Chris
There’s a festival mood. Everyone is hugging each other, and there’s lots of joyful tears.

Convoyers mix with Gazans just over the border from Egypt

4.38pm:  Chris
Viva Palestina director Kevin Ovenden is giving a speech. We come from 30 different countries with $7 million worth of aid, he says. It’s the biggest convoy so far. In a first for any land convoy, we have entered Gaza in broad daylight. Politically the siege of Gaza is breaking down, but it’s not yet broken. If the wall of the prison is breaking, we must all push it down, Kevin declares. “I promise you that we will come back again and again and again, until all Palestinians can go home in peace and dignity.” He thanks the people of France, Turkey, Syria and across the Arab world who helped the convoy. Palestine is now an international issue. 

Huge bursts of applause from the large crowd punctuates Kevin’s speech. About 15 TV crews are filming the event.

Flags from many countries fly inside Gaza, showing the broad international support for a free Palestine

5.24pm:  Chris
I’ve just met a young man whose pregnant sister died in 2007 because she couldn’t get medical attention for ten days.We’re soon heading off to Gaza City where I’ve been told crowds are waiting for us.

5.32pm:  Chris
This is the moment I’ve been waiting for, to shake hands with people on the streets of Gaza. But I’m still on hold until we hand over our aid. Then I can relax and say, “Job done!”

5.35pm:  Chris
It’s evening and the light is dimming. There’s flashing lights and sirens all around me as we move off to Gaza City. What a sight. What a noise.

5.47pm:  Chris
As we head to the city, Hone is sitting on top of the ambulance roof. He’s waving a Palestinian flag. Emotions are running high. One convoyer was in tears, and has now swapped her driving role and is resting in her vehicle. It’s all a bit much.

Inside Gaza: the emotion of the moment

6.19pm:  Chris
As we head slowly to Gaza City, the wall is around me. In front of the wall is a fence. It feels like I’m going into prison. It’s a shock. The bastards!

7.03pm:  Chris
Thousands of people cram the streets of Gaza City. They are ecstatic. “Welcome! Welcome!” they shout. Kids are pushing forward onto the road. I have to drive carefully to avoid hitting anyone in the crush. People on motorbikes are yelling, “Thank you! Thank you for coming to Gaza!” Everyone wants to touch me.

Now the crowd is chanting and clapping. They’re in a frenzy. We’re driving at a crawling pace. There’s too many people to go any faster. I must be careful, have to stop txting for a while.

8.46pm:  Chris
We’re driving through a narrow corridor of cheering people. They often jump in front of us. Some kids are banging drums. Soldiers are everywhere, we’re very well protected. I just saw a bombed out building.

The convoy heads into Gaza City

10.33pm:  Roger
I’ve just done an interview with Radio New Zealand. It’s been crazy here. We were mobbed all the way in Gaza City. Now going to our hotel by bus.

10.56:  Chris
We’re holed up for the night in a hotel. It’s pretty horrible, but a bed at least. Saw more bombed out buildings. I did a long interview, about 15 minutes, with Kim at Morning Report.

11.27:  Chris
Have just done an interview with Keith Slater of TV3.

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