Sunday 28 December
10.35am. Aqaba, Jordan
The compound where our convoy members gather during the day, here in Aqaba, is full of activity. In exactly an hour, more than 30 of us will begin a hunger strike in protest at Egypt’s refusal to allow the convoy entry onto its soil.
Everyone else is making banners or giving media interviews. Al Jazeera, Press TV and ABS (Arab Broadcast Services) have their vans permanently parked up in the compound. The hunger strikers and banner holders will take up their positions outside the Egyptian Consulate in Aqaba in the next 45 minutes. Fifteen of us will hold up specially printed posters, each poster bearing the name of one of the 15 doctors or paramedics killed during Operation Cast Lead.
We’ve been in Aqaba since Thursday evening, when we arrived from Amman. Here, we were given the news that Egypt would deny us entry if we sailed from Jordan. All the aid we’re carrying — specialised medical equipment, wheelchairs, Braille machines, medicines, blankets, powdered baby milk — is sitting in our vehicles in a port car pound, going nowhere. There’s a danger the medicines will start to spoil in vehicles over-heated by the Middle Eastern sun, and negotiations are underway to move them somewhere cooler.
Our mood is determined and strong. We will get this aid into Gaza.
Early this morning, a small band of convoy members scaled the peak of one of the many mountains that overlook our compound and raised the Viva Palestina flag. Viva Viva Palestina!
In stark contrast to the intransigence of the Egyptian government, and the inhumanity of the Israeli government, is the incredible kindness we’ve received from ordinary people here in Aqaba. We want for nothing. The Jordan Professional Association, a trade union organisation, allows us to use its compound and facilities, and provides us with three meals a day. Hotel owners are allowing us to stay in their rooms without charge, and also providing meals. The owners of internet cafes are allowing free use of their computers. Meanwhile, Palestinian Jordanians come to the compound every day to donate money, to ask if they can join the convoy, and to offer their homes for us to stay in.
Across the sparkling blue water of the Straits of Aqaba is occupied Palestine. During the day, the beautiful, hazy mountains seem close enough to touch; at night, the lights in such seeming proximity that it makes your heart ache. If this is how we feel at being able to see, but not help, Palestine, how much sharper must be the pain for Palestinians in Aqaba who look out every day at the land they were cleansed from, how much deeper the pain of exile.
A press photocall in the compound, as we all held our banners and posters, and then, at 11.35am, a three minute silence for the victims of Israel’s 2008/9 massacre in Gaza. We then attempted to march to the Egyptian Consulate, but were stopped on a main road by the police, so we held our demonstration there, as cars sped past, hooting their horns in support. A two hour demo, and now we’re back in the compound waiting on news from Egypt. Apparently, Cairo said it would contact us today. This evening, a vigil with 1,400 candles is planned.
Please help us get the aid into Gaza. Contact the Egyptian embassy in your country, contact your MP, contact the foreign secretary, David Miliband, and ask your friends and contacts to do the same. Take a look at Reading PSC’s excellent website for contact numbers and email addresses: <www.readingpsc.org.uk/convoy>.