Viva Palestina: Making History
History was made last night - and, sadly, much of the Western media was either oblivious or under pressure to turn a blind eye.
Algérie Presse Service has reported that the Viva Palestina convoy - a remarkable mile-long column of over 100 vehicles driven by ordinary members of the British public and carrying more than £1m worth of humanitarian aid raised in just four weeks from London to Gaza - successfully crossed the border between Morocco and Algeria last night.
The Moroccan and Algerian governments had agreed, in a magnificent gesture of solidarity with the Palestinian people, to set aside their differences to open their land border for the first time since 1994 in order to allow the Viva Palestina convoy to pass through on its way to Gaza.
The Morocco-Algeria border was first closed following the Western Sahara War in the 1970s and remained closed into the 1980s. It was then closed again by Algeria in 1994 in response to Moroccan accusations that Algerian secret services had been involved in a hotel shooting in Marrakech, consequent new visa requirements for Algerians and the expulsion of thousands of Algerian tourists.
Since then, Algeria has repeatedly ignored calls from Morocco, the EU and US politicians such as Condoleezza Rice to re-open the border, stating that it will remain closed until the Western Sahara conflict, among other issues, has been resolved.
Against this background, the opening of the border to the Viva Palestina aid convoy should be making news around the world. In essence, 'Palestine opens doors'. Doors previously firmly closed.
Instead, it has been totally ignored by the Western media, part of what appears to be a conspiracy to ensure that a British humanitarian aid convoy privately organised in the face of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's decision to send the Royal Navy to reinforce the blockade of Gaza and the BBC's refusal to screen the Disasters Emergency Gaza Crisis Appeal is granted nothing other than negative publicity.
Even before the aid convoy had set off from London, nine innocent men travelling to join it had been arrested on counter-terrorism charges in a very high-profile police operation seemingly deliberately timed to coincide with the convoy's departure. Viva Palestina reported a 80% drop in donations following the broadcast on the BBC of the arrests and police allegations. Since then, all nine men have been released without charge, information that has barely been given any profile in the media.
George Galloway MP, travelling with the convoy, has expressed his anger at the handling of the police operation and is in the process of taking this up with the Chief Constable of Lancashire and Home Secretary Jacqui Smith:
"The arrests were clearly deliberately timed for the eve of the departure of the convoy. Photographs of the high-profile snatch on the M65 were immediately fed to the press to maximise the newsworthiness of the smear that was being perpetrated on the convoy. I am writing to the Chief Constable of Lancashire to demand an explanation and will consult Viva Palestina's lawyers with a view to seeking compensation for the real financial and public relations damage we have suffered as a result. I will also be writing to the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, to demand action against those who seem to have abused their power and authority as police officers to produce this really damaging outcome".
Today's historic border crossing represents only one of many interesting news stories offered by the Viva Palestina convoy. There is - and continues to be - enormous potential for human interest stories involving its volunteers. 'Heroic convoy volunteers save the lives of 20 Moroccan policemen after near-fatal road crash'. 'Brave mother-of-6 battles cancer on mercy mission for children of Gaza'. 'Bolton volunteer raises £150,000 in aid in just 10 days'. All of these are going unreported.
The Viva Palestina convoy is expected to reach Egypt for the crossing into Gaza during the first week in March. All the vehicles, including a fire-engine (seen in the picture above), thirty ambulances and a boat, are packed with practical aid and most will be left in Gaza. Viva Palestina volunteers will fly home to the UK.