An aid convoy which departed South Africa in July is soon to arrive in Gaza after traveling the length of Africa. South African Relief Agency Chief Coordinator Aneesa Brits answers questions from Pambazuka News about the reasons for the epic journey.
PAMBAZUKA NEWS: How would you describe the aims and the motivations of the South African Relief Agency in undertaking the Africa to Gaza initiative?
ANEESA BRITS: SARA's humanitarian aid mission to Gaza was undertaken with the following aims and objectives:
a. Break the illegal and immoral siege on Gaza
b. Travel overland from South Africa to Gaza to concientize the people of Africa on the plight of the Palestinians and their struggle for freedom
c. Embody the support and solidarity of the African people with the people of Palestine
d. Enter Gaza with relief aid from Africa and help the Gazans rebuild their shattered lives
PAMBAZUKA NEWS: What route has the convoy followed as it travels across Africa? How has the trip gone so far?
ANEESA BRITS: From Durban, South Africa the convoy drove through Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia & Sudan. This is the first ever overland convoy through Africa and whilst it was a daunting task, the trip went very well and proved to be an overwhelming success.
PAMBAZUKA NEWS: What is the current state of Israel’s blockade of Gaza? Have restrictions been eased at all?
ANEESA BRITS: Almost absolute. Not in the least.
The siege of Gaza is crime against humanity; one of monumental proportions, unashamedly aided and abetted by the so called 'civilized' western governments and their puppet regimes who turn essentially a blind eye to the everyday suffering, death and destruction wrought by Israel on the people of Gaza. Israel’s illegal blockade of Gaza gives it almost absolute control over everything entering or leaving this besieged enclave. This has led to Israel severely restricting and prohibiting multiple basic resources, such as food, water, electricity, fuel, import/export goods and humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. On 27 December 2008 Israel again invaded Gaza. In a brutal orgy of death and destruction that lasted 22 days, they killed 1,500 and injured some 5,500 innocent civilians and further devastated the Gazan people and their collapsed economy. Just last week the Israelis again cut all power and communication links to the besieged enclave leading the Gazans to fear yet another murderous incursion as was the case in the run up to Operation Cast Lead.
PAMBAZUKA NEWS: Several convoys have left Europe for Gaza: what significance does a convoy from the south hold for the Palestinian people?
ANEESA BRITS: This first ever road convoy from Africa that departed from Durban in South Africa is of huge significance and importance to the Palestinian people. At the World Conference Against Racism held in Durban in September 2001, the majority decision that equated Zionism with Racism led to the walkout of both the Israeli and American delegations who could not defend Israel's despicable and racist policies towards the Palestinian people.
Having themselves suffered under the yoke of apartheid, South Africans can readily identify with and hence stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people as they struggle for self determination and freedom from the apartheid regime in Israel. And, just as South Africans united to win their independence, so too will they support the freedom struggle of the Palestinian people. Moreover; the passage of our convoy through no fewer than eight countries in Africa has galvanised the support for the Palestinian people who see the hope of freedom in South Africans who successfully broke the shackles of apartheid.
PAMBAZUKA NEWS: With one of the aims being to create awareness amongst the people of Africa about the situation in Gaza, how has the convoy been received by people in African countries that you have passed through?
ANEESA BRITS: Very, very enthusiastically! The warm reception, concern and caring on display throughout Africa far exceeded all our expectations. With regard to concientising the people of Africa on the Palestinian issue, our convoy has succeeded in uniting the people of Africa who were collectively appalled at the barbaric treatment that the people of Palestine have had to and still endure at the hands of the Israelis for the past 63 years. We believe that in time, the flame that we have kindled in the hearts and minds of the people will turn into an inferno that will manifest itself in acts that fully support the Palestinian struggle for freedom. Wherever we went we were received like heroes with everyone demanding that we lead another convoy after this one with each country that we traversed pledging support with an equal number of vehicles and participants.
PAMBAZUKA NEWS: Archbishop Desmond Tutu has famously referred to Israel's policies towards the Palestinian people as 'apartheid'. Is this view shared across South Africa – and the African continent - do you think?
ANEESA BRITS: Yes indeed - in fact, many South Africans believe that the Israeli version of apartheid is much worse.
PAMBAZUKA NEWS: As part of a reconciliation deal with Hamas and Fatah, Egypt recently opened its border crossing to enable Palestinians free passage out of the blockaded territory for the first time in some four years. Conversely, in a recent news item, Press TV mentioned that the Egyptian authorities were opposed to the Africa to Gaza convoy passing through their country (http://bit.ly/qLJ6up). How has this situation developed?
ANEESA BRITS: That announcement may have eased the movement of Palestinian women, children and aged males but did not in any way ease the passage of vital goods, food, medical supplies etc. to Gaza.
Our's is a Humanitarian Aid Convoy - as such, the Egyptian Authorities granted our convoy entry into Egypt only via the Port of El Arish on the Mediterranean Sea. From here they have allowed us to drive the eighty odd kilometres to the Rafah Border Crossing. Given the tense political situation in Egypt at the time of our application for permission, they declined the convoy entry at any other point and turned down our request to drive through the Sinai Peninsula as they could not guarantee our security. They are fully aware of our impending arrival in El Arish as they requested an inventory of the aid we are carrying and the names and details of all convoy members in advance of our arrival.
PAMBAZUKA NEWS: 31 May 2010 saw the Gaza Freedom Flotilla endeavour to break the Israeli-Egyptian naval blockade of Gaza, only for the activists involved to be treated very heavy-handedly. Are you concerned about the security of those participating in the convoy?
ANEESA BRITS: Whilst the security of convoy team members is always a concern, the Rafah Border Crossing is controlled by the Egyptians who have full knowledge of our mission and have granted us the permission to enter their country. Whilst we have experienced delays and red tape at most border crossings as we travelled through Africa, we do not anticipate any untoward behaviour from the Egyptians that may compromise the safety and security of our team members.
PAMBAZUKA NEWS: What kinds of things is the convoy carrying that will help to meet the immediate needs of the people of Gaza?
ANEESA BRITS: Infant milk powder, medicines, medical supplies and equipment, wheel chairs, crutches, school stationery, disposable diapers and portable electricity generators.
PAMBAZUKA NEWS: How can Pambazuka News readers support the convoy?
ANEESA BRITS: It is said that 'the news and the truth are not the same thing'. Firstly, urge your readers to spread the truth on the desperate situation in Palestine. Secondly, let them act by joining similar aid iniatives or contributing in cash or kind to such causes. Thirdly, let them speak out and stand in solidarity against racism and oppression wherever it rears its ugly head and fourthly, let them pray for the success of those undertaking such missions and for the enlightenment of the oppressors to see the folly of their evil ways.