After days of gathering supplies and last-minute organizing in Cairo, the Viva Palestina U.S. convoy is beginning to mobilize. This morning 87 members of the caravan traveled to pick up 47 never-used trucks which will be loaded with medical aid to be brought into Gaza. The remaining half of the delegation will re-join the drivers near the Egyptian border before all cross together through Rafah.
This U.S. sequel to George Galloway’s original Viva Palestina convoy, which drove from London to Gaza in order to break the siege in March, departed from NYC’s JFK airport last Saturday, Independence Day. Nearly 80 delegates came in the first wave, and others have since been arriving in Cairo in a steady stream. The convoy now consists of a group of over 180 individuals from all over the United States representing a spectrum of races, religions, ages and ethnicities commensurate with its commencement in the nation’s most diverse county, Queens, NY.
Delegates traveled with carry-on bags only in order to maximize their checked luggage allowance to accommodate the wheelchairs, walkers and medicine so desperately needed in Gaza. The caravan will bring hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical aid, including already-donated materials which have been in storage in Egypt for months, readily available but barred from passing into Gaza by the Egyptian government. Gaza’s healthcare system, already near the breaking point due to the embargo and underfunding, was decimated by direct damage to health facilities and the necessity of treating the thousands of killed and injured by Israel during the 22 day assault from December to January.
Borders have been closed since June 2007 when the democratically-elected Hamas assumed political control. Fenced in and with limited resources, Gazans have been slowly starved. Even prior to Israel’s unrestrained attack, more than a million Gazans, over 80% of families, relied on food aid to survive. The bombing destroyed food stores and created conditions too hazardous to allow food distribution. At present, the Food and Agriculture Organization deemed two-thirds of Gaza’s population, of which half are children, to be “food insecure”. In January, UNICEF said over 10% of Gaza’s children had stunted growth due to malnutrition. Yet, in an ironic and illogical perversion of policy given the self-evident relationship between nutrition and health, Egyptian authorities have refused to allow the Viva Palestina medical aid caravan to transport food into Gaza.