Thursday, 19 February 2009

Welcome to Morocco

We arrive at the Port of Tangier. Security is very tight, but when customs meets Munir they are so berated by him telling them that they should grow a beard that they forget to give us a customs slip.
"We will grow them next year' says one customs official, but Munir is having none of it. 'Life is like a bubble, you don't know when it will burst' he says. 'Death won't send you an email. There is no other time but now'
Later I say to him that maybe he should go carefully around authority, but he gives me a story from the Koran about bystanders to a crime being turned into swine for doing nothing. "I am protecting myself' he says.
We are going to get along fine.
As we get drawn through all the security to our parking places, we are asked to give up our green T-shirts. These are shirts with the route printed on them that should have been given to all crews, but.... It turns out that the map shows Morocco ending without including Western Sahara within its boundaries, and so the Moroccans are insulted, and confiscate all the T-shirts. Now Munir and I have a different problem, because we have no T-shirts to be confiscated, and that leads to some agitation, but anyway, why haven't those policemen got beards..? The problem goes away, but it takes several hours to do so. Of course, if we had T-shirts that showed Western Sahara as part of Morocco, then they probably wouldn't let us into Algeria, our next country.
Algeria fund and give refuge -allegedly -to the Polissario, the rebels or Freedom Fighters of Western Sahara, and of course this has led to some bad blood between the two countries. In fact the border between them is sealed, and we are only getting through because, for all Arabs, Palestine is a cause that transcends all other quarrels; but the border will be sealed behind us.
We have been talking in the van, over the last few days, about Islam and the role of Muslims in the Liberation of Palestine. About 80% of the convoy, perhaps even more, are Muslim, some ethnic British converts, and a few from all over, but most are from Pakistan origins - though everyone on the convoy has a British Passport.
We discuss the need to give charitably that most Muslims feel is a duty, and which results in large quantities of aid being quietly delivered to Palestine continually. The majority community in the UK are simply not aware of the great quantity of work done in this way, but is it enough?
Irshad, one of the two younger of our passengers, now returned home to study, feels that aid is not enough without political action, and all agree that it is therefore fantastic to see so many Muslims taking the front line role in this direct action, which may even lead to civil disobedience at the Rafah crossing. Or, of course, it may not, say others, it may simply be an aid convoy going to Gaza, controlled by the countries it passes through, and stopped by Egypt.
Which is most important - getting the aid there, or getting there and forcing the gates open? What happens if the Israelis say 'leave the aid there and we will let the UN deliver it?, or the Israelis themselves promise to deliver it?
For me, the UN can get aid there more efficiently than ever we could hope to do, although we are bringing in aid that the Israelis will not allow them to bring, such as my fire-fighter's kits. Others are driving vehicles which are themselves the donation; Stirling is sending 12 Ambulances, and Birmingham raising £100,000 for nine various vehicles, including the Birmingham's Bus. This aid is clearly valuable, but efficiency wise, shouldn't we be agitating for the UN to be allowed to deliver it?
I believe that is what we are doing by this trip. We are campaigning for open borders for Gaza to develop its own economic life, so that it doesn't need aid, and that the aid that it WILL need until it can stand on its own two feet can be delivered as easily as to any other disaster zone.
When I spend the €150 Euro given to me by the stranger on the boat - God bless him, or when I fill up with fuel from the small amounts raised by the even smaller group that support me from Chester, organising benefits and donating, I'm told, a days pay - thank you barristas! - Alexander's rocks! - it will be for the children of Gaza, by standing at the gates of Gaza and demanding that they be set free. Not just a special treat, the doors of the prison opened for a rare glimpse of the outside world, or for an even rarer special treat to come in, but open for ever, so the children, when they are grown, listen to tales of their parents captivity with incomprehension, as they travel on the same bus as Israelis, to the same promised land.
Anything less is surely a betrayal. Every mouthful of food driven through those gates of Hell is a lifeline, and getting our convoy in fills a serious need, but until the walls of the prison that is Gaza are ripped down; until we all say to our governments that we will not tolerate their inactivity, and force them to take the actions necessary to bring freedom and so make the aid unnecessary; until then, we are just scattering money and help on the wind. We simply demand exactly equal rights for Palestinians, nothing more and nothing less, and equality, release from the prison of Gaza is surely the best gift that any parent could give to any child.
So, our debate was about whether Muslims, generally agree with this, or are content to give alms, and watch the apartheid continue. Collaboration with the enemy it has been called by some, because it cleans up Israel's mess and rescues those that Israel would leave to die. In the most cynical view, only the dead get publicity!
The riotous reception that our convoy got on the streets of Tangier leaves me in no doubt that in Morocco, at least, the people know what they want their government to do. And when the walls of Gaza fall, I definitely want to be in that parade.

1 comment:

Irshad said...

After reading your posts about how receptive the people are in morocco I feel compelled to say that I joined you up until Madrid because you needed the moral support. Now you don’t need me because you have the fantastic people in morocco and can expect the same across North Africa!

I joined “the pea” from the outset in hyde park and left it in Madrid. 3 nights, 3 countries and 3 fantastic companions. I heard about the convoy and just had to be a part of it and somehow and managed to blag myself a seat in “the pea” for a few days. I would have loved to stay all the way to Gaza but unfortunately, circumstances do not allow.

It was absolute mayhem leaving hayed park on Saturday and later we found out that the reason it was chaos was because the guy at the front of the convoy was from oz and didn’t have a clue as to where he was going. Being a Londoner myself I told rod to make his own way to Ramsgate and helped with the navigating.

The first opportunity to see the other 109 vehicles was at the ferry terminal in Ramsgate where I actually saw the enormity of the convoy. The range of aid that was being delivered to gaza was awe inspiring. Countless ambulances, a fire engine, a huge generator as big as my front room, tons of medical supplies including ecg machines and the tons of second hand clothes all squeezed into a hundred or so vehicles.

I spent the next 3 days either sleeping, sitting on back side, driving or talking rubbish. The drive through France was a bit boring but we managed to get a few responses from the French drivers who were honking in support.

I managed to be in the driving seat whilst we were going through the Pyrenees, and it was great fun and a slight challenge to commandeer the road in the dark. However it doesn’t sound as challenging as the road to Terrifa.

Group 11 was great company – you see the convoy had to split into groups in order to tray and manage it, and we happened to be in Group 11 – which we managed to make into the best group. Group 11 leader was Kieran – an aid convoy expert having organised many convoys in the past. He had to put up with all the crap and then it took him two days to realise that actually it works better if he listens more to his group and less to the organisers. I think that’s when group 11 became the best!

It was great to see that so many young muslims were part of the convoy, and I really do hope that it gets into Gaza. Once these youngsters see with their own eyes that its not all about aid, maybe they will become more active in the fight to a political solution.

Best moment on the ride: when Kieran 2 (Kim) stealthily came up to Rod and shouted boo in the open drivers window. To see Rod jump and hit his head on the roof was hilarious (OK slight exaggeration but who cares!)

Worst moment: leaving them behind in Madrid knowing that I got the boring leg of the journey and the fun really begins in Africa.