The Van - The Pea! Taken away by the Ministry under Galloway's orders, and given back when they saw the extent of the Art Project, now decorated by the uninhibited attentions of the Ahmed Showki sixth form. Of course my idea for the decoration was a couple of slogans and a well composed picture or two, but I put my faith in Ahmed Showki and was repaid with some very clever graffiti as well as such bon mots as "Death to Israel" and "The Hand of Israel is Stained with Blood". (So Exit via Israel unlikely!)
The final result is a tour de force, but it only means anything if it is seen in Europe, so how to get out is a really big issue.
I made a speech to all the groups that I saw, but the 2 state school groups were geared up the best. I said that most British People were tolerant and generous, well meaning and fair minded, but that they knew nothing of Palestine. It is the job of the Children, I said, to show, by the pictures that they draw, their fears and their hopes, their tears and their ambitions, that they are just as much people as we are, and they deserve our help. I did say something about their courage under fire, and it was distressing for me to go to a 'festival' to commemorate the deaths of fellow pupils, harrowing to see it on video.
The teenagers responded magnificently, both in their paper drawings and paintings, but also in the decoration of the van. It must be the centre piece of any exhibition, surely.
But how to get it home?
So I took it to the friendly Egyptian Border, and they told me that George Galloway would not let me take it out! He had signed up the entire convoy to the agreement that any vehicle entering could not leave. Please note that I made it plain at all times that I did not subscribe to this arrangement, I reserved my position not only with my team leader, but the administration of the convoy, and not only with them, but with the Egyptian Customs, too.
I rang up contacts in Gaza before entering to discuss whether to come in or not, and from their indications that the rules were arbitrary and not final, I made the decision to do what I, personally, had come those 6013 miles to do, which was to take a van into, and out of, Gaza, loaded in both directions.
To me, the aid that we took - even the vehicles, which are all right hand drive, and so bus passengers have to get out into the road, for instance - is a tiny drop into a bucket with no bottom. Gaza needs aid only to support the Israeli occupation, for without it they would starve, and the world would turn, at last, against the Zionist bastards. But for true freedom, Gaza - Palestine - needs to trade. It needs its borders open, and it needs to export.
My vision was just to export something, and Art came to my mind because it is not food, which it would be immoral to export. But as I began to develop the idea with schools and community groups, It got more important than merely exports, it became Medical.
Picture after picture shows Israel bombing Gaza, or killing Palestinians, while the World sleeps, or even applauds. US, and even British, flags on the cuffs of those clapping hands make me ashamed, and they should make the Government feel frightened. Child after child has told me that they will die for their country, and they will never give in (or is it give up? they asked) whichever it is we won't do it, and joking aside, many would relish the thought of revenge.
Breeding a Nation of Terrorists? If you've been here you will despise me for even raising the subject. I reckon that now that Hamas has closed down the Mafia Families completely, Gaza is the safest place on Earth, but only if the Israelis stopped firing. I mean it. Apart from a little aggressive begging, I have never felt in any danger, and even rather under educated Soldiers with a strong religious viewpoint who find my view point distasteful keep a sense of humour alive in discussions that I am occasionally forced into. Palestinian Generosity is legendary, and it would be easy to live here for a year and never pay for a meal, if you were so inclined, and the only complaint might be that the strength of the embrace is sometimes suffocating.
So the wartime spirit and the certainty of belonging makes for a ringing society of tolerance and warmth with a widely accepted agreement on dress, morals and behaviour.
But, inside is all that simmering resentment, as I've said.
So then I began to realise that just exhibiting these pictures, just letting the children know that someone out there cares about them and their anxieties; someone outside this hothouse of seething vengeance and hatred; someone who represents the privileged and active world outside; someone who might actually BE ABLE TO DO SOMETHING; just knowing that is enough to give the kids a warm glow, and settle them down to a sleep with at least one nightmare less: someone might actually like them. Just that.
'It's not possible for you to take your van, so turn it round and take it back'
The soldiers on the Palestinian side gave me some food, and a couple of them watched a video of an interview I did with some bombed out folk, and then more tea, coffee, bed, tea, coffee, lunch, tea, coffee, and time to go to Egypt again.
About five hours of interviews, photo-copies of letters, them refusing to talk to the Embassy in Cairo, calling in my Customs contacts and tearing them off a strip for discussing anything with me, and finally phoning head office in Cairo, the answer came back: "You may have been entitled to make this journey for medical reasons, but because you came with George Galloway, you are bound by the agreement that he made, even if you do not consider yourself a party to it. Because George Galloway made a deal with the Egyptian Government, you cannot take your van. It is forbidden."
And that's the trouble with deals that you make on other people's behalf. The law of unintended consequences. Any deal has 2 sides, and although you think you have opened up the arena, it turns out that you have closed part of it down. How Brave many thought that Sadat was, flying into Tel Aviv to make peace with the Israelis, but who would have thought that that deal would result in the Egyptians being obliged by the Israelis to limit the use of the Rafah crossing to a few arbitrary days a year, and to collaborate in the blockade? To prevent the passage of trade, even food, and even if the Palestinians are starving; that is the agreement, and we call it a siege, and we intend to break that agreement, made in the name of the Palestinians, but not in their interests.
Or the Oslo accords, that great breakthrough in the Peace process, that binds Hamas to arrangements that it had no voice in, although of course it was part of the Palestinian political system, and the agreements were made in everyone's name. This agreement is used to give legitimacy to the Israeli and US boycott on Hamas: they will not respect those agreements, which are not in the interests of the Palestinians. And we hope they break those agreements, too.
My Art project, conceived months ago and discussed with Gaza contacts before the convoy was ever thought of, jeopardised by an agreement that I had no part in, that I railed against, but could not be heard. Just someone who wants to keep his van, I can hear them think. Perhaps I shouldn't have travelled with the convoy? The last time I did something like this, we started on our own, a convoy of one, although we did join up with the 'Caravanne', an international convoy from Brussels to Jerusalem, in Damascus. Like the convoy, the scheduled departure of the Caravanne was a spur to action. We told both them and the Israelis that we were intending to leave again, unlike the rest of them, and got no argument from the 'Caravanne', though we did get plenty from the Israelis. And we succeeded in twinning with Jericho on that trip, and bringing back a tonne of Olive Oil.
And why not travel with the convoy? Just because I had my own purpose, should I travel alone, when by joining forces, a better impact could be made. Or could George's administration team have done what I asked, and notified their negotiating partner that there was a single dissenter in the convoy? A van with another purpose. Or should I have left it on the Egyptian side, and come home with less paintings in an unprepossessing van?
Three people have now offered to buy the van from me, but I have refused.
In any case, George went further than just signing agreements preventing me from taking it out, he donated it to the Palestinian Government. Its lucky that they've broken the agreement with George, even if it was in their interests not to, and given it back to me, and I couldn't be more grateful to them for it. Like the others, it's a silly agreement and it needs to be broken.
So like, I said, I'm confused.
When the Egyptians told me that I was free to pass, on foot, I refused to go, and went back to Gaza. They told me the border would close immediately after some Hamas dignitaries entering from the Cairo discussions on reconciliation with Fatah had cleared the terminal, and it would not re-open for a period perhaps of a month, but I still refused to leave the van. I cannot get it out of my head that the exhibit would do much better with the van as its centre piece, and that if Galloway told the Egyptians that he favoured the release of the van, it might be allowed to go.The journey is within the rules of the International agreements. It is a Medical trip, after all.
What about it George?