Monday, 27 April 2009

Depression, Libel threats, home sweet home.

It's now a week since I got off the plane from Egypt. I managed to avoid depression for only a couple of days, and now I'm fighting to stay positive. Even in Gaza, I was obviously aware of the impact the recession is having on our business, but I feel guilty about leaving my partner alone for so long. We foresaw this recession and thoroughly reorganised our business and our borrowing, adjusting the payment profile to give us a three year breathing space, but it's still a struggle, and we have had to sell assets just to pay the bank. Lucky that we have an asset to sell, but it is galling that my taxes are keeping alive the monster bank that we are also feeding with our interest payments that are way above base rate, and if we fail to feed it, it will have no hesitation in devouring us.

But, on top of that, as soon as I got off the plane, I got a distressing phone call from Frances who, entirely of her own volition, publicises this blog. She was extremely distressed and almost incoherent. My first re-action was to publicise the threat she had received, but I felt that I needed a statement from her, and she was far too upset to give one. I'm afraid that, together with other bad news, and the enormous task of organising the exhibitions of Art, which I have hardly got moving at all - really I need some volunteer assistance - the problem sent me into a paroxysm of doubt and inaction.

I really want to thank the small number of people who, knowing none of this, contacted me in support and asked me to keep writing now I'm back. Are you sure that you mean it?

A week later and Frances has finally felt confident enough to make a statement: she had been rung up by Kevin Ovenden (Galloway's 'Fixer'), and threatened with Libel. Not me: her. As a journalist, Frances is not used to being threatened, and is paralysed by the fear that Newspaper editors will shun her. But today, at last, she has made a brief statement about it, and, of course, we have Kevin's Answerphone message. So now I can write about it.

If there is a libel in my Blog, Kevin, then the correct addressee for your threats is me, no-one else. However, there is no libel, so I am expecting you to withdraw your threat to Frances, with good grace, immediately.

This is what happened on the convoy:

It was so badly organised that drivers were asked to drive dangerously long sections, little support was offered to them by the convoy leadership, with Mr Galloway declaring, on video, that he had no responsibility for the members, who should drop out if they couldn't keep up. Attempts to inform the leadership of gross errors in planning, such as the labelling of the journey from Bordeaux to Madrid as 200kms instead of 550kms, simply exposed the informant to abuse.

The convoy continued in a state of fear and abuse. Persons who disagreed with the leadership were threatened with removal whilst racist and violent incidents went unremarked. There was a campaign against reporting which was certainly not hindered by any action by the leadership. Information from the leadership to the drivers was sparse and uninformative. The political situation was never spelt out, or discussed, leading to a considerable degree of paranoia; and frequent route changes forced on host countries by the leadership in countries both friendly and hostile meant that no-one was ever aware of our true status or realistically could grasp our situation. For many convoy drivers the trip was a surreal blur of adulation by the public and tight police control which was never explained or even discussed.

All, of this, though is small beer compared to what was achieved in the end, and everyone must make up their own mind on this. George - not Kevin Ovenden - is a hero in Palestine, of that there is no doubt, and he has brought some attention to the issue of the border at Rafah. However the opportunity missed is greater than the gain, in my opinion.

The Egyptian political rallies which we were almost compelled to attend, assured us that we would be ushered through the Rafah border at 12 noon on the Sunday. There was no talk of any conditions, and no argument from George, and so the convoy drove on believing that we had negotiated the ending of the siege.

Convoy members pay great attention to a speech given by the Egyptian Ruling Party

In El Arish, however, the Libyans, who plainly did have an idea of what was going on, started a riot, which the convoy buckaroos, fed up of being treated like aliens, were only too happy to re-inforce. The violence was not considerable, but the Egyptian Police did not hesitate to get revenge by 'allowing' youths to attack the convoy with bricks. Most people in the convoy thought that they were fighting simply for the right to travel as a whole, rather than in groups, but the Libyans were fighting for the basic right to take aid through Rafah, which most UK drivers thought George had achieved.

George at this time was at the Rafah border, unaware of the explosion that had happened behind him. He came back and found the convoy in belligerent mood, surrounded by Egyptian riot police, in a large scale stand-off. He had almost 250 vehicles, including 3000 tonnes of Libyan aid, and possibly 500 people, if we include those who arrived from the UK by plane, and at least 150 Libyans, as well as the convoy's core 250 souls. These were his negotiating tools. The convoy would have sat there for ever, I believe, if that is what it took to get the gates open. But perhaps others had a schedule to keep to, so it was only a matter of an hour or so before George was back telling us that we must unload the aid, agree to donate the vehicles or not cross through Rafah with them, and agree to leave Egypt directly after leaving Gaza. This, he told us, was an improvement on the previous arrangement, and the best that he could achieve. He had been assured that the aid would be delivered by the Red Crescent through the Israeli Controlled crossing immediately. But of course, it wasn't, and isn't.

In other words, he negotiated that there be no change to the conditions applying at Rafah, except that our vehicles be allowed in one way. Great publicity for us, but no long term use at all. Crucially, All our non-medical aid was still under the control of Israel, the deal was done without threatening agreements with Israel, and still no exports of any kind are to be allowed.

What exactly did we achieve, Kevin? We threw away a large and belligerent opposition to the closure, sacrificing it to political expediency and a quick headline. The world's press were waiting for us in Gaza, and hurriedly made their way to El Arish as well. This would have been the perfect moment to spell out that our demand was for an unconditional opening of the border.

My Friend Syfian points to the tent on the house where Sheikh Nizar Rayan, and 11 innocents including 7 children were killed by a one tonne bomb. Hamas 'hardliner' Rayan had for three years previously led the campaign to non violently resist Israeli house bombings by sitting on roof tops of threatened homes.

But we blew it, and meekly accepted the status quo, with a special dispensation for us to go through, and then to meekly leave the country. So what were the conditions that were in force BEFORE you negotiated such improved terms with the Governor as a result of the demonstration, George?

A minor inconvenience of your agreement, was that when I left I was compelled to travel with the transitting Palestinians. This was as a direct result of your agreement, and if you wish to sue me for Libel, i will welcome the opportunity to spell it out in Court. I didn't mind travelling with Palestinians, and their conditions were an eye-opener, but i would not have been under escort if it were not for your agreement. And my van! Of course, cars are not allowed out of Gaza under any circumstances, but I went there to fight such rules. However, I could not fight the Galloway Rule. I was not being detained by the evil will of Israel, nor of Egypt, but by an agreement made by Galloway. When i asked why only the part of the Galloway agreement that prevented me from doing things was being implemented, and why the aid was not being delivered that had also been agreed, they simply said that the agreement made was subject to Israeli control, and that was always part of the agreement.

There are other groups massing to fight this closure. I hope that they sit on the border until the gates are open without conditions. And when you come along in July, George, just make sure that you don't undermine them by negotiating an end to their actions for your own benefit.