Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Adieu to Little Van - for now

Up at 6.00 and ready to leave by 7.00, but the wait which we thought to be over, was not. Negotiations to get us all afloat have stalled because the Greek owned ship has been trying to slide out of taking us. Dark and powerful forces are at work here. A top level meeting between the Greeks and Israelis last August has born fruit. Greek police are currently being trained by Israeli forces to combat civil unrest. We know the Greek economy is in tatters and that the recent internal civil unrest has caused concern. We also know that there is a chilling trend for police and other armed forces to train overseas with a view to policing each others' civil disturbances (the rationale being that foreign troops will be much tougher on someone else's civilians), but we did not bargain on the Greeks being pressured by the Israelis to stop our convoy. It is a great tribute to our negotiators that after 24 hours of further talks a compromise was finally reached and the vehicles full of humanitarian aid can be loaded onto the Strafades 4 with 30 of our number, whilst the rest attempt to fly out of Syria for Egypt. The Egyptian authorities have grudgingly given permission for us to use the small airstrip at Al Arish tomorrow evening. Sadly the arbitary group of 17 people who were denied access to Egypt are not likely to be with us, but discussions are still live on this point.

A delightful refugee family have taken me under their wing, pressing me daily to sleep in their house(which is considerably more comfortable than our little room of 6 iron bedsteads and 2 plastic chairs) but I have resisted out of solidarity for my fellows. I have, however been fed most scrumptiously at their house for 3 nights, and last night relented to a hot shower, the luxurious impact of which can only be felt by one who has been under freezing cold showers for at least the last 17 days.

Tonight I drove my little van, loaded to the roof with humanitarian aid, onto the cargo vessel which is to carry it to Egypt. It was strange to say goodbye to this little friend who has been my constant companion for nearly 5 weeks. Stranger still to hug and kiss goodbye the friends who will be travelling with her, over the waters ridden by the Mavi Marmara and stalked by Israeli warships, 10 of which are reputed to be lurking in the area at this moment. We would much rather be together than apart; face the dangers together; share the strain and the wind and the rain; but our only aim is to get to Gaza, and we will do that by hook or by hook, even though our chief negotiator is on the list of the banned.

Further obstacles are expected. We will attempt to fly out of Syria tomorrow and be reunited with our vehicles the day afterwards, but who knows what the next few days will bring.

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