Palestina Email Alert
Midnight, Sunday 8th March 2009
from the Viva Palestina website
Palestina is your story
Thirty years ago, as an 11-year-old boy, I remember eagerly awaiting
5.05pm on a Monday and Thursday for the start of Blue Peter. I,
like millions of other children, was desperate for our first glimpse
of the totaliser – the bright flashing lights showing us how
much money we had raised between programmes for that year’s
Blue Peter Appeal. The 1979 appeal, with it's bring and buy sales,
had been launched after the horrors of Cambodia’s ‘killing
fields’ had been exposed to the world.
And it wasn’t
just children who wanted to know – the weekly total was reported
on the national news and in the national papers, journalists sought
out heart-warming stories of those who had given up their toys,
clothes and books to help the impoverished and destitute thousands
of miles away in South East Asia.
the website for Viva Palestina I have had the daily task of making
our own appeal totaliser reflect the generosity of another generation.
Each day I’ve been overwhelmed by the scale of the donations
and the stories that accompany them – of a four year old child
in Manchester who emptied her piggy bank for the children of Gaza
and so spurred her family into raising over £1,600; of the
four girls in Torquay who baked cakes to sell at their school, of
the hundreds of children in Preston who packed shoeboxes with toys
and presents for other children whom they had never met. These stories
have been repeated up and down the country – and they are
a shining tribute to Britain at its best.
And just as
in 1979 they should have been reported - shouted from the rooftops
and celebrated in articles in the Sunday colour supplements.
Here was a
truly incredible story – of an aid mission that in just eight
weeks had galvanised community after community to create a convoy
of over 100 vehicles, laden with over £1 million of aid and
then driven over 5000 miles and two continents to relieve the suffering
And it was
a movement that was created from scratch, with no full time staff
- just a website, a few blogs, text messages, public meetings and
a million conversations. Surely this would be worth reporting; surely
this was news….
But the sad
reality is that the Viva Palestina convoy, carrying the love and
human solidarity from the people of Britain to the people of Gaza
has been deemed un-newsworthy by nearly all of the British media.
The BBC, who
next week will entreat us all to do ‘something funny for money’
in aid of Comic Relief has felt fit to mention the Convoy just three
times on its website (and once hidden away in the Africa pages).
The Guardian, that bastion of ‘liberal Britain’ only
reported it once it thought it had the makings of a nasty little
smear. The Independent showed its ‘independence’ by
spiking a column by Mark Steel, which discussed Viva Palestina.
We did get
media coverage from abroad – from France and Spain, Italy,
Canada and a host of other countries but in Britain we had to rely
on the work of a few journalists on local newspapers who still recognise
a good story when they see one.
help but wonder how the national media would have responded had
the convoy been headed for Darfur instead of Gaza - or had not been
supported so over-whelmingly by Britain’s beleaguered Muslim
community. Perhaps we may have even have made it onto Blue Peter.
our most prominent publicity came when nine of our convoy members
were arrested in the piece of pure political theatre on the M65
- the day before the convoy departed. Yet the same media outlets,
that reported the arrests with such gusto on the day of departure,
chose to ignore or downgrade the news that all nine men were entirely
innocent and had been released without charge. Even the terrible
damage to community relations in Blackburn and Burnley resulting
from these arrests was not a news-worthy topic for Britain’s
The Viva Palestina
convoy has been a remarkable achievement; it has overcome a virtual
media blackout, the cynical arrests of some of its members and the
refusal of banks to allow us to open accounts.
all this we are now just a few hours away from taking our aid into
Gaza. The vehicles and their contents represent the hopes of millions
and the solidarity of whole communities: of families, mosques, churches
and schools. Whatever happens at the Rafah crossing today –
and we hope and pray for a swift and smooth crossing into Gaza –
Viva Palestina has been a remarkable story.
It is a story
that has only just begun. Its first chapter lasted just one hectic
month from an inspired idea hatched by George Galloway in early
January to the departure on Valentine’s Day in London’s
Hyde Park. Its second chapter, the journey itself, is almost over
and we hope it will soon be told in a film, report back meetings
and, it has been suggested, perhaps a book as well.
The story will
now continue into its third chapter with the distribution of the
convoy’s aid and the purchase and delivery of even more –
from water-purification systems for schools and neighbourhoods to
a field hospital and medical equipment for the injured, tents for
the homeless and much more. Convoy members will return with the
names of clinics, schools and communities with which to twin their
local communities in Britain.
If our media,
whose own cynicism has been so badly exposed by their silence, continue
to write Viva Palestina out of the news then we must do all we can
to spread the news ourselves. We have shown that what ordinary people
do can make a real difference - and perhaps that is what the editors
and news-chiefs hate most of all. Or maybe we just didn't have enough
celebrities driving the fire engine!
So in the quiet
moments before the crossing I would like to thank all those who
have worked so hard for this project. Those who collected the aid,
sorted it, packed it and filled the vehicles; those who donated
online - from over thirty five countries across the globe –
and who filled the collecting tins and buckets; the drivers with
their legendary endurance and those who found time to blog their
stories; the local newspaper journalists who reported the convoy
and the journalists who wrote stories that their editors refused
to print: to the people who sent in their pictures and video clips
to the website - and finally to Farid Arada who kept us all up to
date with his daily reports on the convoy’s location. The
Viva Palestina story is your story.
journalist John Pilger, who broke the news of Cambodia’s ‘killing
fields’ three decades ago, has made a film called ‘Palestine
is still the issue’ - and he is right. The convoy story is
but one bright spark in the ongoing tragedy of Palestine and its
courageous people. The issue remains to be resolved but Viva Palestina
has taken us one step closer to a solution – a solution based
on solidarity, co-operation and love.