John Hurson, from County Tyrone, in Northern Ireland, entered Gaza as part of the Vivapalestina /George Galloway convoy. This is his story , in his words:
Well folks, the great news to report to you today is that the Rocwell lorry filled with aid has been safely delivered to the people of Gaza in one piece. It was an amazing emotional feeling handing over the lorry and aid, knowing that it was going to make a difference to so many people affected by the recent war in Gaza.
To start off from where I last filled you in, was a roller coaster ride of anger, relief, tears, revenge, joy and achievement. There were so many emotions packed into 24 hours, it’s hard to know where to begin!
When I left the internet café in Al Arish, we returned to the car park where all hell had broke loose! A few hours before, the police had come in very heavy handed and had batoned several members of the crowd. They then retreated suddenly, switched the lights off, and then a barrage of missiles came over the wall injuring several members of the convoy. Not only that, they had used the darkness to write anti Hamas slogans on several vehicles. For a while it was total chaos. Thankfully I wasn’t around for it, and luckily my vehicle escaped the slogan writing.
However, that wasn’t the worst part. As I had mentioned in the last message, the Egyptian government had planned to refuse non medical aid to be delivered to Gaza. We had hoped this wasn’t going to happen, however, they were true to their word, and at midnight on Sunday, they proceeded to strip each vehicle with all the contents that wasn’t medical aid. The sight of van after van been stripped of the blankets, clothes, toys, shoes, generators, cement mixers, building products, and everything else that wasn’t medical aid brought each and every one of us to tears. To see fellow convoy members crying in each others arms was a very sad sight.
We were in total shock as we witnessed the Government officals go through each vehicle one by one and take everything out. How a government could deny it’s neighbour vital aid was just unbelievable. We all knew that Egypt is controlled by Israel and the U.S. but we didn’t realise the true extent until Sunday night. We were way beyond angry, and not one official could speak English when questioned about why they were doing it, however their English was perfect when they were asking people to open their doors and question them about their contents.
They strutted about under armed guard, and laughed at us as we stood around in total disbelief. However, we regrouped and came up with a plan. As each vehicle was stripped, and then cleared to move to the other side of the car park, convoy members distracted the officials with cups of tea and coffee, while the rest worked like an army of ants and carried the confiscated aid behind their backs to the cleared vehicles. As quick as the officials took the aid out, we put it back in again! This was a victory for us, and it went on until 6am when the officials left us to go home. Practically all the aid they took out, we had put back in again. We had turned a bad situation into a positive one, and the stupidity of the officials was exposed by their failure to see what was going on!
The following morning we awoke to the dreaded thought of them having to go through our vehicle and the others they hadn’t got to the night before. Thankfully for us, (and them), the Government relented and allowed us to carry all our aid. They had gone around us and the other vehicles asking what we had on board. Of course by that stage, all the aid in the remaining vehicles had turned into medical aid. We had covered our load with “hypothermia blankets”, and when questioned, this was all we were carrying. It became a joke to hear them ask question after question about the aid on board each vehicle, and to hear the answers given was hilarious. They had held up a wind up torch and were told it was a pacemaker! Generators became heart monitors and incubators, saws became surgical saws, clothes became maternity wear, and just about everything else magically turned into medical aid. It became a total joke, and we had the last laugh when about noon on Monday, every vehicle rolled out of the car park and made the 50 km journey towards the Rafah border destined for Gaza…….
At the border, we waited for a couple of hours for the paperwork to be completed and passports stamped, and then around 4pm, the gates opened and we drove across the border into Gaza. It was a feeling that I find difficult to put into words. After 25 days on the road, over 6,000 miles driven, we finally got into Gaza. Tears flowed like rivers from each and every one of the convoy members, and the feeling among us was a sight to witness. It was a moment in time that you would just love to freeze, such was the excitement.
Following our crossing, we were greeted by the Palestinean government at the border, and given the warmest of welcomes.
We then proceed to drive into Gaza city, a distance of about 25 kms. Thousands and thousands of people lined the drive to Gaza city. They wanted to shake our hands, take our photo’s, touch our vehicles, wish us well, thank us, and bless us. We were in total shock as we drove along the road, and very humbled to receive such a reception. What this convoy meant to the people of Gaza is so hard to explain. The hope, joy, thanks and relief in their eyes as we drove along was amazing. It was such a proud moment for everyone to drive along the road into Gaza city. We had all made such an effort along the way, and finally we had made it to Gaza. We were very happy people indeed……
In the city centre, we were all parked in a large car park, and people were coming over to each and everyone of us to shake our hands, hug us, kiss us, and thank us for making the journey. Not only was it a great feeling, but it was very humbling as these people are the real heroes. People in wheel chairs, people on crutches, old, young, all affected by the war lined up to thank us, and all we could do was thank them. They were the real heroes. Following a reception, we were split into groups and taken to various acommaditon for the night.
The following morning we were taken on bus tours around the city to visit the areas hit hardest in the war. No one on the convoy could believe what we saw. Street after street were demolished, home after home flattened, factory after factory ruined, tree after tree uprooted, their water treatment facility wrecked, their sewage works destroyed, the sea polluted, and what wasn’t bombed or bulldozed was shot to pieces. 51 Mosques were destroyed, police stations flattened, ambulances destroyed, hospitals attacked, schools bombed, and just about everything wrecked. We were drove around in total shock belief and horror. What we had seen on TV did absolutely no justice to what had really happened. It was very easy to see how the media had been censored on what images they. had shown us. The heaviest damage was inflicted on the areas closest to border with Israel. It just went to prove what the war was really about. LAND. They had flattened and destroyed so much land, leaving the Israelis in a position to capture it when the next opportunity arises.
The people of Gaza are left with no resources to re build their homes as the raw materials are controlled by Israel, and they have no chance to re build. This effectively leaves them with no other option but to move further in land, leaving the land and bombed out homes behind. This is ethnic cleansing on a scale so big I find hard to describe. My pictures will give you an indication, and you can make up your own minds. The bombing by the Israelis continue on a daily basis, and 1 hour after we toured the area, they bombed it again! It just keeps going on, and the media fail to report it again and again. Shame on them, shame on them, shame on them.
Following a large civic reception in our honour, we were broke into groups and taken to various places around the city to witness what had happened to different groups in Gaza. A fellow convoy member from Gaza had arranged for me to go to the Gaza City Sports Centre where a 5 a side soccer match was arranged for us. We had a “Convoy 5” select play the a Gaza city select. Our team was kitted out in Dungannon Clarkes GAA jerseys, and did very well in the match, scoring a very dubious penalty to draw the game at the end 2 – 2.…..… Following the match, there was a civic reception held in their boardroom / trophy room where I presented them with over 50 Dungannon Clarkes jerseys in various sizes. I also presented them with 30 Armagh childrens jerseys, shorts and socks, that had been donated by O’Neills in Strabane. They were absolutely delighted and so thankful for our gifts, and I assured them that this wouldn’t be the end of the aid that we will help them with. Upon my return, I hope to be able to raise funds for their club which provides so much for the people of Gaza.
Yesterday morning, Wednesday, I visited a local school and presented them with more jerseys donated by O’Neills and the Sligo Co. Board. I had Dublin and Sligo jerseys for them, and to see the kids scramble for a jersey, quickly put it on and then run like mad after a football around the play ground was very emotional for me. Maybe one day they can grow up learning to play Gaelic, and who knows, they could line out for Dublin who are in need of new talent at the minute…………….
At 11am, our trip to Gaza was over and we had to say tearful goodbyes to our hosts and make our way to the Rafah border. At the border, about 20 of us decided that we were not going to cross, and that we wanted to return to Gaza and offer whatever help we could. After a 2 hour delay, we were strongly advised by the Palestenian Government to return as they could not guarantee when we would be able to leave due to the fact that the Rafah crossing is controlled by the Egyptians, and only opened once every 6 weeks or so. And that is only to let medical aid only into
Gaza. Some decided to stay anyway, and for the rest of us we crossed the border wishing we could stay longer. However, when we get home our work will continue, and we will do our very best to publicise what we had seen, and double our efforts to raise more money and aid for the people of Gaza.
When we got on the bus, an American woman boarded the bus with a young Palestinean girl who had a very serious facial disfigurement. She was attempting to bring the child back to the US where she was going to arrange specialist surgery for the young girl. The childs father got on to say goodbye, and he was in floods of tears as he told us he had been trying for 7 years to get his daughter treatment outside of Gaza. It had a serious effect on all us on the bus, and we were again left in bewilderment as to how this could happen. If this girl was in the “western world”, money would be raised, television and press would follow her, and she would receive the best treatment money could buy. However, because she is from Gaza, she can’t even get to see a specialist doctor! Just an another sad example of what is really going on in Gaza.
After crossing the border, we took a taxi into Cairo, where we arrived at 2am last night. I hope to unwind here and get a filght tomorrow or Saturday and return home. This journey has not only been amazing for me, but also for each and every other person on the convoy. We will all go home and tell all our friends and family what about what we experienced, and what we saw in Gaza. It makes us all so sad and angry to have witnessed the destruction and loss of life in Gaza. The people we met in Gaza were without doubt the warmest and friendliest we have ever met. They are so well educated, and speak fantastic English. Why they have to suffer so much, make do with so little, and try to live a humble life and the whole time they are been attacked by Israel with the backing of the western world just beggars belief.
In 2009 to see such cruel things happen is just unbelievable. So, tell everyone you know about what I have saw, show them my pictures, make them read what I have wrote, phone your politicians, contact all the press you know, and do whatever you can to educate everyone as to the full extent about what is REALLY happening to Gaza and it’s citizens. It must stop, and we can all play a role in trying to stop what is happening to our fellow human beings. We can make a difference if we try………………………….
I will leave you with some cold hard facts about the recent war inflicted by Israel / U.S.A. on Gaza
1455 dead, of which 405 were children, and 115 were women.
5,303 injured, 1,815 of whom were children and 785 women.
5 hospitals destroyed.
33 clinics destroyed
16 medics killed
15 ambulances destroyed
179 schools badly damaged, 10 totally flattened
153 Mosques badly damaged, 51 flattened.
11,000 dunums, 140,965 Olive trees, 136,217 Citrus trees and 10,000 Palm trees were destroyed.
$30 million damage to the poultry and cattle industry.
The total losses inflicted on Gaza after the 23 day Israeli war is $2.8 billion.
Folks, that is the cold hards fact, and the reality of what I witnessed in Gaza. You can make up your own minds, I know I have.
Pictures can be viewed by clicking on the following link
Tyrone in Gaza