Friday, 24 September 2010

LSD Magazine Interviews - Lorty Phillips (Gaza Flotilla) ( (Issue 5)

On 31 May 2010, an flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to the ruthlessly subjugated communities of Gaza was stormed by armed Israeli commandos resulting in 9 deaths and dozens of injured aid workers. Daring to suggest that basic human morality and indeed the tenets of international law supported their mission in the face of Israeli repression and apparent disdain for international opinion, the ships planned to run the gauntlet of the military blockade to deliver their critical cargo. Ever aware that the military ethos and siege mentality of Israeli foreign policy may throw up obstacles and repercussions, no-one dreamed that such a clumsy, unconscionable and ultimately self defeating massacre would follow...

What was your motivation to join the flotilla? 

Well this was actually the second time that I had joined an aid convoy to Gaza, the first one having been a land mission and my motivation to get involved in that was the bombing of Gaza in the winter of 08/09. I saw the images of women and children screaming, the massive destruction of buildings in Gaza and I thought well that’s what we’re seeing on the BBC and they usually censor or edit images to quite a high degree compared to some of the other channels out there these days. I didn’t really understand how it could be in the interests of security for Israel to carry out such a colossal massacre of people living right on their doorstep. I initially found the whole situation very confusing and I didn’t know enough about the conflict or the history so I thought I needed to take a closer look and try and understand what’s going on. I joined the Palestine Solidarity Campaign which has been established for 30 years and it’s like an information and campaigning organisation for Palestinian issues for the last 30 years. To begin with I didn’t really do anything apart from receive their emails and newsletters - I didn’t even attend any of their meetings and I was working full time, was really busy and while I still wanted to do something, I just didn’t know what. In August last year I saw a front page article saying “join the convoy” and I thought well that’s a really practical thing that I can do and it was a convoy to take aid to Gaza and I realised that that spoke to me on a number of levels. I’m not someone standing on a soap box and I’m not especially politically engaged but if I can do something really practical and take some aid to Gaza and when I’m there speak to the people there and say that I think what happened in the bombing of Gaza was completely out of order and express solidarity with them and actually meet them, then it would be totally worth it.

Soon after going to the first meeting they said that volunteers were needed to be team leaders and I thought, well I’m a coordinator in my team at work so maybe I’ve got some skills they could use so I ended up becoming a team leader which meant with 14 vehicles and 47 people from different countries, Belgium, Australia, Switzerland and Malaysia amongst them. I thought that a land convoy was a practical way to take supplies to people that need it but also an opportunity to raise awareness in the press. Funnily enough we didn’t have a lot of western media at all with us during the land convoy in December / January and got into Gaza in January and the only time the BBC or any western media showed any interest at all was when there was a clash with riot police in Egypt on the last leg of the journey. A lot of Turkish and a lot of Arab media were following us over land, and during that journey I met activists from a vast range of backgrounds - Muslim volunteers, Quaker volunteers, Atheist volunteers, Jewish volunteers, and people from all kinds of different countries all on the same 5 week journey. It was intensive because we were driving as fast as we could on very little sleep and as we got closer to Gaza, the authorities tried to control more and more. In Jordan they wanted to take our passports from us and give them back on the other side of the country and we had firm police escorts that began to give us a slight sense of what a siege means and what a blockade means - controlling people and their movement using identification papers as a weapon.

It became even more clear when we got to the border with Egypt because Egypt are maintaining the blockade of Gaza on the Egyptian border side so Gaza is blockaded by Israel on 3 sides of it’s border and by Egypt on the Egyptian side. So they wouldn’t let us come through the route we wanted to take and they made us go back up another 900- 1000 kilometres to come round through their sea port and all of this is about controlling what goes into Gaza and who goes into Gaza and so we experienced that at first hand. I guess what I’m trying to say is this journey that I thought was going to be straightforward to take an aid convoy to Gaza actually was a massive learning experience for me and I got to see what a siege and a blockade actually entails and how governments can resist and pressure our actions and how the mainstream media don’t want to cover it. Apparently the story of 30 or so different nations coming together to take 250 donated vehicles of aid and medical equipment isn’t worthy of western media coverage and my insights into media bias developed hugely right there.

The other thing about travelling on that journey was the amount of support we got when we came over the border into Turkey. Massive crowds of people were waiting with flags and that continued across the country with people waving at the convoy and the local and the national channels in the countries from Turkey onwards were covering us and so people were coming out and giving support and it made me realise that this issue of Palestine isn’t like a marginal sort of weird, leftie thing it’s actually absolute mainstream interest to the majority of people in that region at least, while over here it’s been seen as a socialist protestor issue. After that first land convoy, I stayed in touch with the people that I had met and started finding out about other initiatives and had my first contact with the Turkish organisation IHH which bought the passenger ship which I travelled on in the flotilla. They do humanitarian projects in 127 countries worldwide of which Gaza is just one, and they are not a political organisation, but a humanitarian organisation and I was very much attracted to that.

The basic idea was just that there was a humanitarian crisis which the United Nations have been asking the international community to do something about for years and yet our leaders just seem to stand there and say yes isn’t it awful and the blockade needs to be lifted and the siege needs to end, it’s unsustainable. Lots of words but no action basically. Instead of putting pressure on Israel to lift the blockade, this year alone, the European Union granted them preferential trade agreements and the United States provide $3 billion cash to them every year in the form of military aid. That’s an agreement that has been set up over 10 years so $30 billion worth of military aid will be given to Israel over that period.


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