The heroic saga of the Viva Palestina aid convoy to Gaza has finally made it into the Australian mainstream press.
Sluggish Fairfax Middle East correspondent Jason Koutsoukis actually bestirred himself to note, but only in the context of "clashes between Egyptian security forces and Palestinian protesters at the Rafah border crossing," that: "[A]n international aid convoy, Viva Palestina, including the British MP George Galloway and 17 [sic 1] members of the Turkish Parliament, was allowed to cross at Rafah into Gaza. Mr Galloway had spent the past month travelling from London to deliver 198 truckloads of aid and supplies, challenging Israel and Egypt's blockade of the strip... Egyptian police had earlier scuffled [sic 2] with about 500 Australian, British and American protesters [sic 3], who were travelling with Viva Palestina, as the company tried to leave El Arish, an Egyptian resort [sic 4] city 50 kilometres south of the Gazan border. A number of international protesters were injured, but eventually a compromise was reached and most of the convoy was allowed to enter Gaza. Egyptian officials had told the convoy that some of the trucks could not pass through Rafah and would have to enter Gaza by southern Israel, though there was no guarantee that Israel would allow the trucks into Gaza. 'We refused this', Mr Galloway said. 'It is completely unconscionable that 25% of our convoy should go to Israel and never arrive in Gaza. Because nothing that ever goes to Israel ever arrives in Gaza'." (Hamas confronts Egypt over blockade, Sydney Morning Herald, 8/1/10)
A woefully inadequate account indeed, made even worse by the above-noted innacuracies: 1) There were actually 5 Turkish MPs. Koutsoukis seems to have confused the number of nationalities taking part in the convoy (17) with the number of Turkish MPs; 2) Scuffled? 55 injured, some hospitalised, 7 arrested! Some scuffle! 3) As I've indicated, this was a truly international effort, with representatives from 17 different nations, only one of which, I believe, came from Australia; 4) In describing the Mediterranean port city of El Arish as a "resort city," Koutsoukis seems to be confusing it with the Red Sea resort town, Sharm El Sheikh.
But if you think Koutsoukis sleeps at the proverbial wheel, check out Murdoch's John Lyons: "A riot broke out on the Egyptian border yesterday when trucks with international aid were prevented from entering Gaza.' (Egyptian guard dies in Gaza border clash, The Australian, 8/1/10)
Now in case you were wondering what other important breaking news was preventing Lyons from covering the Viva Palestina epic, allow me to reference his same-day feature article, Roads of rage in Jerusalem. In it, John takes us on a harrowing journey through hell and back, enough to dwarf anything coming out of Gaza or its environs:
Trying to enrol his kids at Jerusalem's French School, he describes at length the unseemly bickering between French and Palestinian parents which caused him to remark to his good wife, "This meeting cannot end well." And the rest, as they say, is all down hill.
"Summer was upon us," he writes, and "while in Australia summer can mean long days, hot nights in the back yard, watching Test cricket or going to the beach, in the Middle East it's a time to be dreaded. This is already one of the most volatile places on earth; add to that searing heat, appalling traffic and people already pumped up on conflict and fear, and the combination can be lethal. Jerusalem becomes a battle zone. Conflict appears to infuse itself into almost every aspect of life here; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict sets much of the tone. One hot day as we walked past the Damascus Gate of the Old City we saw a group of young Palestinians and Israelis. They pushed against each other, shouting into each other's faces. The only difference was that the Israelis had guns: they were soldiers." A trivial difference, no doubt, for one in the pay of News Limited. Hardly worth mentioning really.
Then he relates a blood-curdling case of trolley rage involving wifey in a Jerusalem supermarket. A mere bagatelle, however, because "[t]hen we tried driving." The operative word there being tried. Well, what a saga! As important as they are, however, I won't go into the gory details other than to quote the following: "A neighbour, from the European Commission, gave us some driving advice: 'In Israel never give anyone the finger when you're driving'. In Brussels, he said, he'd never hesitated to give other drivers the finger. But he'd done it once in Israel, and saw the recipient reach into her glovebox and pull out a gun. He didn't wait around to see whether she was prepared to use it." Pulling out a gun? Israel? Who would have thought?
And then, who should our terrified scribe run into at the post office but "[t]he rudest woman in the world," followed by... but you've got the picture by now, dear reader.
Viva Palestina? As you can see, The Australian's Middle East correspondent simply had too much on his plate. Perfectly understandable under the circumstances described. But hang on there, isn't it now winter in Jerusalem? Oh, dear!
Ah, Koutsoukis, Lyons, Knight, Brown - where would we be without you?