Today was Christmas and a rather surreal one at that. Instead of tucking into the usual Turkey with stuffing and all of the trimmings, Viva Palestina convoy members tucked into Falafel sandwiches in the hot Jordanian sun and drank strong Arabic coffee. The convoy of humanitarian aid which we are taking to Gaza is here with us, stranded in the Jordanian port city of Aqaba. We should have left here yesterday but instead we are in Jordan stuck in a diplomatic limbo. Egypt has refused us and our aid safe passage across the border at Nuweiba’ and has denied all of our repeated requests for them to let us through. So instead of celebrating Christmas in Egypt, as close to our destination of Gaza as possible, we have been left in a holding pattern miles away.
This sorry state of affairs has made an already difficult day for the Christian members of our convoy even more difficult. For many of the Viva Palestina members, today is the first Christmas they have spent away from loved ones in years. One such member is D, a lovely woman from Wales who very movingly told us the story of how she broke the news to her grown up children that she would not be spending Christmas with them this year for the first time in their lives thus breaking a family tradition that is more than 30 years old. When she broke the news to them that she was planning to travel to Gaza it was not an easy conversation. So much so that before she actually broke the news they knew that something was wrong and were worried enough to have to ask her if she was ill or was about to tell them that she had cancer! She told us that reassuring them that she was in fact fine but simply planning to travel hundreds and hundreds of miles, by ambulance, across continents, as part of an international aid mission to one of the most troubled regions in the world was not nearly as difficult as telling them that she would not be home for Christmas!
It is important to acknowledge the sacrifice that people, such as D, have made to be a part of this humanitarian mission. Although D modestly said that she did not feel that she was making a personal sacrifice, she most certainly is. The fact is that she and other members of the convoy have voluntarily chosen to spend, what should be the most family oriented and comfortable time of the year practically cut off from their families and in relative discomfort. Although we have been lucky enough to stay in some lovely hotels along the way, nothing can beat being at home with your family on Christmas morning and that is something that they have all willingly and unselfishly sacrificed.
However, although this certainly has not been a traditional Christmas, the Christmas spirit was definitely manifest in its own convoyish way today. As well as passing out small gifts among friends, as Richard did, others shared a few mince pies and an Irish Santa even made a special appearance to the great amusement of the gathered crowds.
However, even with all the jollity and light heartedness that seemed to have settled over the convoy today as we slowly became accustomed to our surroundings, Gaza was still certainly never far from our minds. As George Galloway reminded us in his second briefing of the day; while Santa has delivered gifts to children all around the world tonight, he most certainly did not visit the children of Gaza and there are no toys for them.
Discussing the issue of Christmas with some of our fellow convoyers and asking how they felt to be so far from home, D made the point that she felt it was quite poignant and apt that thousands of years after the three wise men had taken gifts to Palestine at what is now Christmas, so too are we, and I think that sentiment resonated strongly with the Christians in the group.
In order to make Christmas a little more special, Father Samih Al-Magi of the local Greek Orthodox Church came out onto the church steps at 7pm to extend his greetings and Christmas wishes to the convoy members assembled there. The Christian members of the group sung Christmas carols on the Church steps while holding lit white tapered candles as well as placards of support for Gaza and makeshift posters entreating the Egyptian government to let us cross the border with our aid. While Christian members sat on the Church steps singing “Silent night”, “Little boy Jesus” and “We wish you a Merry Christmas”, bearded Muslim brothers posed for photos in front of them.
The main sentiments of those we spoke to seemed to be that although they desperately missed their families, they truly believed that what they were doing was such a worthy cause that missing Christmas was a price they were most willing to pay. They should certainly be commended for their efforts and praised for showing the true spirit of Christianity and universal brotherhood by voluntarily sacrificing their own pleasure, happiness and comfort for strangers they do not know in a far off land they have never been to. If more people followed the true teachings of Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) in terms of love and compassion, the people of Gaza would not be in this horrific mess to start with. If there is anything that all members of the convoy would like for Christmas this year, it will be for us to be allowed into Gaza. So please, no matter when you read this, show a little Christmas spirit, embrace the message of love and compassion that Christians and Muslims hold so dear and let us all help those in Gaza.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.