The fifth Miles of Smiles Aid Convoy is due to enter the besieged Gaza Strip before the end of Ramadan after an epic journey across Africa from Cape Town. The convoy's general coordinator, Dr. Essam Mustafa, said that the citizens of South Africa were very generous with their donations to buy goods to help the people of Gaza.
In a statement to Amman-based Humanitarian Voice, Dr. Mustafa added that thousands had expressed their wish to participate in the convoy, one of a series to have broken the siege to take essential medical aid to the people of Gaza. The number was whittled down to 135, although the number of people allowed to cross the Rafah border by the Egyptian authorities is usually much smaller than that. The interest from South Africa, he said, arises from the country's experience with racism. "They know what it's like to live under apartheid in South Africa," said Dr. Mustafa, "and so have a great sense of solidarity with the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation."
Aside from its role of taking much-needed humanitarian aid to Gaza, Palestine-born Dr. Mustafa pointed out that Miles of Smiles 5 will send a message to the world that Gaza is still under an oppressive, immoral and inhumane Israeli siege. "This blockade must end," he said as he urged the international community to take action on behalf of the people of the besieged Strip.
The delegation accompanying Miles of Smiles 5 will be predominantly South African, although participants from Bahrain, Britain and Europe will also take part. They will visit charities and charitable projects in Gaza, as well as education institutions and hospitals. It is hoped that some businessmen will invest in development projects. A large Eid party is planned for adults and children with special needs.
As with previous Miles of Smiles convoys, the project has been coordinated with the Egyptian Foreign Ministry; approval has been given to enter Gaza on 25th August. Medicines and medical supplies bought in accordance with the much-depleted Essential Drugs List supplied by health professionals in Gaza will be bought in Egypt. Around $350,000-worth of medicine will be purchased along with vehicles specially-adapted for use by the disabled.
Miles of Smiles 5 is the first of two convoys planned to arrive from South Africa; the second is due to arrive in time for the festival of Eid ul-Adha in early November. Predictably, the series of convoys has been attacked by right-wing "anti-terrorism" institutions and websites for allegedly supporting Gaza's Hamas-led government. A more balanced view, however, was expressed by the Jerusalem Post in July when it lauded Miles of Smiles 3 for taking medical aid to the people of Gaza through the Rafah crossing without creating a political fuss. This echoed a statement from the Israel Defence Forces, whose website proclaimed, "The transfer of goods and materials [by Miles of Smiles 3] did not entail violence because the organizers focused on delivering supplies, rather than delegitimizing Israel through a violent confrontation." Convoy coordinator Dr. Essam Mustafa welcomed such an unexpected endorsement of the humanitarian and non-political nature of the project.
"All aid delivered by our partner charities is delivered on the basis of need and need alone," stressed Dr. Mustafa. Any political connotations, he added, have been pushed by those who want to see the people of Palestine brought to their knees. "That is not the role of a charity, and never will be."