Aid and Activism for Gaza

January 10, 2010

 

I spent five years living and working in Africa. The more time I spent there the more I became interested in the debate about how to best fix the problems of its many troubled nations. In particular, how do the different roles of humanitarian aid and advocacy fit together? The complementary but sometimes contradictory efforts of aid workers and campaign groups seemed most problematic in Darfur, something I’ve tried to explore in my book Saving Darfur and in various blog posts or comment pieces relating to Africa, ethics and activism.

It is of course a universal debate. To what extent can raising awareness of a crisis, of warning about human rights abuses, damage efforts to deliver aid? When do you condemn a government and when do you keep quiet so that your workers can get the visas they need.

George Galloway’s troubled Viva Palestina convoy brought the issue to life in my new patch, the Middle East. On Friday, he was booted out of Egypt by a government he had repeatedly accused of blocking humanitarian aid to Gaza. No-one familiar with his style would be surprised. He is that sort of politician. But he leaves behind heightened tensions along the border between Gaza and Egypt, and a government in Cairo that says it will not longer allow aid convoys through its territory. As Al Jazeera reports…

Egyptian authorities have announced that all aid convoys travelling to Gaza will be banned from travelling across Egypt after a riot broke out at the Rafah border crossing earlier in the week. Ahmed Abul Gheit, Egypt’s foreign minister, said in remarks published on Saturday that members of Viva Palestina, the last convoy allowed through, had "committed hostile acts, even criminal ones" on Egyptian soil.

What was Galloway’s aim? Was it to deliver 200 hundred trucks of aid? Or maybe to raise awareness of the suffering that continues inside Gaza? A bit of both? Either way, it is far from clear that the people of Gaza are any better off.