The African Jummuah has arrived for the Gaza Strip. Ulama from the Convoy are despatched to numerous venues across Gaza where they will be delivering the Friday sermons. We tag along with Moulana Igsaan Hendricks, who has the honour of delivering the sermon in the mosque of the Prime Minister.
Even in a sea of humanity where Arabic is their mother tongue, Moulana articulates himself most eloquently and has the audience spellbound with his oratory. Moulana Abdul Khaliq leads the Salaah and we manage to capture some of the moments of this historic occasion live on Cii.
We sneak out of the Masjid afterwards through a back alley and walk straight into a reception with the Prime Minister. He is awaiting us right at the door and personally drapes each Convoy member with a autographed Palestinian scarf. In a testimony to his servitude to the people, he even has the patience to pose with each participant as photos are individually taken-quite painstaking indeed.
The Prime Ministers speech today is an important one. He reaffrims to those gathered, his government and the Palestinian peoples commitment to the constants of the struggle. Decisively he announces that they will never recognise the apartheid state, they will never lay down their arms in defense of Palestine and they will never cede any of historic Islamic Palestine to occupiers. ‘Leave the defense of Palestine in our hands and we leave the responsibility to make Dua, spend charity and create awareness in your hands.’
The food today is utterly divine and I gobble the huge mutton chunks heartily. Until now, chicken in Gaza had appeared to be the staple diet.
The prime minister is most accomodating. As someone comments, what is witnessed in him has only previously been read about in the books of history. He relinquishes his chair when new delgates arrive and interrupts the programme to acknowledge new arrivals in the hall. More specifially, today he is kind enough to afford me an interview at the shortest notice.
He listens calmly to my questions and shows a working understanding of English. Moulana Bilal Vaid translates into Arabic, just in case. His message today is tailormade for the people of South Africa and on my request he also lists a variety of means to assist the Palestinian cause beyond just charity. I am really dying to hear his thoughts on the upcoming Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations, but time does not permit. It is going to be a busy afternoon for the Prime Minister who whilst in our company has just received news that Turkey has cut military ties with Israel. When he announces it, there is a spontaneous outpouring of joy from the audience.
These new developments determine a new schedule for the afternoon. We hurry down to the Gaza seaport and embark on an impromptu protest at the memorial for the 9 Turkish activists killed in the Freedom Flotilla massacre. Flying Palestinian, South African and Turkish flags we denounce the UN report that appears to exxonerate Israel for its role in the massacre and quite bizzarely claims the siege on Gaza to be humane and legal. We are equivocal in stating that it is inhumane and illegal and our Palestinian guides back it up with some chilling statistics. Local Gazans who were frolocking on the beach, leave their merriment to join us. The international media is also present and spokespeople for the Convoy pay tribute to the Turkish activists who sacrificed for Palestine as well as the Turkish government for the bold move against Israel. More countries are called on to follow suit.
We then follow, to a largely symbolic degree, in the footsteps of these seafarers by jumping on a speedboat to break the naval siege on Gaza. Boats cannot go beyond a 3km radius according to the siege and we don’t get anywhere near. But with our flags flying high on the mast of the boat, hopefully the message got through. I wade my hand through the warm waters of the Mediterranean as a fine mist sprays my face. This is bliss.
We notice groups of Palestinian fisherman huddled up on a rock deaper into the bay. This is as far as they can cast with the stifling restrictions.
Our guide Mahmood informs us that this seaport was rebuilt recently using only rubble from the Israeli assault on Gaza. With this ingenuity, Palestinians were able to accomplish the development of what usually would be a $1 million project, for just a tenth of the price. It also gives him the chills recounting the Israeli naval assault on the territory during the last war. Palestinians had no line of defense and no less than 50 fishermen were brutally killed. Others were taken hostage and imprisoned by the occupation.
I have begun to develop a particular liking for Mahmood. He is patient and exhudes piety. He is also highly knowledgeable and has an amazing command of the English language. Over the past few days, I’ve heard colleagues mention that he can lay claim to the amazing feat of having memorized the Quraan in 3 months. Back at the hotel, I manage to get him all to myself and ask him how. What he shares opens up a new window into the spiritual awakening of Gazan society. No less than 10 000 young people, male and female, he reveals, memorized the Quran in the same 3 month summer holiday period this year and some manage to complete the memorization in just 20 days! It is an incredible story that I will Insha Allah afford more attention to in a separate post or article.
For our last day in Gaza tomorrow, group members have already made a request: Permission to spend a few hours at the shops of Gaza. Their message is clear, we’ve delivered the aid, now let us trade!