The fifth Viva Palestina aid convoy to Gaza left on Saturday 18th September from the Embankment in London. It includes two members of the Unite union delegated to drive an an ambulance on the convoy

Unite members on Convoy

The latest convoy place only three months after the Israeli Defence Force attacked the Mavi Marmara, a ship bringing aid to Gaza, killing nine of the people on board.

Gaza has been under siege by Israeli for three years. The siege is collective punishment for the people of Gaza who elected a government that Israel wants removed. The people of Gaza are reduced to living in what amounts to a prison camp in terrible conditions.

The convoy, which is an attempt to break the siege and alleviate the suffering in Gaza, was officially supported by many trade unions. Unite, Britain’s biggest union, passed an emergency resolution at its national conference condemning the attack on the Mavi Marmara and pledging to support the next convoy.

Jim Kelly, chair of the London and Eastern Region of Unite, told Counterfire why he seconded the motion:

Unite turns out to support convoy‘I just think our union are very proud to be participating in the convoy and to show real solidarity with the Palestinian people. All our delegates at the Conference in June were shocked at the murderous force used against the flotilla in June this year. My Region will continue to support the struggle of the Palestinian people and we would call upon other trade unions to intensify their efforts and build practical, real solidarity with the British trade union movement.’

Unite delegated two members, Richard Allday and Russ Ball, to drive an ambulance on the convoy.

Richard Allday, who is the Chair of the Regional Industrial Sector Committee for Road Transport and member of the Regional Committee for the London and Eastern Region of Unite the Union, spoke to Counterfire just before setting off about why he is participating in the convoy.

What inspired you to volunteer to participate in this convoy to Gaza?

It was the outrage that I felt at the murder by the Israeli Defence Force of the aid workers on the Mavi Marmara. Coincidentally, it happened during our union’s National Conference and so our region put in an emergency resolution, which the chair of the Region, Jim Kelly, seconded in what I believe was the most powerful speech of the whole conference.

When I spoke to the motion I wanted Conference to accept this was not just a paper resolution but that we should concretely aid the next convoy and I explicitly said that shouldn’t mean just donating goods or money – “conscience money”, if you like – but the Union should send a delegation on it. I felt impelled to; you have to put your money where your mouth is.

You are a delegate from the Unite Union. Why is it important that there is official union support for the convoy?

The first reason is that the union has a longstanding position of solidarity with the people of Palestine and I think it is important that if the unions have policies they do not just remain on paper. Secondly, I think the front page of The Guardian today proves why it is so important.

At a time when the right-wing try to conflate being Arab with being Muslim, being brown with being Arab, being Muslim with being Islamist, being brown-skinned with being a terrorist – I think it is imperative that the Union refuses to fall for that and that human rights are not limited to pale-skinned people.

For a lot of angry, Asian youth in this country who feel they’re being pushed to the margins of society, seeing a union like Unite standing by people they can identify with can hopefully bring them into the wider working-class movement.

You attended the immediate, spontaneous protest against the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara and the national Stop the War demonstration called the weekend after it happened. Do you feel there has been a shift in attitude in this country towards Israel?

Yes. I think there’s been a sea change. I think that you’ve heard the surf on the shingle since the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006. I think that the action against the Mavi Marmara crystallised a vague feeling of disquiet amongst a lot of people who had felt wary about criticising “the Jewish state” because of their hatred of anti-Semitism, but couldn’t reconcile their support for it because of the actions of that state.

I think that the Mavi Marmara – because it was so clearly an humanitarian action, because none of the murdered were Palestinian, because of the blatant disregard for international law, because they were civilians – caused sheer outrage from people who felt they could burst this bubble. The Zionist project has lost its claim to moral legitimacy.

What will you be doing when you get back?

I will be trying to persuade as many union branches (and anybody else) to invite me to report back to build solidarity.

Katherine Connelly

Kate Connelly is a writer and historian. She led school student strikes in the British anti-war movement in 2003, co-ordinated the Emily Wilding Davison Memorial Campaign in 2013 and is a leading member of Counterfire. She wrote the acclaimed biography, 'Sylvia Pankhurst: Suffragette, Socialist and Scourge of Empire' and recently edited and introduced 'A Suffragette in America: Reflections on Prisoners, Pickets and Political Change'.