Wednesday, 11 April 2012 / Asian People’s Solidarity for Palestine (APSP) - The Asian convoy was a remarkable collective venture and began when 27 Indonesians set of from Jakarta on the 6th of March 2012, for Karachi. At that moment, the Indian delegates from across the vast country and representing the vast diversity, were setting of in the trains to gather in New Delhi. Finally on the 9th of March 2012, 12 Indians and other activists, set off for the Wagah (India-Pakistan) border.
In terms of the Asian route, we did face many dilemmas and difficulties, due to the increasing political complexity in the region, arising out of the serious crisis in Syria. Thus the Asian convoy had decided to bypass Syria due to the raging conflict within. This brought up many problems in terms of the land route and the costs of the entire journey. We were also well aware that the two key strategic locations were Jordan and Lebanon, where the major mobilization would be organized. The only land route to Jordan was through Iraq and we tried our very best to negotiate with the Iraqi government for permissions. But unfortunately, that was not to be as the Arab League Summit was to be held in Baghdad on the 28-29th of March and that was the priority undoubtedly. The Asian Coordination Committee of the APSP (Asian People’s Solidarity for Palestine) had decided to divide the Asian convoy from Tehran, of which one was to go to Jordan-Amman via Baghdad and the other to continue on to Lebanon via Turkey. It was only the second route which finally was possible. Since we had decided that it was to be a land convoy and also due to the prohibitive nature of flights, we decided to travel from Turkey to Beirut by a Ferry Ship and this ensured that the very essential nature of the land convoy was persevered with, despite all the odds and hardships that we faced.
In terms of the participation, we had 150 representatives from 14 Asian nations namely, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and finally – Palestine.
INDONESIA (6th March)
Before leaving towards Karachi, the Indonesian delegates have begun a series of campaigns. Aqsa Working Group (AWG) arranged a long march on foot of about 450 KM, for disseminating the idea of GMJ. Two weeks prior to the departure, APSP members of Indonesia had meetings with Pastor Andreas (Form the Church of Indonesia) and Syafii Maarif (from Muhammadiyah; the second largest Muslim organization in Indonesia).
Before leaving Jakarta, meetings with the Palestinian Ambassador in Jakarta and Indonesian Parliament were arranged to promote the Idea of GMJ much more. Eventually a joint press conference was held in the office of Megawati Institute, a well-known institution founded by Ir. Sukarno. The conference was attended by 24 delegates from Indonesia, three Filipinos and three delegates from Malaysia as well as Indonesian MP, representative of Indonesian Christian Church, and members of Megawati Institute. The Indonesian, Malaysian and Filipinos finally left Jakarta towards Karachi on 6th March 2012.
INDIA (7th – 10th March)
Before they departed, the Indian delegates gathered at the shrine of Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat (New Delhi), where they reaffirmed their faith in non-violent resistance and they also appealed to the Indian people to once again stand up in solidarity with the Palestinian nation.
After a meeting where each of the delegates publicly shared as to why they were part of this long and difficult land convoy, the Indian delegation was finally flagged of by Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan (National President, Lok Janshakti Party, MP and ex-Cabinet Minister). Also Mr. Manishanker Aiyar (MP-Congress Party, ex-Cabinet Minister) graced the occasion. This was despite the fact that North India had just held 5 crucial state elections and the entire country had just celebrated Holi (festival of colors), the day before.
The Indian process for the GMJ has acquired a great deal of depth and most of the delegates had organized press conferences and warm farewell meetings had been organized by the local organizations.
On their way to the Wagah border, they were welcomed by the people of Amritsar and were specially felicitated by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC), which is the institution that manages the famed Golden Temple, which is holy for millions of Sikhs and respected by people of all faiths and they were all in awe of the sheer beauty and splendor of this sacred site. We then went and paid our respects to the hundreds of martyrs of the Jallianwala Bagh, massacre by the British colonial rulers. Finally a press conference was also organized before we crossed over into Pakistan.
PAKISTAN (10th – 14th March)
The Pakistani delegation welcomed the Indian delegates with great warmth and affection and the media too was present to cover the event. We were immediately taken to the Lahore Press Club, where we addressed a well attended Press Conference, along with the representatives of the various organizations. Later that night we had a meeting with the leading organizations of Lahore. That very night we departed for Multan, where once again we addressed the media and civil-society representatives. Then we were on our way to Karachi, though we stopped to address 2 meetings in Sukker, before we finally arrived in Karachi, where we stayed at the PILER institute. Here we met up with the delegates from Indonesia and Malaysia. Earlier they had already visited the Karachi University where they addressed the students and then they had a march along the beautiful sea-side of Karachi.
That very day we addressed a Press Conference at the Karachi Press Club. Later that evening, the Jamat-i-Islami organized a public meeting where the representatives of all the political parties and social organizations were present and they all interacted with the international delegates. On the next day, we held a meeting where the Palestinian ambassador addressed a gathering of the representatives of the labor, farmer and women’s movement. A special program was organized where all the international delegates visited the Mausoleum of Qaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Finally that evening, we attended a meeting organized by the Wahedat-I-Muslimeen.
Now it was time for our next destination namely Iran. The Pakistani, Indonesian and the Malaysian delegate travelled in buses through Baluchistan and stopped over for public meetings in Quetta and other towns. Finally they arrived in Zahedan on the 15th of March.
IRAN (15th – 20th March)
The programs in Iran began when we were all united together in Zahedan once again. A welcome ceremony was organized at the border and finally that afternoon, a program was held at the Zahedan University. That very night we all left for Qom. Here we had a public meeting where we were addressed by the Chancellor of the Qom University and the students were very receptive to the speeches of the international delegates. Needless to say, that the programs in Tehran left an indelible impact on the delegates and generated a lot of international news coverage. We unfurled a massive Palestinian flag from the top of the historic Azadi Square. Here we also addressed a very well attended press conference. On the next day we visited the Iranian Parliament, where we were addressed by Dr. Ali Larijani (Head of the Parliament) and on behalf of the Asian delegation, Feroze Mithiborwala also addressed the gathering. After this program we visited the former US embassy, which is now a museum. Here Dr. Ali Akbar Velayati (adviser of Iran’s Supreme leader on international affairs) addressed the gathering. Then we were also hosted in a dinner meeting by Dr. Qalibaf, the mayor of Tehran. Finally we were all honoured to have been invited for an audience with President Ahmadinejad. On behalf of the Asian delegation, Salim Ghafouri (Iran), Feroze Mithiborwala (India), Muhammad Mahruf (Indonesia) and Maulana Noorani (Pakistan) also addressed the gathering, before the speech by President Ahmadinejad.
The Iranian New Year was just round the corner and there was a great festive atmosphere in the air, but yet there was some hard work to be done before we left Tehran. There was still the matter of the Turkish visas for Pakistani and Afghan delegates. In spite of applying the lists in time and different corresponding the matter was not resolved. Eventually it was decided that the caravan will leave for Turkey meanwhile 25 Pakistanis and Afghans had no other choice except flying to Lebanon. But Iranian New Year vacation and already chartered flights for tours was a big problem for finding tickets to Beirut for 25 people. Thus the only substitute was to book tickets for Damascus (with lower rush due to political situation there) and proceeding from Damascus to Beirut by land. Here it was decided upon that due to the Syrian crisis, no public programs would be held and the delegates would just wait to get their visas for Lebanon.
The main caravan then travelled along to Zanjan and finally across to Tabrez, Maku and the Bazargan border into Turkey.
TURKEY (21st – 27th March)
Turkey undoubtedly was a different experience compared to the first Asian Convoy to Gaza (2010-2011), where we had travelled mainly through the Kurdish populated areas. Both the host organizations which included Mazloumdar and Taider, truly put in a remarkable effort to facilitate the progress of the Asian convoy. We first addressed a public meeting in Igdir and then later a gathering with strong media presence in Erzurum. We carried along to Ankara through the course of the night and we finally arrived there in the afternoon. We all marched to protest at the Israeli embassy. Here speeches were made by the representatives of the Turkish organizations and by the Asian delegates themselves. The media did give us very wide coverage and for the first time Ankara was witnessing a spectacle of Asians shouting slogans against Zionist Apartheid Israel in Ankara. After a night halt, we moved onto Istanbul and were awed by the beauty of this historic city. Both in Ankara and in Istanbul we lived in Masjids and the very simplicity of this GMJ-Asian convoy was one of its proud hallmarks. In Istanbul, we addressed a public meeting along with the representatives of the Turkish organizations.
We then travelled to the historic and spiritual city of Konya, the home of the great mystic Maulana Jalauddin Rumi and we visited his mausoleum. But before that we marched to the town centre, shouting slogans for Palestine. We also addressed a public meeting in the town centre and this was well covered by the national Turkish media. Later that evening we had a meeting with the representatives of the civil-society organizations. We now moved down south towards the port of Mercin-Tasucu, where our ship awaited us. We finally boarded our ship on 28th March and departed for Beirut over a 10 hour voyage after 3 days nonstop journey in Turkey by bus.
LEBANON (28th – 30th – 2nd April)
On our arrival at the Beirut port at 9am, there were some complications in terms of our visas. After an extended negotiation with the authorities, barring the Indian, Iraqi and the Filipinos, all the others were allowed to disembark from the ship but that too after 10 hours. We soon realized that it was not the matter of paperwork, but a political pressure and thus the problems that we faced on the port were to be dealt with in total coordination with our Lebanese allies. And it was finally that trust and unity that freed the remaining 41 delegates after their 44 hour ordeal, but this we realized is nothing in comparison with what the Palestinians have to endure on a daily basis.
All these hardships and difficulties only increased the respect that we had for each other, as despite all the odds that the Asian convoy faced, we kept on taking on the challenges and finally surmounting them. When we arrived at the Golden Plaza Hotel in Borj-al-Barajneh, all the delegates were waiting to welcome us a loudly and as boisterously as possible. Undoubtedly it was a happy reunion, because by that time even the Pakistani-Afghan delegates had joined us after passing via Syria.
Then finally on the 30th of March, the Palestine Land Day, all the Asian and other International delegates traveled over to the Shaqeef castle where the gathering was organized and where thousands of people were present. The mood was very positive and the morale was very high and we were warmly welcomed by the people. Here there were speeches and revolutionary songs and defiant slogans rent the air and the cries for Jerusalem-Al Quds reverberated across the land.
For the Asian delegates, the first GMJ-Asian Convoy which spanned a period of 25 days and more than 15,000 Km was great success by all standards, as we ensured that through the course of the land convoy, news was generated by our actions and our meetings, we produced a lot of photographs and videos that were uploaded and followed by millions of people across the world due to the growing influence and power of the global social media. Table (1) has summarized the activities of GMJ-Asian caravan.
We achieved the strategic objective of ensuring that name of Jerusalem resonates across every nation on earth and that Jerusalem is back as the central issue and that we will never surrender Jerusalem and oppose the Zionist policy of Judaisation, for Jerusalem is the capital of historic Palestine.