Six Kiwis join Gaza aid flotilla

17:00, Aug 08 2010

Six New Zealanders will next month be part of a massive aid convoy taking aid to the Gaza Strip in the Middle East, driven by the bloodshed aboard the Mavi Marmara in which nine Turks were killed earlier this year.

British-based group Viva Palestina is organising Viva Palestina 5, which it describes as a "global lifeline to Gaza", aiming to form a 500-vehicle convoy to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

The London convoy, carrying medical equipment, educational supplies and construction material, departs on September 18 and will join with similar convoys from Doha and Casablanca.

Auckland's Roger Fowler, 61, who is the manager of the Mangere East Community Learning Centre, is the "captain" of the New Zealand "Kia Ora Gaza" team. It includes his London-based son, Hone, photojournalist Chris Van Ryn, 50, electrician Pat O'Dea, 51, trainee teacher Mousa Taher, 23, and journalist Julie Webb-Pullman, 57.

Mr Fowler said the six were spurred by the deaths of nine Turks when Israeli troops intercepted a Gaza-bound humanitarian flotilla on May 31.

"People around the world, including here in New Zealand, were absolutely outraged at that," he told NZPA.

People felt helpless to respond and the group came together following public meetings.

"There is just a general feeling amongst people that kiwis should be part of it if it's going to be an international event."

The six met for the first time at the weekend and Mr Fowler said they represented a cross-section of New Zealanders.

They would drive three trucks nearly 4000km from London to Gaza, taking up to a month.

Mr Fowler, who has written and recorded a song, Kia Ora Gaza from Kiwiland, for the event, said they needed to raise about $100,000 to get the team to London.

"The funds are starting to roll in to the extent we are confident we can fund six people going there."

Mr Fowler said the hope was to break the siege, stop the blockade and allow the people of Gaza to attain "some semblance of normality".

"Given that the eyes of the world will be on this convoy, we are pretty confident we will get through."

Mr Fowler admitted he would be anxious about going into an area such as the Gaza Strip.

"It is very volatile, but the need outweighs the anxiety that I might have."