Viva Palestina is a charity that was started in the UK and which has spread to several countries around the world, including the United States. Conceived by George Galloway after Operation Cast Lead, the group is ostensibly concerned with delivering aid – which, according to the Israelis, could include weapons to be used against them – to Gaza.
The charity also claims to support the promotion of peace between Palestinians and Israelis, although little has been done in this regard. On the contrary, far from promoting peace, the group has frequently provoked conflict – not least in 2010 when it supported the illegal and ill-fated flotilla led by the Mavi Marmara to enter Gaza by sea.
The sixth Viva Palestina convoy left Britain last month bound for Gaza, revealing the organizers' overwhelming obsession with Israel. Without a hint of irony, it was announced that their supposedly urgent humanitarian convoy would be passing through Syria en route to Gaza. There was no discussion, however, of aiding the tens of thousands of Syrians who have been systematically tortured, abused, or displaced in that country. The convoy is to pass straight by the thousands of Syrians who are now forced to live in refugee camps in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan.
When the War in Gaza took place George Galloway said the following:
The barbaric Israeli assault on Gaza will go down in infamy alongside Deir Yasin and Sabra and Shatilla as one of the defining events of the Palestinian tragedy and resistance.
The atrocities are continuing – so too must the world-wide protests.
Our government arms the quisling Arab regimes whose cowardice and greed are as necessary to Israel's murder as its US supplied weapons.
Let's unify our efforts. Stop the Slaughter in Gaza.
No such evocative language is extended to Bashar al-Assad whose regime is indiscriminately massacring its own people – not least in Homs, the town which was shelled relentlessly for just under a month. Syrian activists suggest that more than 15,000 civilians have now been killed. Instead, Galloway glossed over atrocities there in the following terms:
I reject any foreign intervention in Syria's affair or in any other country. Western interference in Arab affairs is rejected…I am convinced that the Syrian people are able to solve their internal problems without any foreign interference.
So, while Gaza was a "barbaric" and a "slaughter," Syria is merely an "internal problem." This is boilerplate hypocrisy for Galloway who has spent his career in obsequious servitude to any tyrant on condition that he has money, is anti-Israel, and anti-Western. In Iraq he famously told Saddam Hussein, 'Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability – a man who arguably killed more Muslims and Arabs than any other leader in the region. But Saddam is no more, so on to the next. In Iran, where President Ahmadinejad crushed the "Green revolution" Galloway has showered the regime with fawning praise and unfettered encomiums. In Damascus, where no political parties are allowed, where no elections take place, and where human rights are a mere fantasy, he told a handpicked audience, "Syria is lucky to have Bashar Al-Assad as her president."
The problem within Viva Palestina extends beyond Galloway. So deep is its institutional hypocrisy that Kevin Ovenden – who sits on the leadership of both Viva Palestina and Galloway's Respect party – accompanied the latest Viva Palestina convoy through Syria. He told Syrian television:
The primary goal of the convoy is to remind the people that the Palestinian cause is an essential cause, and to carry aid to the Palestinians and the continuation of the efforts to lift the siege from them. The date which was chosen for the convoy to arrive at Gaza was the 15th of this month. This is to coincide with the occasion of Nakba day, to remind the world that the Palestinians who where displaced from their homes have to return to them and to their homeland.
No word on the thousands of Syrians who have not just been displaced from their homes, but have had them destroyed through relentless shelling. No word either on Syria's sponsors, Iran and Russia. All of this has, of course, played directly into the hands of the Syrian regime which has exploited the convoy for maximum propaganda value. The Syrian press reported Viva Palestina's arrival in the following terms:
The humanitarian aid convoy "The Right to Return" heading to Gaza entered the Syrian territories through Kasab crossing point on Wednesday.
The convoy is organized by a group of Europeans who stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people and Syria and headed by the British MP George Galloway.
Receiving the convoy, Lattakia Governor Abdel Qader Mohammad al-Sheikh and Secretary of al-Baath Party Branch in Lattakia, Mohammad Shreitah, expressed Syria's gratitude to the convoy members' stances in support of the Palestinian Cause which is the Arabs' central cause.
Spokesman of the convoy members thanked the Syrian government and people for facilitating their mission in conveying aid to the Palestinians in Gaza and continuing efforts to lift the siege imposed on them.
The unspoken corollary is clear – a British parliamentarian supports the Syrian regime, focuses on Israel, nothing to see here. This is something Bashar al-Assad has consistently tried to achieve since the revolution began over a year ago. He is keen to project himself as having international support, while trying to divert domestic unrest towards Israel, a time-honored strategy of Arab despots.
That an experienced politician and his supposedly humanitarian activists should have played into al-Assad's hands in such a way is no mistake. An agenda so myopically obsessed with Israel, the West, and "anti-imperialism" is necessarily blind to any reality challenging that worldview.