On a chilly morning in December 2010, I received a call. The schedule of the Asia-to-Gaza Solidarity Caravan had been altered, I was told, and instead we were to set off, that very morning, from Rajghat. We would be heading west, towards Pakistan, even though our Pakistani visas had not yet come through. Needless to say, this was an unsettling way to kick off our journey, organised to express the solidarity of the people of Asia – the caravan had representatives from Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Pakistan, Palestine, Syria, Tajikistan and Turkey – with those of Palestine against occupation and imperialism.
As we went forward, it became clear that the Islamabad government was refusing to grant us visas. As such, we activated Plan B: a few of us were granted conditional visas to go up to Lahore to symbolically register their presence, while the rest took the first flight to Tehran from New Delhi. We then travelled by another flight to the town of Zahedan, on the Iran-Pakistan border, before formally beginning our road journey.
The Asia-to-Gaza caravan, comprising two large tourist buses with 35 people on board, thus began the long road journey from Zahedan to Gaza on 9 December. Our peace mission was well received by locals, as we held street-corner meetings all the way through Iran and right up to Bazargan, on the border with Turkey. There we crossed over and went on to Diyarbakir and Gaziantep to enter Syria.
The caravan faced its greatest challenge as we entered Latakia, the most important port city in Syria. This was where we were to board a ship called Salam, Freetown with aid material bound for Gaza. But the Egyptian government refused to grant us permission to cross through its waters, worried that there would be casualties in case of a confrontation. Accordingly, we reduced the number of representatives on the ship to just one person from each country, and were granted permission. The ship finally sailed as the rest of the group took the land route, to enter Gaza a few days later.
We arrived to a warm welcome, and seeing first-hand the sufferings of the people of Gaza, we were reminded of the importance of the mission, both in substance and symbolism. Geography and distance suddenly appeared to be obscured, as people from throughout Asia stood shoulder to shoulder with the Palestinians in their struggle.