Dubbed "The Return to Gaza," the convoy is an international effort, with groups joining from the UK, the U.S. and dozens of other countries.
While some members of the Viva Palestina USA branch met their counterparts over the weekend in London, most will be joining the convoy in Istanbul on December 15th. The convoy plans to enter Gaza on December 27th after traveling through France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Egypt.
It does so amid an ongoing British government inquiry and American-based requests for investigations to determine whether its support for Hamas has broken any laws.
The brainchild of British MP George Galloway, the first Viva Palestina UK convoy publicly gave over $1 million to Hamas officials in March 2009. The second convoy, which departed New York in July with approximately 200 Americans, raised more than $1 million from fundraising events, largely through Galloway's speaking engagements around the country.
The money was purportedly transferred to Egypt where supplies were purchased for distribution in Gaza. Due to a blockade imposed by Egypt, the group spent only 24 hours in Gaza, meeting with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and visiting Hamas run-facilities, such as the Ministry of Prisoners, which is devoted to helping the families of Palestinian martyrs in Israeli jails.
One of Viva Palestina's stated goals is to "distribute necessary medical aid to the Palestinian people." However, a closer look at the activities of the past two convoys indicates that the organization actually benefits Hamas more than individual Palestinians.
After the U.S. convoy in July, questions were raised about where the medical aid and the cash donations went. Several participants noted in personal blogs that they were concerned over the matter. As an example, one participant wrote:
"I did not witness the presentation of the ten truck-loads of medical aid that VIVA PALESTINA purchased in Cairo and was donated by Egyptian businesses. I was told by VIVA PALESTINA leaders that that aid was distributed to several NGOs. I wish that VIVA PALESTINA would report an inventory of the contents, of the trucks, and a list of the NGOs who received the aid."
Perhaps in response to such doubts, as well as to complaints addressed to the federal government about its support for Hamas, Viva Palestina USA released a statement on its website on October 31st titled "Viva Palestina Addresses Concerns."
It claimed that the organization "does not and in fact will not favour any political party within Palestine" and "the donations were given to a non-governmental consortium in Gaza called Expertise in Consulting and Development (CODE) which was, in turn, responsible for distributing the aid in a manner consistent with our goals, as well as with the community's needs."
CODE receives significant funding, however, from the Union of the Good, designated by the U.S. Department of the Treasury in 2008 as an organization created by Hamas to "transfer funds to the terrorist organization."
The Treasury press release notes, "In addition to providing cover for Hamas financial transfers, some of the funds transferred by the Union of Good have compensated Hamas terrorists by providing payments to the families of suicide bombers."