Istanbul, Turkey — A “freedom convoy for Palestine” is on its way from Istanbul to a United States military base in southern Turkey in solidarity with the people of Gaza as Israel wages war on the besieged enclave.
Cars and vans displaying Palestinian and some Turkish flags departed from Istanbul’s Ataturk Olympic Stadium on Friday morning and headed to the city of Adana, where the Incirlik Air Base is located.
The Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), the Turkish non-profit that organised the event, said hundreds of vehicles were driving towards Turkey’s capital, Ankara, on Friday afternoon with many more protesters expected to join as the convoy stops in cities along the way, covering nearly 1,000km (620 miles).
Convoys departing from three other Turkish cities – Kahramanmaras, Kayseri and Van – were also expected on Sunday to reach Adana, where the demonstrators plan to encircle the Incirlik Air Base to protest against US support for Israel and to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.
The US and Turkish air forces are the primary users of the airbase, which has been used to fly combat missions over Iraq during the first Gulf War and launch air strikes on Afghanistan. The base has also been used by the US-led coalition fighting ISIL (ISIS).
A white bus with a banner that read “Freedom convoy for Palestine” stood out among dozens of vehicles that set off from Istanbul, joined by local pro-Palestine groups and some international activists.
Protesters, including families with children, gathered in a large parking lot where they held placards with slogans such as “We are all Palestinian” and “You can’t be silent.”
“People were very enthusiastic to go to the American airbase,” Mary Annette Wright, a 77-year-old retired US army colonel and former US diplomat who was at the demonstration, told Al Jazeera.
Turkey has taken a firm position critical of Israel’s actions. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called off a trip to Israel in late October over what he described as an “inhumane” war on Gaza. Addressing a large pro-Palestinian rally last week, Erdogan also called Israel an “occupier”.
Wright, who resigned from her post over the war in Iraq in 2003, is part of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, a solidarity movement that has launched several campaigns to raise awareness and challenge Israel’s blockade of Gaza, which has now lasted more than 16 years and has been tightened into a “total siege” since the war began on October 7, meaning Israel has stopped deliveries of food, fuel, water and medical supplies.
“[There are] people from Canada, Norway, Sweden, the UK, Spain, Italy, Malaysia, South Africa [in the convoy headed to Adana],” Wright said.
‘We are heartbroken’
The NGO behind the convoy is one of the main organisers of the 2010 “Gaza freedom flotilla”, an attempt by six civilian ships, including the flagship Mavi Marmara, to break Israel’s blockade and bring aid into Gaza.
Ten activists died in an Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara, which carried mostly Turks, causing a rift in Turkey-Israel relations that the two sides had only recently started to mend.
“In 2018, I was responsible for a ship from Norway to Palestine,” said Norwegian sociologist Gerd von der Lippe, who joined the convoy, referring to another flotilla that headed to Gaza that year.
“At that time, I stayed in an Israeli prison alongside 22 other people. I am happy and proud to be a part of the work done for Gaza.”
“Anyone who has some humanity should join this convoy,” Mustafa Ozbek, a spokesperson for the IHH, told Al Jazeera as the convoy made its way to Ankara.
“We’re driving down the highway right now, and we expect to be joined by more people in Ankara,” he added. “People from different countries have joined as well.”
People in Turkey have been protesting in large numbers against the war in Gaza since it began.
The war has so far killed more than 9,000 Palestinians as Israel conducts a continuous air bombardment on the enclave and pushes forward with a ground assault in the northern part of Gaza. More children have died in Gaza since the war began than in all conflicts around the world in each of the past four years, according to the charity Save the Children. More than 1,400 people in Israel have lost their lives, mostly in October 7 attacks by Hamas on southern Israel, which began the war.
“We are heartbroken because of what is happening in Gaza,” protester Yusuf Gungor said. “Our brothers and sisters need to know that they are not alone.”