Eastham, MA – 01/17/10 – reported by Bruce Taub*
On a cold day in January, fifty people gather at the Nauset Lighthouse in Eastham, Massachusetts (see photo attached)** to march in solidarity with the 1.5 million imprisoned people of Gaza, and with the 1,400 Gaza Freedom marchers who travelled from all corners of the globe to Egypt in late December in an effort to break the blockade of Gaza and to bring desperately needed supplies to the Gazan people. Those gathered are members and friends of Cape Codders for Peace and Justice, of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, of Jewish Voice for Peace, and of Progressive Democrats of America. The gathering in Eastham is surreal, of course, that people have joined together to walk on a deserted Atlantic Ocean beach in the middle of winter to express solidarity for 1.5 million people imprisoned over 5,000 miles away on the shores of the Mediterranean.
The only speaker is Jeff Klein, a retired machinist and union leader from Boston and long time activist in his neighborhood organization, Dorchester People for Peace. Klein has been to the Occupied Palestinian Territories six times, including one trip to Gaza with an aid convoy. His remarks are brief. He asks the people gathered to imagine that a portion of what is known as Outer Cape Cod, from the south Eastham border to the North Truro border (for a map of the area see*** below) an area approximately equal to the 140 square miles that comprises Gaza, has been completely surrounded and blockaded by hostile and well armed neighbors. No food, medical supplies, building supplies, or people can get in. No one can get out. The people inside are being starved, primarily because they democratically elected a government their neighbors don’t like. No planes can fly in. No ships can enter or leave. Even Gazan fishermen are not allowed to take their boats out to the sea.
Klein asks those gathered to imagine that this area of 140 square kilometers on Cape Cod – home to 10,000 year round residents – is populated by 1,500,000 people, the actual population of Gaza. It is nearly impossible to fathom. Then imagine, he asks, that water is rationed, that children are routinely dying for want of the most rudimentary medical care, that human waste has no way of being processed, that there is no fuel. Finally, Klein says, imagine that these same imprisoned people have been invaded and bombed by a very well equipped military, the fourth best equipped fighting force in the world, that thousands of civilians have been killed and wounded, and that the very planes, munitions, and white phosphorous being dropped on these imprisoned people are manufactured and gifted to the Israeli army by the United States of America.
The situation is reminiscent of decades of United States cavalry assaults on helpless and starving Native Americans, of the Nazi imprisonment of the unarmed Jewish population of the Warsaw ghetto, of Apartheid South Africa. And the options available to American citizens opposed to the granting of billions of dollars in military aid to one of the best equipped armies in the world (while millions of people in this country literally do not have health care) are few. We can try to make our fellow citizens more aware. We can lobby and advocate with our elected officials. We can try to boycott and divest from Israel, and sanction Israel. And on a cold day in January, we can walk on the beach.
It is odd what folks consider effective political advocacy in this time of great divisiveness and relative impotence. But walking on the beach is not the strangest of all. New friends are made. Alliances are explored. Folks meet afterwards to plan larger demonstrations, community forums, meetings with their Congressional representatives. Someone makes a video they will post on the internet. Someone writes a letter to an editor. Someone remembers the Nauset people who lived here before the European invaders destroyed every last Wampanoag man, woman and child, along with their entire way of life. Some people hold hands. Some people pray. Some people call out, “End the Siege of Gaza.” Others are heard to say, “Never Again.”
* Bruce Taub is a resident of Outer Cape Cod, a member of Cape Codders for Peace and Justice, and Massachusetts Coordinator for Progressive Democrats of America.
** Photo credit – Paul Rifkin
***Map of the Cape Cod area between south Eastham and North Truro – http://www.mapquest.com/maps?1pn=Truro+Town+Police+Dept&1c=Truro&1s=MA&1a=344+Route+6&1z=02666&1y=US&1l=42.01659&1g=-70.071738&1v=ADDRESS&1id=284447&2pn=Eastham+Town+Hall&2c=Eastham&2s=MA&2a=2500+State+Hwy&2z=02642&2y=US&2l=41.82988&2g=-69.97366&2v=ADDRESS&2id=263273982#b/maps/l:Truro+Town+Police+Dept:344+Route+6:Truro:MA:02666:US:42.01659:-70.071738:address::1:::284447/l:Eastham+Town+Hall:2500+State+Hwy:Eastham:MA:02642:US:41.82988:-69.97366:address::1:::263273982/io:1:::::f::::/e
Guest Post, Robert Naiman
Cairo – Some of us reached Gaza and participated in the Gaza Freedom March as planned. All of us significantly raised the profile of dissent – particularly, American dissent – against the blockade of the people of Gaza imposed by Israel and Egypt, with the backing of the United States and the acquiescence of Europe. The groundwork is being laid for future campaigning in the U.S. for “citizen sanctions” against the Israeli government that could help change the balance of forces influencing U.S. policy, so that U.S. policy becomes a force for peace, rather than continuing to perpetuate the Israel/Palestine conflict as the U.S. is doing today.
The New York Times (yes, the New York Times had two articles on the march) reported:
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered on both sides of the Israeli-Gazan border on Thursday to mark a year since Israel’s three-week war in Gaza, and to call for an end to the blockade of the area imposed by Israel and Egypt. About 85 of the several hundred demonstrators inside Gaza were foreigners, part of a group of more than 1,000 who arrived in Cairo in hopes of entering the territory but who were stopped by the Egyptian authorities. After days of negotiation, Egypt permitted a small delegation to cross the normally closed border at the southern Gazan city of Rafah.
Hundreds of us – confined to Cairo – protested against the Israeli/Egyptian blockade where we were. Our protests in Cairo were front-page news in the Egyptian press – and were reported in the U.S. as well.
The Christian Science Monitor reported:
Unable to protest the blockade from within the territory, they have protested it from here. The result has been a tense confrontation between American and European left-wing activism and a repressive police state engaged in a rigorous four-year-long crackdown on critics of the regime of Hosni Mubarak. Medea Benjamin, an American citizen, cofounder of the antiwar group Code Pink, and one of the march organizers, says she and 50 other US nationals were “beaten up” by Egyptian police when they went to the US Embassy in Cairo to attend a previously scheduled meeting with embassy staff on Tuesday morning.
And the New York Times noted that:
One protester, Hedy Epstein, 85, a Holocaust survivor, arrived in Egypt from the United States on Saturday. She said she started a hunger strike on Monday. “My message is for the world governments to wake up and treat Israel like they treat any other country and not to be afraid to reprimand and criticize Israel for its violent policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians,” Ms. Epstein said. “I brought a suitcase full of things, pencils, pens, crayons, writing paper to take to children in Gaza — I can’t take that back home.”
It wasn’t a starting point of the protest to highlight the role of the Egyptian government in enforcing the blockade. It was the government of Egypt which, by refusing to let us pass, put its role at center stage. The Egyptian government justifies its closure of the border crossing at Rafah by invoking “security” – just as the Israeli government does. The Egyptian policy is often explained as being a result of its opposition to Hamas – but enforcement of the blockade on Gaza by Egypt as a political weapon against Hamas is collective punishment of Gaza’s civilian population – just as grave a violation of international law as the Israeli enforcement of the blockade. Egypt’s actions in enforcing the blockade are powerful evidence for the widely held Arab view that in their policies towards the Palestinians, Egypt’s President Mubarak and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu are “tizein bilbass” – two butts in one underwear. The events of the last week have transformed the “Israeli blockade” of Gaza into an “Israeli-Egyptian blockade,” something that will dog Egypt’s international relations – including calls for sanctions against Egypt – until the siege has been lifted.
It is almost certain that new organizing around “boycotts, divestment and sanctions” against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza will take place in the United States as a result of the Gaza Freedom March. There is a strong push from Palestinian solidarity activists in South Africa and Europe for American solidarity activists to do more to promote the “BDS” campaign. There are plans for a delegation of Palestinian and South African trade unionists to tour the United States, and for student activists in the U.S. to train other student activists to launch BDS campaigns at universities.
Greater activity in support of sanctions against the Israeli government in trade unions, universities, and churches in the United States could eventually change the political terrain in Washington, by legitimizing the idea that the Israeli government should face real consequences from the United States for continuing its present policies. This year we saw the Obama Administration’s initial insistence on a total freeze of Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank fizzle out, in large measure because it wasn’t backed by any “or else” – even the idea of conditioning a part of U.S. aid to Israel on a real settlement freeze failed to gain any traction. A newly invigorated BDS campaign in the United States could create hundreds of organizing hooks to build momentum for a real change in U.S. policy.
GAZA FREEDOM MARCH
On the first anniversary of Israel’s war on Gaza, a peaceful torchlight procession moved through the central parts of Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, to show solidarity with and call attention to the Palestinian people and the Gaza Freedom March. The torchlight procession started at the Mosque in the southern parts of Stockholm and ended an hour later at the Immanuel Church in the city centre. A hundred torches lit up the dark, winter sky as the procession called for a lift of the siege on Gaza and a free Palestine.
MEMORIAL CONCERT FOR GAZA
At the Immanuel Church a grand two-hour concert was held in memory and support of the victims of last years’ war on Gaza. The event was also a fundraising event for Ship to Gaza (http://www.shiptogaza.se). It was organized by a coalition of organizations, ranging from the Swedish Fellowship for Reconciliation and Peace and the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden, to Jews for Israeli-Palestinian Peace and the Palestine Solidarity Association of Sweden.
The church was filled to the last seat, with people of all ages who came together to support the people of Gaza. Speakers such as the head of the Palestinian General Delegation to Sweden Mr Salah Abdel Shafi, Mr Dror Feiler, chairman of Jews for Israeli-Palestinian Peace and European Jews for Just Peace, and Ms Helle Klein, political editor of the newspaper Aftonbladet, all pointed out that Israel’s war on Gaza as well as the ongoing siege are crimes against international humanitarian law. Renowned musicians such as Carl-Axel and Monica Dominique, Monica Nielsen, Divine and Mousa Elias performed in solidarity with the citizens of Gaza that suffer but nevertheless continue to show resilience. This short clip was screened http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9esPiCxLDZk as well as photos from Gaza during the war and after. A large amount of money was collected to send supplies and solidarity to Gaza through Ship to Gaza.
(Text by Johanna Wallin, Photos by Anna Wester)
Guest post from Jean Althey:
Hedy Epstein, 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, has stolen our hearts. At four feet-ten, she is a giant. Her gentle smile lights up every room that she enters, and yet if you saw her on the street, you might not immediately sense her power. Unless you paid close attention, you would just see a sweet little old lady.
When she came to Cairo, Hedy decided to undertake a fast in support of the people of Gaza, a particularly apt form of protest given the inadequacy of both the supply and type of food the people there have access to. Malnutrition is endemic in Gaza, and children’s growth is stunted; people frequently go hungry.
Inspired by Hedy, thirty others joined her fast, beginning on December 28. Today, the fasters held a press conference on the steps of the building housing the Egyptian journalists’ union. Some of the thirty will continue to fast, others will stop now. They released this statement:
We are thirty activists from around the world, inspired by Hedy Epstein, the 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, who initiated a hunger strike in Cairo for the opening of the borders of Gaza to the outside world.
We recognize that the Palestinians of Gaza continue to hunger for food, shelter, and most of all for freedom.
We continue to hunger for justice for Gaza and all of Palestine. At this time, we announce that we will feast when Gaza feasts.
Until that time, each of us will choose the time to end her/his fast and again take food.
Our pleasure in that food will always be mixed with the pain of Palestinians.
We call on all people of conscience from around the world to renew their resolve for peace and justice in Palestine.
My friend Keren, Jewish like Hedy, has talked about how personally difficult it is to work for justice in Palestine when your dearest community will not support you, even actively opposes you. Hedy, too, has struggled with this problem, Keren told me, when members of her own family rejected her. And yet, she takes this strong, brave action, risking her health and accepting shunning from loved ones in order to stand up for those who are oppressed.
On this final day of the Gaza Freedom March, I have reflected on the experience—did we accomplish anything? We have all been inspired–by individuals of conscience like Hedy, by the sense of international friendship and solidarity that has pervaded these days here, even by the observable impact of our practice of nonviolence on the young policemen. There has been media coverage of our multiple protests here, and so we have raised up the issue of Gaza around the world, although coverage in the mainstream media has been limited, especially in the U.S. We have made lasting connections with one another, and so a nascent international movement, initiated by the South African delegation, is forming to combat the apartheid system in Palestine, a system with many similarities to what once existed in South Africa.
Most people will leave Cairo either tomorrow or the next day, returning home to their various countries. A few of us are staying on, however, hoping that we can, in a few days, get into Gaza after all–not to participate in a march but rather to offer our service as volunteers. If we are successful and cross into Gaza, we know that we will be greeted with love by the people there. We received this e-mail yesterday, written a few days ago, from the youth of Gaza:
We are still waiting for everyone to cross and share his/her feelings with us, but even if Egypt keeps you out, your work in Egypt is critical. Egypt is one of the perpetrators of the blockade, and we so appreciate all the solidarity protests you have conducted at great personal risk throughout the great city of Cairo, at every important “nerve center.” You showed your support of Gaza and Palestine loud and clear, waking humanity up to the 1.5 million persons in Gaza who have been suffering for the past four years.
So please don’t stop fighting, no matter what happens. With your help, we will achieve peace and justice. We are marching for freedom together.
We are still waiting for the Gaza Freedom March to cross from Cairo and we are against the Egyptian government’s decision! Welcome to Gaza and to a Happy New Year without blockade, settlements and occupation!
As for me, I have never spent a more memorable New Year’s Eve than last night, when I went to the French Embassy where the 200-strong French delegation was still camped out. Marching on the sidewalk between rows of small tents, with a couple of hundred riot police standing guard at the curb, the French, wearing paper New Year’s Eve hats, chanted, “Ga-za, Ga-za, on n’oublie pas! Ga-za, Ga-za, on n’oublie pas!” Gaza, Gaza, you are not forgotten! And, “Gaza, bonne annee, oui! Gaza, bonne annee, oui!” Happy New Year, Gaza.
May 2010 be the year that the blockade ends and freedom comes to Gaza and all Palestine.
It’s been a whole week since I’ve written an entry. So yesterday was the remembrance of the 1st day of the war on Gaza that took place last year. There were a lot of attempts from activists all over the world to go into Gaza and break the siege, but so far nobody has been let in. Being imprisoned for over a whole year is crazy. Not everybody could deal with such a thing, personally I doubt I’d be able to stay sane. The year 2009 had not started with hope, but wit massive destruction and a massacre, and now some Palestinians are planning for their new year parties; that’s a shame. How could they party, and what exactly are they partying for? A year full of hope? A year in which there will be a movement to free their country, and the thousands of prisoners in Israeli jails? If we are so good at partying and having a great time, why is it that we are not good at freeing our country and fighting for our rights, specifically our right to live in peace and harmony? We have copied the west with their new year parties, valentine’s day and all other things that are considered to be “fun”, our schools now have “proms” which we have literally copied from movies. But what good have we taken from them? Why do we always tend to take the things which have no benefit to us or our families? Things which don’t make our societies more “civilized”, but makes them move backward rather than forward. Because of manipulating propoganda we are considered terrorists and instead of standing up for ourselves and proving others wrong, we have become ashamed of our identities: when abroad many of us try to fit in with others instead of being who we are. We cringe when somebody finds out our heritage or religion. We make nicknames for ourselves so nobody will notice our Muslim/Arabic names. Our enemy has achieved what they sought for. They do not want us to exist, and the first step to wiping us away and off the political map, and the history of human geography is making us ashamed of who we are. For when we are ashamed we try to be what will be acceptable among others. And before you know it you are brainwashed and you begin criticizing and disowning your own people. It’s the same method the whites used with the blacks in North America; they brainwashed them, giving them new last names, treating them a lower class citizens, until the black people started despising themselves and did what they could to be more “white”; such as conking their hair straight and dating white girls (which was taboo at that time). It’s quite ironic that history repeats itself, and we do nothing differently. We don’t even try to use logic to explain what is happening. No, we’re too busy living life as there’s nothing to it; as if there is nothing that we can achieve. So we are satisfied by the minimum we achieve, while others are reaching much higher and are achieving much more.
After three days of vigils and demonstrations in downtown Cairo, Suzanne Mubarak’s offer to allow just 100 of 1,300 delegates to enter Gaza was rejected by the Gaza Freedom March Coordinating Committee as well as many of the larger contingents – including those from France, Scotland, Canada, South Africa, Sweden and New York State (U.S.).
“We flatly reject Egypt’s offer of a token gesture. We refuse to whitewash the siege of Gaza. Our group will continue working to get all 1362 marchers into Gaza as one step towards the ultimate goal for the complete end of the siege and the liberation of Palestine” said Ziyaad Lunat a member of the march Coordinating Committee.
The Gaza Freedom March was organized to focus attention on the one-year mark since Israel’s 22-day assault, which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, injured more than 5,000. Although the invasion technically ended, the effects on the ground have only worsened in the past 12 months. No re-building materials have been allowed in and more than 80 percent of Gazans are now dependent on handouts for food.
The marchers had planned to enter Gaza through Egypt’s Rafah Crossing on Dec. 27, then to join with an estimated 50,000 Palestinian residents to march to Erez Crossing into Israel to peacefully demand an end to the siege. However, the government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced just days before the hundreds of delegates began arriving in Cairo that the march would not be allowed to go forward. It cited ongoing tensions at the border. When marchers demonstrated against the decision, the government cracked down, often using heavily armed riot police to encircle and intimidate the nonviolent marchers. Egypt’s decision to allow 100 people into Gaza shows that the “security” argument is bogus.
Guest post Sayed Dhansay, 29 December 2009
The Gaza Freedom March was thrown into disarray today after a surprise announcement by the Egyptian government that it would allow 100 march participants to travel to the Gaza Strip early on Wednesday morning. The decision was reportedly as a result of a direct request from Egyptian first lady Suzanne Mubarak to the Egyptian foreign ministry following intense lobbying by marchers and organizers over the last three days.
Organisers had two hours within which to accept or decline the offer, and the impossible task of deciding which 100 delegates to send. The quota amounts to a mere 7% of the more than 1,300 people who are registered for the march. After consultation with local organizers in the besieged Gaza Strip, the international steering committee decided that sending 100 delegates as a symbolic show of support was better than having nobody arrive in Gaza.
Due to time constraints, march organizers compiled a list of proposed delegates with each country being alotted roughly two places. Because marchers are dispersed across Cairo at various ongoing protest actions, these developments were only communicated to the representatives of each country’s delegation at an emergency meeting called on Tuesday night.
This meeting soon descended into a heated debate. Several marchers were enraged that a decision of this magnitude had been taken unilaterally by organisers. Many felt that this move compromised the unity of the international delegation by excluding more than 1,200 registered participants. Adding to the tension was the near-impossible task of deciding who would go and who would remain behind.
The intensive and at times emotionally charged discussion, which lasted several hours, saw the attendees split into two main opposing camps. Some were of the opinion that a small representative delegation of this nature was an important “victory” against Egyptian government policy vis-á-vis the Rafah crossing. They also argued that it was vitally important to have an international presence inside the Gaza Strip during the planned march on 31 December as a show of support to Palestinians, despite this delegation being a fraction of the originally planned size.
The opposing view, which seemed to be the dominant feeling amongst most countries represented at the meeting, was that the decision to compromise was a grave mistake. Proponents of this view argued that they had come “not to send another symbolic aid delegation to Gaza, but rather to break the siege en mass and challenge the policy in the region with respect to Gaza’s isolation.”
This group feared that by endorsing the 100-person quota, they would play directly into the Egyptian government’s hands, affording them much needed positive publicity in the international media, whilst a longterm change in policy regarding the closure of Rafah would be left unchallenged. “This just gives the Egyptian government a photo-op and the chance to say we allowed people through,” said Bassem Omar, a Canadian delegate.
Many here see this as merely an attempt by the Egyptian government to save face in the international community while the country is in the media spotlight and under global political pressure to allow the march to proceed.
After a chaotic few hours of wrangling with these issues, the group split up into their various national delegations and affinity groups to decide amongst themselves whether they would accept the offer and participate in the 100-person convoy. At the time of writing, the Canadian, South African and Swedish national delegations had decided not to participate as they felt that this approach undermined the very purpose of the march.
A spokesperson from the French delegation also slammed the idea as “divisive” and said that the sit-in at the French embassy would continue instead. Activists who remain in Cairo are planning to continue their protest action at several venues across the city, culminating in a single mass mobilisation planned for 31 December in direct contravention of a ban on large gatherings imposed by Egyptian police.