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Gaza Freedom March Letter Three—December 29

December 30, 2009

Guest Post, Jean Athey:

Free Gaza actions occurred all over Cairo today, and so the police, who are often in riot gear, have had a busy day—they show up wherever we go. They are incredibly young, maybe 18 or 19. Typically, when the police work a demonstration, they surround us with moveable steel fences, which they line up behind– sometimes two deep–and they watch us with what seems to be curiosity, not malice.  However, their innocent appearance doesn’t mean they won’t become aggressive; for example, police today were very rough with several Spanish protesters. As internationals, though, we have great protection, not enjoyed by locals. Some Egyptians have joined in these protests, and we find their courage astounding.

This morning, I was at the U.S. Embassy with a group of about 40 other Americans. We went hoping to see the Ambassador, but instead we were surrounded by Egyptian police in riot gear and kept penned in for some five hours. The police told us that they did this at the behest of the American Embassy, but later the “political security officer” of the Embassy denied it. So, who is lying?  It is interesting that the French ambassador spent the night outside with the French protesters when they first occupied the sidewalk in front of their embassy, but the American ambassador refused to see us and apparently had us detained, and for no reason.

We went to the American Embassy to ask the U.S. to prevail upon the Egyptian government and allow our nonviolent delegation into Gaza. The U.S. has tremendous leverage with Egypt, of course, and if the U.S. asked Egypt to allow us to go to Gaza, the border would surely be opened immediately. Three members of our group were allowed inside the Embassy to speak to an American representative, while the rest of us were prevented from moving outside our temporary pen.  Our spokespersons reminded the political officer with whom they met that when Barack Obama came to Cairo in June, he spoke movingly of the power of nonviolence as a way to resist oppression. The President said,

For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding.

The Gaza Freedom March embodies that “peaceful and determined insistence” about which the President spoke.  I wonder if the Ambassador heard his speech.

In that same speech, President Obama acknowledged the dire circumstances of Palestinians in general, and Gazans in particular. He said,

So let there be no doubt: the state of the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own. . . Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security . . . Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

And yet, it seems that we Americans have turned our backs on the people of Gaza: we are doing nothing to end the siege, which is creating unimaginable suffering. And we have done nothing to compel Israel to end the siege. Indeed, the U.S. is presently facilitating a strengthening of the siege: it was announced last week that the Army Corps of Engineers is assisting Egypt in further isolating the people of Gaza by helping in the construction of a huge underground wall. This wall will cut off the only remaining sources of food, clothes, medicine, and all other necessities of life, which now enter Gaza through tunnels from Egypt.  How shameful that the U.S. is working to increase the suffering of the people of Gaza rather than to diminish it.

In his Nobel acceptance speech, President Obama said,

As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life’s work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak -nothing passive – nothing naïve – in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

Our President thus applauds nonviolent action and recognizes its strength. The Gaza Freedom March was conceived as a nonviolent response to what President Obama characterized as an intolerable situation and a humanitarian crisis—a crisis that has become increasingly dire since he spoke here in June.

Thus, we are attempting to do exactly what President Obama recommended, and yet when we went to our own Embassy for intervention with the Egyptian government, we were surrounded by police and detained for hours in an open-air pen, an appropriate symbol for Gaza itself, actually.

President Obama said in Oslo,

It is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine they need to survive. It does not exist where children cannot aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within.

In Gaza, because of U.S. complicity with Israel in the blockade, people do not have enough food, clean water or medicine. There are no books or paper for school children, and the schools that were bombed cannot be rebuilt because building materials are not allowed into the Strip. Unemployment is at 75%. There is little hope in Gaza.

President Obama ended his eloquent Oslo speech with these stirring words:

So let us reach for the world that ought to be – that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls. . .  Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, who believes that a cruel world still has a place for his dreams.

Let us live by their example.

And yet, when we U.S. citizens attempt to speak with representatives of our own Embassy–in a client state–about our desires to help alleviate a dire humanitarian situation, we are detained for hours like animals and refused an audience.  Is this the audacity of hope? Is this change we can believe in?

We ask our government to live by the words of our President and to help us end the illegal and immoral siege of Gaza.

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Update–Gaza Freedom March

December 29, 2009
by

Guest post from Sayed Dhansay, 28 December 2009

Participants in the first ever Gaza Freedom March are currently still in Cairo after the Egyptian government denied their requests to enter the Gaza Strip. Over 1,360 peace activists from 43 different countries have travelled to Egypt in the hope of visiting Gaza.

The marchers were scheduled to participate in a march inside the Gaza Strip on 31 December 2009 alongside an expected 50,000 Palestinians to commemorate the first anniversary of Israel’s winter invasion that left over 1,400 Palestinians dead and more than 5,000 injured. The Gaza Freedom March also has desperately needed relief aid that it wants to take into Gaza, and seeks to raise awareness of the suffocating siege which Gaza has been under since 2006.

Despite five months of intensive negotiations with Egyptian authorities by organisers, the Egyptian government notified them just days before the march that they would not be allowed to proceed.

Busses transporting the marchers were scheduled to depart from Cairo for the border town of Al Arish on Monday morning. They failed to arrive however after the Egyptian government threatened to revoke the permits of any companies transporting marchers to Gaza. Several participants who travelled to Al Arish independently on Sunday evening were detained or arrested, with some being placed under house arrest in their hotels.

Egyptian police also broke up a peaceful vigil on Sunday night which saw activists attempting to float 1,400 candles on the River Nile in commemoration of those killed in Gaza.

Other protesters report being harassed by Egyptian police and having their busses turned back at various points along highways en route to Al Arish. At present, reaching the Rafah border is impossible as several Egyptian military checkpoints have been set up to prevent protesters from approaching the sealed crossing.

On Sunday evening over 300 French nationals laid siege to the French embassy in downtown Cairo in order to pressure their government to intervene and persuade the Egyptian government to allow the Gaza Freedom March to proceed. The group is still camped outside the embassy and say they will remain there until permission to proceed to Gaza has been granted.

Also on Monday, five busses transporting British, Greek, Belgian and French marchers were turned back at several points en route to Al Arish, with some groups’ passports being temporarily confiscated by Egyptian police.

As every attempt to travel to Al Arish is currently being thwarted by Egyptian authorities, march organizers and participants have turned their efforts to applying political pressure on Egyptian authorities and raising awareness in local and international media in the hope that the decision will be reversed. On Monday afternoon, several hundred march participants staged a lively protest on the doorstep of the UN offices in Cairo.

Activists sang, waved Palestinian flags, erected a makeshift “Gaza Embassy” and staged a “die-in”, symbolizing those killed in Israel’s military offensive in Gaza one year ago. The protesters have set up camp outside the UN offices and refuse to disperse until they are given permission to travel to Gaza.

85-year-old Holocaust survivor and Gaza Freedom March participant Hedy Epstein is leading a hunger strike in protest of the Egyptian government’s decision to ban the march.

Several embassies have also been contacted to intervene and a women’s delegation has delivered a letter to the wife of President Hosni Mubarak appealing to let the march proceed. Organisers also met with the Arab League on Monday pleading for an intervention but, expectedly, were not given any firm commitment.

The over 1,300-strong delegation includes doctors, lawyers, diplomats, journalists, Imams, Rabbis, a Jewish contingent, women’s contingent, grassroots activists and Palestinians who have never been able to visit Gaza.

March participants are appealing to people in every country to urgently apply pressure to their Egyptian embassies to allow the delegation to proceed to Gaza and take with them the desperately needed aid.

You Heard what a Police State Looks like?

December 29, 2009

Cairo, December 28:

All 32 members of the Greek delegation and 130 members of the French delegation–the latter had a letter from their government authorizing onward travel to Rafah–attempted to leave Cairo and head to the border crossing. In 3 buses, they attempted the crossing to el-Arish. The Egyptian government, meaning the secret police, the security forces, and the army, stopped them just out of Cairo. They stayed for 3 hours. The French team negotiated directly with the government. After negotiations, they went back to Cairo proper, with a heavy police escort, perhaps 30 total. The Greek/French convoy requested to be dropped off in front of the Circle Hotel, where they had pre-arranged a meeting with journalists. They were let off there with a police escort, but were not allowed to stay there. In turn, the police ushered them back onto the bus, in order to prevent communications with journalists. They tell me that their hotel is full of police, asking questions, harassing.

Solidarity: NYC

December 28, 2009

Every voice on the Gaza Freedom March speaks for one thousand in their home country.

There were 850 people at yesterday’s rally for Gaza in New York City. As was the case with last year’s demonstrations during the Israeli attacks, the majority were young, enthusiastic, determined Arab-Americans, and a broad spectrum of Arab community groups cosponsored the rally. There were also contingents from a variety of antiwar and social justice groups, including veterans.
We started at Times Square and ended at the Israeli mission. Inbetween we stopped at the Egyptian consulate to protest their support for the blockade of Gaza and their current obstruction of the Gaza Freedom March and Viva Palestina convoys. Kevin Ovendon of VP also spoke to the crowd by a telephone hookup, and GFM representatives spoke.
The rally MCs called on the crowd to stay alert for activities being planned in support of the GFM and VP convoys.
(Submitted by Andy Pollack, Al-Awda NY.)

US Support for the Gaza Freedom March

December 28, 2009
Remember, the Gaza Freedom March is also aiming to change domestic policy. Changing domestic policy means changing domestic mentalities, too, and, perhaps, ending domestic ignorance. So see below.
Hello GFM Folks,
Philadelphia, PA/USA:  December 27th, a small group gathered to watch, “Sling Shot Hip Hop” at a local CodePinker’s home.  Half the group were aware of the realities in Gaza and the other half were shocked and unaware–which is the whole point of these events (I think)…
A good discussion followed the screening, we were able to provide viewpoints from various religious and spiritual perspectives.  We all came away with the following hopes for the future:
  • Support the YOUNG folks on both sides, who seem to really want change,
  • Work to support boycotts and other actions that finally brought about the fall of apartheid in S. Africa.   (which came up often in our discussion for comparison purposes)
  • To continue to contact our legislators and telling them we want the siege lifted and to stop supporting Isreal’s occupation/military policies
  • And finally, wanting to purchase the music in the movie

Submitted by Debi Richter
Local Coordinator:
Delaware River Area CodePINK

Open Letter to President Mubarak from the Gaza Freedom March

December 25, 2009

We are making a public entreaty to Mubarak to let the Gaza Freedom March into Gaza. Text below.

OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT MUBARAK FROM THE GAZA FREEDOM MARCH

December 26, 2009

Dear  President Mubarak;

We, representing 1,362 individuals from 43 countries arriving in Cairo to participate in the Gaza Freedom March, are pleading to the Egyptians and your reputation for hospitality.

We are peacemakers. We have not come to Egypt to create trouble or cause conflict. On the contrary. We have come because we believe that all people — including the Palestinians of Gaza — should have access to the resources they need to live in dignity. We have gathered in Egypt because we believed that you would welcome and support our noble goal and help us reach Gaza through your land.

As individuals who believe in justice and human rights, we have spent our hard-earned, and sometimes scarce, resources to buy plane tickets, book hotel rooms and secure transportation only to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians of Gaza living under a crushing Israeli blockade.

We are doctors, lawyers, students, academics, poets and musicians. We are young and old. We are Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and secular. We represent civil society groups in many countries who coordinated this large project with the civil society in Gaza.

We have raised tens of thousands of dollars for medical aid, school supplies and winter clothing for the children of Gaza. But we realize that in addition to material aid, the Palestinians of Gaza need moral support. We came to offer that support on the difficult anniversary of an invasion that brought them so much suffering.

The idea of the Gaza Freedom March—a nonviolent march to the Israeli Erez crossing– emerged during one of our trips to Gaza in May, a trip that was kindly facilitated by the Egyptian government.  Ever since the idea emerged, we have been talking to your government through your embassies overseas and directly with your Foreign Ministries. Your representatives have been kind and supportive. We were asked to furnish information about all the participants—passports, dates of birth, occupations—which we have done in good faith. We have answered every question, met every request. For months we have been working under the assumption that your government would facilitate our passage, as it has done on so many other occasions. We waited and waited for an answer.

Meanwhile, time was getting short and we had to start organizing. Travel over the Christmas season is not easy in the countries where many of us live.  Tickets have to be purchased weeks, if not months, in advance. This is what all 1,362 individuals did.  They spent their own funds or raised money from their communities to pay their way. Add to this the priceless time, effort and sacrifice by all these people to be away from their homes and loved ones during their festive season.

In Gaza, civil society groups—students, unions, women, farmers, refugee groups—have been working nonstop for months to organize the march. They have organized workshops, concerts, press conferences, endless meetings—all of this with their own scarce resources. They have been buoyed by the anticipated presence of so many global citizens coming to support their just cause.

If the Egyptian government decides to prevent the Gaza Freedom March, all this work and cost is lost.

And that’s not all.  It is practically impossible, this late in the game, to stop all these people from travelling to Egypt, even if we wanted to.  Moreover, most have no plans in Egypt other than to arrive at a predetermined meeting point to head together to the Gaza border.  If these plans are cancelled there will be a lot of unjustified suffering for the Palestinians of Gaza and over a thousand internationals who had nothing in mind but noble intentions.

We plead to you to let the Gaza Freedom March continue so that we can join the Palestinians of Gaza to march together on December 31, 2009.

We are truly hopeful that we will receive a positive response from you and thank you for your assistance.

Tighe Barry, Gaza Freedom March coordinator
Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK, USA
Olivia Zemor, Euro-Palestine, France
David Torres, ECCP, Belgium
Germano Monti, Forum Palestine, Italy
Ziyaad Lunat, Gaza Freedom March, Europe
Ehab Lotayef, Gaza Freedom March, Canada
Alessandra Mecozzi, Action for Peace-Italy
Ann Wright, Gaza Freedom March coordinator
Kawthar Guediri, Collectif National pour une Paix Juste et Durable entre Palestinens et Israeliens, France
Mark Johnson, Fellowship of Reconciliation
Thomas Sommer, Focus on The Global South, India

As Anniversary of Israeli Attack Approaches, International NGOs Call for Siege of Gaza to be Raised

December 25, 2009

A collection of a number of international NGOs has just released a report examining the various negative impacts that the ongoing blockade of the Gaza Strip has had on life there since last winter’s Israeli assault. In the report, “Failing Gaza: No Rebuilding, No Recovery, No More Excuses,” the various NGOs –which include Amnesty International UK, Medical Aid for Palestinians, Christian Aid, Oxfam International, and Mercy Corps–call for an end to the Israeli-Egyptian siege of the strip.

The report finds the blockade of Gaza to constitute a form of collective punishment.  It claims that Gaza’s people have been “betrayed” by the international community for its complicity with the ongoing siege.  Expressing their frustration with the weak governmental responses, the report’s authors claim the world has done little more than engage in “hand-wringing” over the current situation. They disapprovingly mention that the European Union has recently extended various economic and trade privileges to Israel.

“Failing Gaza” claims that only 41 trucks carrying construction materials have been allowed into Gaza since the assault last winter, noting that thousands such truckloads would be needed to provide for the reconstruction of the damaged or destroyed houses.  It also says that the monthly average number of truckloads entering Gaza that have borne goods and humanitarian supplies dropped precipitously: from 583 in early 2007 to 112 since the establishment of the blockade.  Only 35 categories of items are currently allowed into Gaza by Israel, down from some 4000 before the blockade began.

The report in full can be read here.