Gaza freedom march still blocked in Egypt

Walden Bello at the forefront of the Gaza Freedom March
04 January 2010
In the media

Gaza Freedom March attempts to lift the siege of Gaza

Published at

Today is my second visit to the American Embassy to put in writing my total disappointment with the United States government's lack of interest in helping Americans with Gaza Freedom March to travel to Gaza "without delay or hindrance" as our passports so declare.  I requested that American Citizen Services urge Ambassador Margaret Scoby to use the power and prestige of her office to intervene with the Egyptian Security Service to expedite our travel to Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza. I requested a written reply of the action taken.  It seems the least I can do as an American who cares deeply about the fate of the people in Gaza.
Although the headline in today's Egyptian Gazette says "Rafah open as of today," 1,300 internationals still in Cairo are not invited into Gaza without a permit that we must wait 20 days to obtain (although Egypt could issue it immediately if it wanted to).  Individuals and small groups that have tried to travel to El Arish have been turned back at the Ismalia crossing at Suez, about half way to El-Arish.
At the embassy I talked to a Palestinian man and his small daughter from New Jersey whose entire family is in Gaza.  Even he was turned back at Ismalia. I shared his anger and deep disappointment at Egypt's intransigence and America's lack of any meaningful action to help either its own citizens or the people of Gaza.

For America to sit on its hands while Israel continues to bomb an already devastated open-air prison of 1.5 million people is unconscionable.  The United States does nothing to end the Egypt-Israeli siege of Gaza or to mobilize international efforts to come to the aid of the Gaza Palestinians.  President Obama says we are the change.  More than a thousand of us are here to change an intolerable political and humanitarian crisis in Gaza.  We cannot see any indication that President Obama is paying attention.

Hundreds of peace activists from forty two countries, in confrontation with the Egyptian police of in the center of Cairo

 Hundreds of peace activists from all over the world are engaged in a prolonged  confrontation with the Egyptian police at Tahrir Square that in the heart Cairo,  protest the government of Egypt's decision to prevent them from entering the  Gaza Strip. Some 1400 activists had arrived from forty two countries all over the world, intending to arrive at the Gaza Strip and to hold a protest parade towards the Erez Checkpoint, together with Palestinian residents, and demand the lifting of the siege which is causing grave daily suffering to the million and half inhabitants of the Gaza Strip. However, the government of Israel applied  heavy pressure on the Egyptians to prevent the activists' entry into the Strip.  Finally, only one hundred of them were allowed to cross the border, who did  participate in a demonstration opposite Erez Checkpoint, simultaneously with  the rally held on the Israeli side.
The activists who were forced to remain in Cairo were indignant at the government of Egypt, and continued to demand to be allowed to get the Gaza Strip and hold the "Gaza Freedom March" for which they had come, at their own expense, from all over the world. . This morning Egyptian policemen besieged the Lotus Hotel  in Cairo, where many of the activists are staying, preventing them  from going out to the streets of Cairo and demonstrating. However, many of the international activists succeeded in avoiding the police and mingle with the  stream of tourists arriving at the Egyptian National Museum on Tahrir Square.
Suddenly, hundreds of them took off their shirts, revealing t-shirts bearing  the slogan "Freedom to Gaza – Remove the Siege!" and blocked for half an hour the traffic in the central streets of Cairo. Also after the police pushed them to the sidewalk they continued  to demonstrate, raising signs, reading "We Shall Overcome" and chanting "Free Gaza!", while surrounded on all sides by hundreds of police.
The whole affair causes considerable embarrassment to the regime of  President Hosni Mubarak, who feels unable to use against European and American activists the level of violence often used by the Egyptian police in dispersing demonstrations.  Moreover, the president is at the same time also strongly criticized by the opposition in the Egyptian Parliament, as well as by influentual Moslem sages, for authorizing the construction of "The Underground Steel Wall", designed to block the tunnels in Egypt's border with Gaza.
Gush Shalom, the Israeli Peace Bloc, says that the Netanyahu Government was in grave error in pressuring the Egyptians to prevent the entry of international peace activists into the Gaza Strip. Instead of regarding the peace between Israel and Egypt as a major asset, to be used as a bridge in order to achieve  peace with the Palestinians and to the entire Arab World, the government  pressured President Mubarak to adopt an unpopular policy which harms him and makes Israel's "Cold Peace" with Egypt even colder. That is a highly short-sighted policy".
Detailed report on the confrontations in Cairo:
Adam Keller, Gush Shalom Spokesperson, +972-3-5565804 or +972-54-2340749



December 29, 2009

Gaza Freedom March News

The historic Gaza Freedom March planned for Dec. 31, 2009 has drawn more than 1,300 people from 43 countries to join the Palestinians of Gaza in a nonviolent, mass march to the Israeli border for a global call to Israel: “Lift the Siege of Gaza!” Conceived in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and of nonviolent resistance to injustice worldwide, people from all over the world have gathered to march—hand in hand—with the people of Gaza to demand that Israel open Gaza’s borders. Its siege has imprisoned Gaza’s 1.5 million men, women and children and prevented food, clean water, fuel and building supplies from reaching the needy, many of whom are cold and homeless this winter.

Marchers and supporters around the world are marking the one-year anniversary of Israel’s December 2008 assault on Gaza that left more than 1,400 dead. The international delegates planned to enter Gaza via Egypt during the last week of December. On the morning of Dec. 31, they hope to join Palestinians in a nonviolent march to the Erez crossing. On the Israeli side of the Erez border will be a gathering of Palestinians and Jews who are also calling on the Israeli government to open the border.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with President Hosni Mubarak and other Egyptian leaders for nearly three hours when he visited Cairo on Dec. 29, 2009. They held discussions on a possible prisoner swap between Israel and Palestinians and Israel’s partial settlement freeze.

Have you endorsed the Gaza Freedom March?

For more information see the following article and Mondoweiss posts from other marchers:

For more information contact the following participants: Medea Benjamin | This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it | Egypt +20 (18) 956-1919 Ann Wright | This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it | Egypt (19) 508-1493 Ziyaad Lunat | This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it |  Roaming +351938349206 or  +20 191181340 Ehab Lotayef | Egypt +20 17 638 2628

Please also read the following updates from CODEPINK to see how Egypt has treated the marchers. See contact information for the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, DC below.

December 28:

At noon on Dec. 27 Egyptian security forces detained a group of 30 activists in their hotel in el-Arish as they prepared to leave for Gaza, placing them under house arrest. The delegates, all part of the Gaza Freedom March of 1,300 people, were Spanish, French, British, American, and Japanese. The Egyptian security forces eventually yielded, letting most of the marchers leave the hotel, but did not permit them to leave the town. When two younger delegates, a French and Japanese woman, attempted to leave el-Arish, the Egyptian authorities stopped their taxi and unloaded their luggage.

Another group of eight people, including  American, British, Spanish, Japanese and Greek  citizens, were detained at the bus station of el-Arish in the afternoon of Dec. 27. As of 3:30 PM, they were still being held.

Simultaneously, Egyptian security police broke up a commemoration of the Israeli invasion of Gaza organized by the Gaza Freedom March at Kasr al Nil Bridge, one of the main bridges connecting Zamalek Island, in the middle of the Nile, to Cairo. As a nonviolent way of commemorating the more than 1,300 Palestinians killed in the Israeli assault on Gaza that began a year ago on Dec. 27, 2008, Gaza Freedom Marchers tied hundreds of strings with notes, poems, art and the names of those killed to the bridge.

“We  are saddened that the Egyptian authorities have blocked our participants’ freedom of movement and interfered with a peaceful commemoration of the dead,”  said Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK, one of the March’s organizers.

Benjamin added that the Gaza Freedom March participants are continuing to urge the Egyptian government to allow them to proceed to Gaza. They visited the Arab League asking for support, various foreign embassies and the Presidential Palance to deliver an appeal to President Mubarak. They are calling their supporters around the world to contact Egyptian embassies and urge them to free the marchers and allow them to proceed to Gaza.

85-year-old Holocaust Survivor Hedy Epstein Begins Hunger Strike to Open Gaza Borders

Hedy Epstein, the 85-year-old Holocaust survivor and peace activist, announced that she will begin a hunger strike today as a response to the Egyptian government’s refusal to allow the Gaza Freedom March participants into Gaza.

Ms. Epstein was part of a delegation with participants from 43 countries that were to join Palestinians in a nonviolent march from northern Gaza toward the Erez border with Israel calling for the end of the illegal siege. Egypt is preventing the marchers from leaving Cairo, forcing them to search for alternative ways to make their voices heard.

Ms. Epstein will remain outside the U.N. building at the World Trade Center (Cairo) - 1191 Cornish al-Nil - throughout today, accompanied by other hunger strikers. “It is important to let the besieged Gazan people know they are not alone. I want to tell the people I meet in Gaza that I am a representative of many people in my city and in other places in the U.S. who are outraged at what the U.S., Israeli and European governments are doing to the Palestinians and that our numbers are growing,” Epstein said.

In 1939, when Epstein was just 14, her parents found a way for her to escape the persecution, sending her on the Kindertransport to England. Epstein never saw her parents again; they perished in Auschwitz in 1942. After World War II, Epstein worked as a research analyst at the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi doctors who performed medical experiments on concentration camp inmates.

After moving to the U.S., Epstein became an activist for peace and social justice causes. Unlike most Holocaust survivors, one of the causes she has taken up is that of the Palestinian people. She has traveled to the West Bank, collected material aid and now she hopes to enter Gaza.

Dec. 28 Press Conference at United Nations building in Cairo

Former Vice President of the European Parliament Louisa Morgantini, Filipino Senator and president of the Transnational Institute Walden Bello, American novelist Alice Walker, Ronnie Kasrils, a former Jewish South African Minister of Intelligence, and 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein held a press conference at the United Nations building in Cairo, at the World Trade Center, to highlight the contours of the humanitarian disaster in Gaza, on behalf of the Gaza Freedom March, an international coalition of 1,400 delegates from over 40 countries: the United States, France, Italy, Spain, Australia, Brazil, Venezuela, South Africa, and dozens of other countries, attempting to lift Israel’s blockade of the Gaza strip. The delegation’s mission to Gaza is stalled in Cairo because the Egyptian government has refused to give them permission to proceed to Gaza, citing security concerns. Novelist Alice Walker says that the Gaza Freedom March  will press on to Gaza.  Filipino Senator Walden Bello agrees, saying,  “We’ll get to Gaza, come hell or high water.

Gaza Freedom Marchers walled in behind police barricade in front of U.N. office in Cairo

Hundreds of activists staged a sit-in outside the United Nations building in Cairo demanding that the world body intervene to facilitate their entry into Gaza.

Egyptian security forces surrounded the demonstration while protesters chanted slogans calling for an end to the Israeli siege. A delegation headed by Filipino Senator Walden Bello held negotiations with U.N. representatives to ask for safe entry into Gaza for all marchers. U.N. attempts to reach out to the Egyptian government did not yield results, but the U.N. officials agreed to try to set up a meeting with the Foreign Ministry’s Chief of Staff and to deliver the group’s letter to President Mubarak.

Protestors dispersed at the end of the day promising to return with more creative actions. Eleven marchers – four Spanish, three Egyptians, one German, one Italian, one American and one northern Irish – vowed to spend the night at the U.N. building. Egyptian forces are surrounding them and there are fears for their safety.

Meanwhile, Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, 85, began a hunger strike to call the world’s attention to the current impasse. She was joined by eleven other hunger strikers.

“We are determined to enter Gaza, the criminal siege cannot continue,” said Ziyaad Lunat of the Gaza Freedom March organizing committee.


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