Thursday, December 31, 2009

Demo for Gaza and Palestine

Thanks to Ellen Davidson for the photo!
Josie and Barbara from MECA holding signs outside our hotel in Cairo where we protested against Israeli and US actions in Gaza and all of Palestine.
Arabic sign reads "The Wall Must End"

Gaza Anniversary Demonstration in Cairo

It's December 31, the date of the Gaza Freedom March and its accompanying solidarity actions around the world. We are not in Gaza today as hoped but here in Cairo we are remembering the people of Gaza who endured three weeks of brutal Israeli attacks last year as well as the people of all of Palestine who endured 61 years and counting of colonization and occupation.

Barbara and I woke up this morning to the news that our hotel entrance was barricaded off by Egyptian police. Many people staying in our hotel had gotten out early to begin preparations for a large march towards Gaza starting out from central Cairo. Around 20 of us still stuck in the hotel organized a small solidarity protest on the sidewalk of our hotel. Our small group was tired of the focus on us rather than on the people of Palestine. One woman managed to get out of the hotel posing as an ordinary tourist and bought us poster boarders and large markers to make new signs with different messaging. We wanted to bring the focus back around to the roll of Israel and the US, not the Egyptian government and police who are just pawns.

Our new signs saying "Stop Israeli Aggression", "End US Support for Israel", "Israel + US: Let Us Go to Gaza!" "Arrest Netanyahu", "The Wall Must End" and "Down with Israeli Aggression & Apartheid" in English and Arabic were well received by passersby. We chanted things like "No, no Israel! Free, free Palestine!", "Israel, Open the Borders!", and "Free Gaza" in English in Arabic. (View photos)

It was an inspiration to be with such a committed group of solidarity activists from around the world.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Why the Egyptian Deal is Bad for All from Barghouti and Eid

Dear Gaza Freedom March organizers and participants,

After a lot of hesitation and deliberation, we are writing to call on you to reject the "deal" reached with the Egyptian leadership (through Mrs. Mubarak). This deal is bad for us and, we deeply feel, terrible for the solidarity movement.

We initially felt that if representatives of all forty some countries can go to Gaza and lead a symbolic march along Palestinians it would convey the message to the world public opinion, our main target. However, after listening to the Egyptian Foreign Minister's press conference last night on Aljazeera and the way he described the deal in details, we are unambiguous in perceiving this compromise as too heavy, too divisive and too destructive to our future work and networking with various solidarity movements around the world.

Mr. Abu Al-Gheit described the 100 that they graciously accepted to allow to enter Gaza as those from organizations which Egypt considers "good and sincere in standing in solidarity with Gaza the same way as we [the regime] do." He described the rest as "from organizations that are only interested in subversion and acting against Egyptian interests, to sow havoc on the streets of Egypt, not to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians." He also said that the Egyptian public was wise enough to see that those were hooligans and stayed away from them. Other than the obvious divisiveness that agreeing to this deal would cause, what's wrong with this picture:

1) The Egyptian regime in this press conference painted a picture of the great majority of the internationals participating in the GFM as hooligans and agents provocateurs, not real solidarity groups. This is a grave insult to all of us, to all our partners and to the entire GFM, as it depicts us all as partnering with "fanatic," "destructive" forces, not forces for ending the siege and for the rule of law;

2) The Egyptian leadership will use our agreement on this to say that their position and "way of solidarity with Gaza" was right all along, and those that saw the light and agreed with this wise way were allowed in.

3) Arab and international public pressure on the Egyptian government are rising dramatically due to the actions that you all have engages in and the excellent media messages that you have sent. The Egyptian government wants to use this deal to release pressure and re-paint itself as concerned about Palestinians in Gaza. This is all to deflect attention from the Steel Wall they are building and the fresh calls for taking the government to task over its complicity in the Israeli criminal siege.

Our longer term interests as Palestinians is not to allow the regime to get off the hook this easily. Either they allow all 1400 participants into Gaza (if they are "hooligans" best to get rid of them in Egypt and "ship" them to Gaza, right?) or we strongly urge you to reject the deal out of hand as too little, too late and too ill-conceived.

We cannot possibly decide on this matter, as ultimately this is up to ALL of you. If a CLEAR majority among you feel that you want to go through with the deal, we shall always welcome you in Gaza and deeply appreciate your solidarity. But we feel your solidarity without coming to Gaza, exposing the Egyptian siege against you and us, may bear more fruit for us and towards ending the siege, at least from the Egyptian side.

We salute you all and thank you from our hearts for the indescribable work you have all done for Gaza!


Haidar Eid, Gaza
Omar Barghouti, Jerusalem

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Day 3: Netanyahu's Visit

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, was also in Egypt today. In his three hour meeting with Mubarak, Netanyahu claimed that he is interested in restarting the "peace" negotiations with Palestinians. But it is clear from his actions--and the actions of the entire Israeli government--that their idea of peace is very different than ours. We can't be duped into supporting a peace that doesn't respect Palestinians' rights.

We just came back from a locally organized protest against Netanyahu's visit. Hundreds of international and Egyptian activists gathered with signs calling for Israel to end the brutal siege of Gaza and for Egypt to stop cooperating with Israeli policy. The crowd had great energy and were carrying inspiring signs in Arabic, English, French and Greek. (View photos of signs and protesters)

This morning we joined 33 other US participants in the march on an attempted visit to our embassy. Though Egypt is the one who technically controls the Rafah border we know that our government has the a lot of sway since Egypt is the second largest recipient of US foreign aid. Our French friends who are camped outside their embassy on the other side of Cairo were also told by one of the embassy representatives that Israel is the one that told Israel to pull the permit for our entry into Gaza. Egypt is just a puppet in this theater show.

We set out at 9:30am and walked over to the neighborhood where the US Embassy is located. Immediately Egyptian police, at the behest of our Embassy, began herding us into a small area and a line of police prevented us from continuing our walk to the embassy. Two protesters broke through the line of police and refused to move. Eventually they negotiated for three representatives from the group to go in and met with a political secretary who we understand is third in line at the Embassy. They made demands for the Embassy and US State Department to facilitate our entry into Gaza since we are going at the request of local Gazan organizations to participate in a nonviolent demonstration. This march is exactly the kind of initiative Obama claimed to want to see in his Cairo speech last June. (View photos of us outside the embassy)

We are still trying everything to get entry into Gaza and have just heard that 100 people will be allowed in for 24 hours. Everyone is still discussing who will go in and we are also trying other ways to put pressure and briefly break the siege of Gaza.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Remembering Gaza

Today is our second day in Cairo and we are disappointed to tell you that we still do not have permission to go to Gaza. We came to Egypt with more than 1300 people from 42 countries hoping to march side-by-side with thousands of Gazans to draw the world's attention to the brutal siege of Gaza and to remind the world that though the bombs have stopped raining down, the war on the people of Gaza continues.

We are all working hard to keep up pressure on our governments and international bodies in the hopes of entering Gaza. But if we don't succeed we can still stand in solidarity with the people in Gaza marching on December 31 through the hundreds of actions happening around the world on that day. We hope you will join one.

We just returned to the hotel after spending the day protesting at the United Nations offices in Cairo. Hundreds of the Gaza Freedom March participants congregated at the UN building to ask for their assistance. Representatives from the march went inside to ask for help in getting all of us into Gaza along with the humanitarian supplies people have carried with them for the people of Gaza. We are still waiting for a response from members of the UN.

This afternoon we received word that 300 French participants who began a demonstration at their Embassy last night were still there and asking for people to come support. We went with a group of people from other nationalities to see them and show support for their action. It was a surprising but not unfamiliar sight. The Egyptian police officers (wearing riot gear) far outnumbered the protesters and had corralled them onto the sidewalk. And across the street were more than 38 large trucks carrying more police officers. Despite the situation the French activists are staying camped out until they get permission to go to Gaza. (Read more, View our photos)

We have to run now to meet with others and figure out our plans for tomorrow.

In the meantime we wanted to share with you this website marking the one year anniversary of Israel's brutal attacks in which 1,414 Palestinians, including 313 children, were murdered: Gaza Speaks: One Year On

More updates soon,
Barbara and Josie