The Gaza Freedom March (GFM) was conceived as a massive nonviolent mobilization to end the suffocating siege of the Gaza strip. It was to have seen 1,400 internationals from over 40 countries, including France, the United States, England, Germany, Canada, South Africa, Venezuela, the Philippines and Japan, marching with 50,000 Palestinians in Gaza. The GFM organizing committee had extensive talks with the Egyptian government to facilitate the marchers’ entry. Just days before marchers were due to arrive, however, the Egyptian government refused the GFM permission to enter Gaza.
Egyptian riot police surround 300 furious French solidarity activists who are camping, literally camping, in front of the French embassy in Cairo. Plainclothesmen and blue-garbed security forces encircle 600 American and international protesters in front of the United Nations building in downtown Cairo. By yesterday, we were all supposed to be in el-Arish in the Sinai Peninsula, en route to Gaza. The buses of the Gaza Freedom March were supposed to be packed with passengers and humanitarian aid, not sitting in their depots in Cairo. Today, we were supposed to be meeting with Palestinian civil society, gathering in solidarity with them, commemorating last year’s winter massacre.
Instead, we spent yesterday afternoon penned behind steel riot barriers in Cairo, hundreds of kilometers from Gaza. The Egyptian government has refused to let us board buses and head to the Rafah crossing. They’ve revoked our permits to gather, and nearly instantaneously surround smaller groupings. Pretty far to go to prevent a nonviolent demonstration from marching to Gaza to shatter the Israeli siege.
But we’re pushing back. Hedy Epstein, a Jewish anti-Zionist Holocaust survivor, declared a hunger strike at the UN encampment. Eleven others are continuing the hunger strike. The French EuroPalestine contingent has announced that they will not leave the sidewalk in front of the French embassy until they have secured buses for the voyage to Gaza. As Olivia Zemor, a spokeswoman, puts it, “we are waiting for the buses, we are staying in front of the French embassy, even if it’s not comfortable, it’s much more comfortable than Gaza.” The Egyptian government has threatened to lock them in a high-school until their flights depart. The larger cadres of the Gaza Freedom March – the United States, Spain, France, Italy, Great Britain, Japan and the Philippines – have left the United Nations’ grounds. United Nations officials don’t have the power to ensure safe-passage to Gaza. Egypt is being pushed to do its bit to maintain the Israeli imprisonment. We’re pushing back. Push with us.
Max Ajl blogs at www.maxajl.com, and coordinates media coverage for the Gaza Freedom March.