A Struggle for Freedom

Gaza Freedom March activists take on Egypt’s security matrix.

International activists hold a Palestinian flag at the pyramids in Cairo.
Photo by Dana Elborno from The Electronic Intifada

It was amazing: groups of foreign activists choosing to jet across the ocean and slam into the Cairene security forces (by now open collaborators in tending to Gaza’s prison wall). The Gaza Freedom March saw thousands of people exposing themselves to beating, bloodying, arrest … the physical force of state power. The last time this happened in such numbers was 70 years ago, when the Spanish Republic fought desperately against Franco’s military junta on the battlefields of the Spanish Civil War. And 70 years ago, too, the fascists received aid from imperial powers while the Republicans made do with immiserated or capricious allies.

In Cairo, Egypt, a year after Israel’s Cast Lead winter massacre – during which Israel slaughtered 1,400 Palestinians – 1,400 internationals came to Cairo. They came from the West, and they came from the global South. They flew across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the Mediterranean basin. Even after the Egyptian government announced that the Gaza Freedom March didn’t have a chance of entering the Gaza Strip, they came from the world over. When Egypt’s authoritarian regime resorted to the manifold, abrasive, spirit-killers that permeate its security institutions and its bureaucracy, the participants of the Gaza Freedom March weren’t cowed. We did not listen.

We went to Egypt, with its security force of over a million, and demonstrated. French dissidents occupied the ground in front of their own embassy. Others were arrested or threatened with deportation. Others were beat in the streets. It was an atypical struggle. Not for domestic social reforms but for something else. It was a struggle for the freedom of 1.4 million Gazans ringed behind razor wire. A struggle for the freedom of the Palestinians, a ghettoized people facing one of the world’s strongest militaries on three of its frontiers and a massive militarized police state on its fourth.

The Gaza Freedom March should rightly blaze bright; its light won’t soon fade. International solidarity efforts are still waxing – the Palestine solidarity movement has mounted a series of stunning campaigns in reaction to the territorial fragmentation of Palestine. Flotillas of freedom ships continue to arrive from Cyprus. Viva Palestina moves over land and through sea, fighting off Egyptian riot police with stones and barricades.

The Gaza Freedom March took another route. Massive nonviolent civil disobedience targeting the core Arab partner in the blockade of Gaza: Mubarak’s dictatorship, which is now constructing a steel wall 30 meters deep in the dirt and sand between Egypt and Gaza. We inserted ourselves directly into that state’s security matrix, making front-page news across the Arab world in a series of increasingly spectacular direct actions, fighting a next-generation war – not a war of movement on Catalonian and Astourian battlefields but a media war. We fought for information, visibility, symbolic legitimacy, putting a claim on the world’s attention that couldn’t be ignored, that wasn’t ignored.

The tactical victory has also been pedagogical. No modern war has been truly fought simply within national borders, and the Palestinian fight for survival has been no different. So we’ve made it clear, if it wasn’t before, that if the stolen bankroll of the Empire stands behind Zionism, the world’s peoples stand behind Palestine.

But the vise tightens. High-visibility mobilizations like the Gaza Freedom March can’t be campaigns in a failed war, not when the struggle isn’t for democracy but against politicide, not when failure is so unimaginable. The Cairo Declaration against Israeli apartheid, drafted by core international organizers, brings those facts into stark relief, and enjoins the movements’ passive supporters – the world – to rise up. The moment is now.

Max Ajl