The following report appears on Democracy Now!:
AMY GOODMAN: In Egypt, hundreds of solidarity activists from around the world are being prevented by the Egyptian government from entering Gaza. Dubbed the Gaza Freedom March, organizers were planning to cross the border last Sunday to commemorate the first anniversary of Israel’s assault on Gaza that killed 1,400 Palestinians and thirteen Israelis. Roger Hill is in Cairo and filed this report.
STEPHANIE: Stephanie, a group from Italy, sixty people.
NEW YORKER: [inaudible] from Woodstock, New York, twelve people.
UNIDENTIFIED: Fifteen people.
SARAH: Sarah from Toronto, Canada, sixteen people.
NEW YORKER: Smaller portion of the New York delegation, ten folks from New York.
USAMA: Usama from Libya, multinational group, thirty people.
CATALONIAN: We are twenty-five people from Catalonia.
ROGER HILL: On the one-year anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, nearly 1,400 people from around the world entered Cairo on their way to Gaza.
Or so was the plan.
Egyptian authorities are not allowing the Gaza Freedom March to get to Gaza. They have also revoked permits for meeting places and forced bus companies to cancel contracts with march organizers. This has created confusion and mayhem for the hundreds of people gathered here from forty-two different countries.
Smaller groups of people tried to get to Rafah border crossing with Gaza on their own, but were detained. Meanwhile, in Cairo the Gaza Freedom Marchers tried to commemorate the anniversary of the war in other ways. On December 27th, dozens walked in small groups across the Nile on the Qasr Bridge, placing notes of remembrance. Even that was quickly shut down.
This is Sarah and Bassam from Toronto, Canada.
BASSAM: You know, we’re trying to free Gaza by letting the people know what’s going on, giving our notes and—on the bridge and messages. And as you can see, we’re being stopped by the Egyptian military government.
SARAH: Yeah, the Egyptian authorities are here to push us off the bridge, apparently.
BASSAM: Love to stay talking more, but we’re being pushed away.
ROGER HILL: In response to Egypt’s suggestion that marchers go do touristy things, the Gazan Freedom March decided to take felucca rides down the Nile and float 1,400 candles in remembrance of each of the Palestinians killed last year. Once again, Egyptian authorities prevented the boats from taking off, so participants held a high-spirited candlelight vigil on the sidewalk instead.
This is CODEPINK organizer Rae Abileah.
RAE ABILEAH: I think this is a very exciting moment. I mean, it’s amazing! There’s a bus that just drove by with Egyptians with their hands in the peace sign out the window. The people are really, really supportive, and that’s exciting to see. And it’s powerful just to see. It’s the first time that everybody has converged for our Gaza Freedom March, and here we are on the anniversary of the start of Operation Cast Lead, devastating reality of people still living in their homes one year after this attack. And one year later, the world is saying no. The world is saying, “Lift the siege.” And we’re gathering in mass and in mourning and also in action and with hope. And so, that feels exciting to me.
ROGER HILL: Meanwhile, hundreds of French citizens wait at the French embassy in Cairo for their buses to the border, negotiated for them by their ambassador. When even those buses didn’t arrive, over a hundred people camped out on the sidewalk in front of their embassy, announcing they would not leave unless they were leaving for Gaza. They marched out into a busy thoroughfare and shut it down. Hundreds of Egyptian riot police quickly surrounded them, and they have been penned onto the sidewalk for the past thirty-six hours.
ANNA: Hello, my name is Anna. I come from France, and I came with this group to go to Gaza. We were all supposed to take buses yesterday night at 7:00, but they didn’t come. So, we understood that it was from the government, so we just went through the road, and it’s one of the biggest road of the Caire, so we just blocked the traffic. Finally, the big trucks came, and we were quite obliged to come here. So we slept here.
ROGER HILL: Inspired by this action, hundreds of Gaza Freedom Marchers descended upon the United Nations in Cairo on Monday to ask the UN to negotiate their entrance into Gaza.
ANN WRIGHT: My name is Ann Wright, and I’m a retired US Army colonel and a former diplomat who resigned in opposition to the war in Iraq back in December 2003.
We are stalled here in Cairo because the decision of the Egyptian government was that we cannot go into Gaza. We have been appealing that decision every day, providing more information to the government of Egypt about how important this mission is, not only on the humanitarian basis, but also on the human basis of people that have been imprisoned in a quarantined small area for many, many years now and who have been the subject of a brutal twenty-two-day attack that started a year ago yesterday, on December 27th, and ended up with the deaths of 1,440 Palestinians, the wounding of 5,000 others, 50,000 people made homeless, and virtually every government institution blown up.
Now, a year later, the international community continues the siege. No construction materials have been able to be brought in. And the people of Gaza are living in the ruins that were created over a year ago.
The collective punishment of the people of Gaza for their election of Hamas and now the siege of the international community on those people is wrong. It’s a violation of international law, and it must be ended. And that’s why all of these people have come here, to say with the voices of the citizens of the world, “The siege must end. We must force our governments to stop this.”
CRYSTAL DICKS: Hi, I’m Crystal Dicks. I’m here as part of a South African delegation. There are five of us representing COSATU, which is the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the biggest trade union accreditation inside South Africa.
We have declared and we have stated that the Israeli state is an apartheid state. And we know that better than anyone else, because we’ve lived under apartheid. It’s a state that’s divisive based on racial segregation. It’s a state that treats certain people with privileges over others. It’s a state that doesn’t give people basic freedoms. So, in every sense of the word, it’s an apartheid state. I’ve been to the West Bank, actually, a few times. And in fact, in many respects, it’s worse than the apartheid state.
So, as a trade union movement, in fact, this is going to be one of our key campaigns in the coming period. We’ve really started on this. We’ve just returned from a conference in London that was looking at the BDS campaign—boycott, divestment and sanctions. As a trade union contingent of the Palestinian solidarity movement, this is really key for us. This is going to be the key campaign, mobilizing and organizing workers in South Africa not to buy, not to be party to the production of Israeli goods. We are going to make sure that we isolate the Israeli regime. We’re going to make this our struggle.
ROGER HILL: Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein is taking a more personal approach to protest.
HEDY EPSTEIN: I’ve been for many, many years—in fact, for most of my life, I’ve been involved in human rights and civil rights struggle. But I’ve never been on a hunger strike before. And I think there comes a time in one’s life when one meets up with this kind of obstruction that the Egyptian government is providing us, instead of opening the borders and letting us into Gaza, and there comes a time in one’s life when maybe one needs to do more than just talk and march and picket, and maybe go on a hunger strike, as I am now about to do here, to change the opinion of the Egyptian government so that they will let us go to Gaza.
I desperately need to go to Gaza. I have a severe case of Gaza fever, and it can only be cured by going to Gaza. And I don’t want to go alone. I want to go with the 1,300 or 1,400 people of us from forty-two different countries.
ROGER HILL: For Democracy Now!, this is Roger Hill and Ana Nogueira in Cairo.