In a sign of its significance, the New York Times finally covers the Gaza Freedom March and the political machinations behind the scenes. Such information arriving in the pages of the Times is important, a signal that the American political elite has to finally acknowledge the humanitarian disaster in Gaza and Palestine as a whole:
More than 1,000 people from around the world were gathered here on Tuesday for a solidarity march into Gaza despite Egypt’s insistence that the Gaza border crossing that it controls would remain closed to the vast majority of them.
The protest, the Gaza Freedom March, was planned for Thursday and intended to mark a year since Israel’s three-week military assault on the territory. On Tuesday, hundreds of the frustrated activists gathered to press their case on the front steps of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate here, holding “Free Gaza” signs and chanting, “Let us go.” Some declared a hunger strike.
About 100 French citizens staged a sit-in in front of the French Embassy, and some Americans pleaded for help at the United States Consulate.
The Egyptian government agreed to let 100 activists into Gaza on Wednesday, according to one of the organizers of the march.
The crossing, at Rafah, Egypt, has been closed for most purposes since the summer of 2007, when the militant group Hamasseized control of Gaza from the rival Western-backed forces of Fatah. Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza, and the Egyptian government, citing its own security needs, closed the crossing, drawing criticism from within Egypt and across the Arab world.
International criticism of Israel spiked after the Gaza assault, which left as many as 1,400 Palestinians dead, including hundreds of civilians. Thirteen Israelis were killed. While both sides were accused of war crimes, most of the outrage was focused on Israel because of its overwhelming military strength and the enormous differences in the death tolls.
International activists have been challenging Israel’s control of Gaza’s waters, sending in boats to bring in supplies and convey support; Israel has blocked many.
Egypt repeatedly refused to open its border ahead of the planned march, citing what its officials said were “security reasons,” but participants in the march flew to Cairo anyway, hoping the government would relent.
“We have not come to Egypt to create trouble or cause conflict,” organizers of the march wrote in an open letter to Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak. “We have come because we believe that all people — including the Palestinians of Gaza — should have access to the resources they need to live in dignity.”
The letter said the group, which is urging Israel to lift its blockade, raised tens of thousands of dollars for medical aid, school supplies and clothing to take to Gaza.
The Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, expressed frustration at the activists who came to Cairo despite the warning that the border was closed.
“Those who tried to conspire against us, and they are more than a thousand, we will leave them in the street,” he said.
One protester, Hedy Epstein, 85, a Holocaust survivor, arrived in Egypt from the United States on Saturday. She said she started a hunger strike on Monday.
“My message is for the world governments to wake up and treat Israel like they treat any other country and not to be afraid to reprimand and criticize Israel for its violent policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians,” Ms. Epstein said. “I brought a suitcase full of things, pencils, pens, crayons, writing paper to take to children in Gaza — I can’t take that back home.”