Protest leaders stranded in Cairo accepted an Egyptian offer on Tuesday to allow only 100 out of about 1,300 protesters into blockaded Gaza after the activists staged demonstrations and a hunger strike.
The decision split delegates from more than 40 countries who came to Cairo planning to reach the Palestinian enclave, which shares the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
Some organisers said Egypt’s offer was a victory after it initially refused to allow any of the protesters into the Gaza Strip for the Gaza Freedom March, which is scheduled to take place on Thursday.
“It’s a partial victory,” said Medea Benjamin, an American activist and one of the demonstrations organisers. “It shows that mass pressure has an effect.”
They said the foreign ministry offered to let them choose 100 delegates who would be allowed into Gaza. They were due to leave Cairo for Gaza on Wednesday morning.
Activists have staged demonstrations and sit-ins around Cairo to push for entry to Gaza. Dozens of French activists camped out in front of their embassy in Cairo after being refused passage.
The offer, however, angered many of the activists. A French organiser rejected it as divisive and said the sit-in in front of the French embassy would continue.
“This just gives the Egyptian government a photo-up and the chance say we allowed people through,” said Bassem Omar, a Canadian protester. Activists left behind in Cairo said they planned further protests.
Egypt had said it barred the protesters because of the “sensitive situation” in Gaza. It has refused to permanently open the Rafah crossing since the militant Islamist group Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, prompting Israel’s blockade, but opens it for a few days every month.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said earlier at a press conference that his country would allow some of the protesters to enter Gaza.
“We are looking into allowing a limited number…in the coming days,” he said. He accused other protesters of “conspiring” against Egypt and said they could remain “on the street.”
Egypt has vigorously contested allegations of complicity in the blockade of Gaza, which was devastated last winter during a war between its Hamas rulers and Israel that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.
Separately, organisers of another aid convoy trying to reach Gaza — Viva Palestina led by British MP George Galloway — said it would head to Syria en route for Egypt after being stranded in Jordan’s Red Sea port of Aqaba for five days.
They had planned to drive to Gaza from the Red Sea port of Nuweiba — the most direct route — but Egypt insisted the convoy could only enter through El-Arish, on its Mediterranean coast.
I was interviewed today on ABC Radio National Breakfast about the Gaza Freedom March:
The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has just returned from peace talks with his Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak, and Israel-Palestinian relations were among the topics discussed. This meeting sparked a protest which is still going in the centre of Cairo.
Included in the protesters is an international convoy of 1400 peace activists called Gaza Freedom March and 14 of them are Australians. They’re hoping to cross the border into Gaza. Antony Loewenstein is part of the convoy. He joined Radio National Summer Breakfast from Cairo.
Israel, desperate to seek peace with its neighbours:
The state is considering appropriating private Palestinian land in the West Bank, the State Prosecutor’s Office informed the High Court of Justice yesterday. Such a move would contravene Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s commitment not to seize land for settlement expansion.
A Jerusalem court on Tuesday released nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu to house arrest, after he was detained for meeting with a Norwegian citizen in direct violation of his parole orders.
Vanunu was released after claiming during a court hearing that the relationship between him and the Norwegian woman he met with is of a romantic nature, Channel 10 news reported.
“He is not accused of divulging any information,” said Vanunu’s lawyer Avigdor Feldman, according to Channel 10. “She is not interested in nuclear matters. She is interested in Mordechai Vanunu, who seems to be interested in her.”
Jerusalem police arrested Vanunu on Monday for violating his parole. Vanunu was released from prison in 2004 after serving an 18-year sentence for revealing details of Israel’s nuclear weapons program.
The idea that Jews from across the world will be desperate to come to the Jewish state is stalling badly. If the figures below are setting a record, Israel has a major crisis on its hands:
Aliyah to Israel from the United States rose by 19 percent this year over 2008, setting a 36-year record.
Some 3,324 immigrants to Israel in 2009 came from the United States. Some 3,767 came from all of North America, compared with 3,124 in 2008.
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.
Ali Abunimah has spent the morning at the US embassy here in downtown Cairo.
His words really speak for themselves:
Standoff continues. Egypt brings reinforcements. US relies on Egyptian police repression to prevent its citizens gaining access to their own representatives.
After we protested yesterday here in Cairo outside the UN building to ask the international body to pressure Egypt to allow us to enter Gaza, this interesting piece of news from the New York-based Inner City Press:
As protesters massed in front of the UN in Cairo, Egyptian authorities blocked the press from covering the protest or speaking to the protesters.
At noon in New York, Inner City Press asked the Office of the Spokesperson for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, “does the UN have any comment on Egyptian authorities barred the press from filming or speaking with people in front of the UN facilities in Cairo engaged in a protest regarding the Gaza Freedom March?”
Four hours later, having heard nothing back, Inner City Press went to the Spokesperson’s Office for an answer to this and other questions. The deputy spokesperson asked, which UN building, and indicated that there would be no UN response.
The December 28 request for comment, for the record, was not about the Gaza Freedom March in general — the UN has already no commented on that — but about a host government interfering with freedom of the press to cover a protest in front of the UN. The silence, then, is all the more striking. Watch this site.
The following story appeared on ABC news radio a few hours ago about our presence in Cairo for the Gaza Freedom March:
About a dozen Australians are among hundreds of protesters banned by Egyptian authorities from travelling across the Sinai Desert to the Gaza Strip.
About 1,300 international activists are in Cairo still hoping to march to and through the Egyptian border with Gaza for a protest against Israel’s ongoing blockade of the tiny enclave.
One Australian man was detained briefly when he tried to reach the border.
An 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, Hedy Epstein, is among a group who has begun a hunger strike as part of their protest.
It is 12 months this week since Israel began bombing Gaza, a war it says was justified to stop the launch of missiles by Palestinian militants into southern Israel.
Black is white, settlement expansion in East Jerusalem is a sign of peace and Israel really wants to end the siege of Gaza. If Israel was a civilised nation, of course:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that the “conditions are ripe” for renewing peace negotiations with the Palestinians, adding that he planned to raise the issue with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during his visit to Cairo this week.
“I hope we have reached the time to renew the peace process,” Netanyahu told diplomats gathered at the foreign ministry in Jerusalem. “The time for excuses is over. Now is the time for action.”
Former justice minister Yossi Beilin told the Meretz party leadership on Sunday that Netanyahu was close to finalizing an agreement with the administration of United States President Barack Obama for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The process would last two years, according to Beilin, and would discuss the Palestinian demand for borders based on the 1967 lines and will include an exchange of territory and suitable security arrangements.
The following report by Mondoweiss – I’ve spent much of the day with its founder Phil Weiss, reflecting on the significance of this massive global action for Palestine – explains the contradictory feelings many of us feel being here in Cairo and speaking out on the Middle East. These are moving times and many tears of joy and frustration are being shed:
The Egyptian authorities have told the organizers of the Gaza Freedom March once, twice, three times and four that we can’t go to Gaza, but the organizers will go back a fifth, sixth and seventh time, [Code Pink organiser] Medea Benjamin promised outside the U.N. offices in Cario here today. Still, it doesn’t look good for our year-end march. The chances are “less than zero,” says a friend.
Yet I have to say that the broken Gaza Freedom March has been a great achievement. How can that be, when we are going stir crazy in Cairo? Well an international conversation over the issue is taking place here among the most diverse collection of people. I keep thinking of ways to convey just how inspiring that is. One minute you are talking with a slim, proper Japanese man. Then a minute later an Egyptian youth is telling you that Gaza thanks you for your moral solidarity. Then a minute after that Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb is saying that she came here to march, and she will march. Borders have fallen away here, and the American frame is gone. On my plane I met a kid from Jersey who had done the free Jewish “birthright” trip a year ago and whose Jewish friends have been angered at his decision to come here, but when I saw him today, he seemed enthralled, transformed, way down the path of education, in a pink scarf.
He had been up most of the night, talking to the French. They are the most inspired delegation. 300 of them are camped on the sidewalk outside the French embassy, surrounded by what appear to be 600 Egyptian policemen in riot helmets and black uniforms. The French came here to get into Gaza, they are angry and have taken direct action. They are without water and toilets, and this will be their second night, that is if they are not taken away in the scores of paddywaggons set up across the road, in this police state. Many of them wear t-shirts that call for boycott and show a missile aimed at a baby carriage. “Reminds me a lot of the J Street conference, “Antony Loewenstein joked, after we got into the French camp for a ten minute police-supervised visit.
It was a good joke because it was about the limiting American frame. No one here is talking about the two-state solution or land swaps. They know what the Goldstone report says–those missiles aimed at houses with sleeping children–and they are morally clear on the question. They reflect an international consensus: the end of patience for war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and an ideology of Jewish exceptionalism supported by western governments. Those governments have failed to act so we are speaking out as civil society (Loewenstein again).
I sense something gelling here. We held a protest at the U.N. plaza here today, and Medea Benjamin called up the hunger strikers, eight or ten of them, and, flanked by young men from Syria, Egypt, and Libya, for once it did not matter that Hedy Epstein, the oldest of the strikers at 85, is a Holocaust survivor. In the U.S. that is her principal license to speak: the giant neon over her head, Hedy Epstein survivor. Here it means little; her ultimate status is, She is from St. Louis, USA. Decades ago the Palestinian leader George Antonius said that if he only took the issue to the court of world opinion, he would gain support against an injustice. Well it never happened. Yet now that support is forming, because global activists have embraced the cause, and yes, because the privileged European and American left has accepted the issue and are proud at last to be melding with Muslims and Arabs.
We didn’t do what the brave French did, and try to claim the UN plaza with sleeping bags and tents, but when we left we sang We Shall Overcome, mingling the American civil rights anthem with this international cause. Gaza will be free-ee-ee. No it doesn’t look like we will be getting into Gaza, still we are doing important work in Cairo, to transform ourselves and our presence on the world stage.
Egypt criticized on Monday French activists protesting in front of their country’s embassy in Cairo, who asked to enter the Gaza Strip via the Rafah crossing to participate in the march of solidarity with Gaza people.
Those activists did not respect their commitment as they entered Egypt with tourist visas and carried out political activism by organizing a march which violates the conditions of entry, Egypt’s MENA news agency quoted Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki as saying.
Zaki said that the activists were notified in advance that the march would be prohibited but they stood on the sidewalk in front of the French embassy, adding that Egyptian security forces are now there to secure the area.
On the first anniversary of the start of an Israeli offensive in the coastal strip which left more than 1,400 Palestinians killed, more than 300 French activists, who came to Egypt carrying tourist visas, protested in front of the French embassy in Cairo, demanding the French ambassador to negotiate with the Egyptian government to allow them to enter the Gaza Strip via Rafah crossing.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry warned earlier activists and those wishing to organize a solidarity march in Gaza Strip from Egyptian soil of not complying with security measures.