During my experience with the Gaza Freedom March in late 2009 in Cairo, I spent time with a remarkable American woman and mother, Debbie Mardon. She once was a right wing, Fox News watcher but is now a fiercely passionate activist for Palestine.
Her transformation was documented in New York’s Indypendent newspaper last week and it makes for moving reading. People such as Mardon should be cherished, a woman able to unlearn years of anti-Arab propaganda to understand the complicity of Washington in the tragedy of the Middle East:
Last New Year’s Eve, Debbie Mardon did not celebrate with noise makers or confetti — instead, she headed to Cairo’s main square to participate in the Gaza Freedom March with her daughter Jenna Bitar, 18, and son Joel, 23.
Amid police violence aimed at protesters and Egyptian security forces blockading them inside their hotel, Debbie, 55, a native New Yorker, said that protesting in Cairo “was the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
It was an unlikely place to be for a previously apolitical mother who voted for George W. Bush and as recently as three years ago relied on rightwing radio hosts Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh to help her make sense of the world.
More than 1,300 activists from 43 countries traveled to Cairo to take part in the Gaza Freedom March, a demonstration aimed at bringing attention to the ongoing blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Since 2006, after the Islamist movement Hamas won democratic elections, Israel and Egypt have completely blockaded this besieged coastal strip on the Mediterranean, only allowing in basic humanitarian aid. The situation worsened in December, 2008, when Israel invaded Gaza, eventually killing about 1,400 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians.
Debbie and her children, like the rest of the activists who participated in the Gaza Freedom March, were outraged at what many have labeled the “Gaza massacre.”
The three-year journey for Debbie, her husband Mahmoud and their two children from political indifference to passionate involvement in the Palestine solidarity community has brought them closer together as a family, and they now regularly attend demonstrations together.
For Debbie, things came to a head during the attack on Gaza in the winter of 2008-09. It was a personally harrowing time — both she and Mahmoud had lost their mothers and a good friend had been placed in a nursing home, and Debbie decided it was time to find out more about what was happening in Palestine.
She started attending talks and lectures about Palestine, and one in particular, featuring Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert at Columbia University, left an indelible impression.
“It was jaw-dropping. He showed us photos of dying and maimed children, children burned from the white phosphorous, and the photos had me in tears. Then he said, this suffering is not caused by a natural disaster, it is political, it is foreign policy and you can no longer be silent while your government supports this. After that I made an effort to find out how I could get involved,” Debbie said.