Gaza Freedom March: On the Flight to Cairo

Gaza Freedom March
On the Flight to Cairo, December 26, 2009

Our goal: to draw attention to Gaza and end the blockade.

We intend to shed light on the terrible suffering of the 1.5 million people subsisting in the desperate little piece of land called the Gaza Strip. We hope that if people world-wide understand what is happening, something will be done—and the people of Gaza can once again live like human beings.

On the anniversary of last year’s horrific attack on Gaza by Israel, we had planned to join with Gazans on a three-mile non-violent solidarity march, at the same time that people in many countries around the world hold their own local demonstrations and vigils. Over thirteen hundred people from 42 countries are on their way to Cairo for the march, and we had planned to board buses on December 28 for the five-hour drive to Rafah, the border crossing between Egypt and Gaza. Our historical models for the Gaza Freedom March are Gandhi’s salt march and Martin Luther King’s Selma march.

We have all agreed to abide by non-violence guidelines. We know, of course, that the forces for violence in the region are entrenched and powerful, but we believe that our non-violent witness will be part of a moral force pushing back against war and injustice. We hope that our presence can show the world that change is both possible and necessary. Because of this hope, we have given up our Christmas holidays, and each of us has dedicated two thousand dollars or more for expenses—a small cost, indeed, given what we would like to accomplish.

Everyone has packed a few items to bring to people in Gaza, items that are now either unavailable to Gazans or so expensive that, in a region with 74% unemployment[i], impossible for people to purchase. I packed several sweaters for children, a few packages of markers, a couple of toys, and calcium supplements for pregnant and nursing mothers. Some people are bringing books and laptops, desperately needed by students.

My offerings are pathetic, given the vast need, but it is all I could carry.

A few days ago, we learned that the Egyptian government has decided to prevent us from entering into Gaza. Previous delegations have been allowed in. Of course, those delegations were much smaller than the thirteen hundred coming for the Gaza Freedom March.

Even after learning of the Egyptian decision, almost everyone decided to go ahead and travel to Cairo, hoping that Egypt will relent and allow us entry, and if that doesn’t happen, that we can mount a public protest in Cairo, even though doing so might well lead to our arrests.

Egyptian authorities have told March organizers that if anyone displays banners or protest signs, or if people gather in groups larger than six, we will be arrested. None of us want to be arrested, especially in Egypt, a country known for its harsh prisons and torture. But, it hardly seems that we can travel to Egypt and just go look at the pyramids. While contemplating what I felt comfortable and brave enough to do, I happened to read a statement on-line from the leadership of a group in the West Bank town of Bil’iin. Bil’in has held weekly demonstrations for months in non-violent resistance to the construction of the illegal Israeli wall that will impoverish and destroy the village. As a result of these demonstrations, villagers are regularly tear-gassed, shot with rubber-coated steel bullets, subjected to sound bombs, beaten up, arrested and even killed. Here is what the people of Bil’in wrote to us:

Egypt has announced that the Rafah border into Gaza will be closed over the coming weeks to the 1,300 international delegates attempting to march in solidarity with the people of occupied Palestine . . . on the anniversary of Israel’s horrific Cast Lead massacre that killed over 1,400 people. The powerful and diverse collaboration of international support must now choose its response to this horrific injustice. Will you stand waiting permission at the gates of Gaza? We say that you need not wait; if Egypt will not open their border, then the time for action is now. We encourage and support the escalation of non-violent direct action. It is up to you to take the next steps. It is no surprise that Egypt is not allowing the march to continue, so the natural progression towards a victory over this injustice is creative tactical escalation. If you cannot march on the roads, then set up camp and sleep on them instead; fast in solidarity with the people who are dying of starvation; refuse to be stopped by their temporary boundaries. We can look to the lessons, the creativity, and the determination of our sisters and brothers from historical resistance movements.

We are the voice of the voiceless, the arms of those physically held captive, the eyes of those blinded by hate.

There are those of us who resist because we have no choice, we resist to live. And there are those of us who know that no one is free until we are all free, and we use our bodies and the privilege of our relative freedom to resist oppression in all its forms.

There is no time for words without action. Here in Bil’in, we will be demonstrating in solidarity with Gaza and all those trying to enter.

We have learned that Egypt has forbidden the bus companies to transport us to the border. Egyptian authorities have cancelled the space that had been rented for our group meeting scheduled for the evening of December 27. It is becoming increasingly unlikely that we will be able to get anywhere near Gaza.

So, somehow, we will take a stand in Cairo.

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