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Blocking Freedom Marcher/Viva Palestina Aid to Gaza
Wednesday, 6 January 2010
As a result of obstruction of humanitarian aid to Gazans, Viva Palestina calls upon friends and supporters to protest and demand that their entire convoy be granted free access to Gaza.
Since Israel isolated Gaza under siege in mid-2007, it's blocked essential humanitarian aid from entering, including:
Cynthia McKinney described her ordeal as prisoner number 88794 at Ramle prison, known as one of Israel's harshest - a former British police station, overcrowded, "stinking," many inside with no bed, everyone confined to tiny areas, some in isolation with no sunlight, and a series of dungeons six feet long, three feet wide, and six feet high that are dark, filthy, unbearable to be in, and those inside are stripped naked, beaten, unable to shower, given a thin coverall, and allowed to use the toilet once a day only.
McKinney had a suitcase with crayons for children. Others had medical and building supplies. Authorities tried to get her to confess to a crime. She refused so was treated harshly. She called Ramle:
One of the passengers, Ramzi Kysia, told the Israeli news service, Ynet.org:
Gaza Freedom Marchers' (GFM) Mission of Mercy
In late December, around 1,400 activists from about 43 countries gathered in Cairo, Egypt, preparing to travel to Gaza with humanitarian aid as a show of solidarity with its 1.5 million people needing all they can get - "put(ting) forth a global call to Israel to Lift the Siege of Gaza!"
Seven months in the planning, the group included doctors, lawyers, diplomats, students, artists, rabbis, priests, imams, and others, young and old, men and women, united to end the blockade, free the Gazan people, end their suffering, and highlight Israel's outrageous crimes of war, against humanity, and brutalizing oppression that continues daily against civilian "protected people" under international law.
The march was under the auspices of the International Coalition to End the Illegal Siege of Gaza, formed after Operation Cast Lead, representing a "diverse coalition that represents all faiths (and no faith) and is focused on human rights in conformance with international law."
On arrival in Egypt, they were harshly treated and prevented from entering Gaza, save for a token 24 hours offered 100 only that the group summarily rejected as outrageous and unacceptable. Some dozens, in fact, went, as explained below.
On December 27, 30 freedom marchers were held under house arrest at their hotel in El-Arish, and another eight at the bus station to prevent them from traveling to Gaza. At the same time, security police broke up a Kasr al Nil Bridge commemoration on the anniversary of Israel's attack, disrupting a peaceful protest against it.
Others marked the occasion in Cairo by floating 1,400 candles on the Nile, remembering the number of Gazans killed in cold blood.
On December 28, a group of French activists from the solidarity group EuroPalestine took over the boulevard outside their Cairo Embassy, occupied the street with tents for four hours, blocked traffic, demanded buses to Gaza, and forced the French ambassador to negotiate on their behalf, or at least go through the motions as nothing he did helped.
They were confronted by dozens of armored police vehicles, hundreds of riot cops, water cannons ready if they resisted orders to disperse. They negotiated with the police, said they intended to stay, demanded buses to Gaza, and asked others to join them in peaceful solidarity.
Others staged a sit-in outside Cairo's UN building demanding the world body intervene on their behalf. They, too, were met by security forces while some of them negotiated with UN representatives asking for safe entry to Gaza for all 1,400 marchers. They were rejected even though the UN agreed to try to arrange a meeting with the Foreign Ministry's chief of staff to deliver their request to President Mubarak, Egypt's reigning despot since 1981, in league with Washington and Israel, and fully supportive of the siege, so expecting him to help is futile.
Most protestors dispersed at the end of the day, promising to return, while Holocaust survivor, Hedy Epstein, age 85, began a hunger strike (with dozen or more others) to protest, drinking only water and orange juice for energy. Concerned about her health, she ended it on New Year's eve, but vowed to continue her efforts to end the criminal siege.
On December 29, Egyptian security forces detained about 25 American citizens inside the US Embassy and another seven or eight outside the compound. They were seeking help to enter Gaza, but were met almost immediately in response, and according to Gael Murphy, one of the organizers, this action "suggests the American Embassy is responsible." Indeed so, as one word from inside and it would end, or perhaps never happen in the first place.
America, Israel, and Egypt, of course, are complicit in isolating Gaza. Washington and Tel Aviv jointly planned Operation Cast Lead and all other IDF conflicts, and the world community turns a blind eye to daily attacks, land seizures, torture, killings, targeted assassinations, and decades of these and other Israeli crimes and oppression against millions of Palestinian civilians.
After three days of vigils, protests, and determination to persist, the March Coordinating Committee and other contingents "flatly reject(ed) Egypt's (token) offer" to let 100 enter Gaza for 24 hours. All or no one they said as one step toward liberating 1.5 million Gazans. In fact, about 85 activists went, including Palestinians who had never seen family members there and wanted a chance.
On December 31, the entire group defied police blockades and unfurled banners calling on supporters to join with them in solidarity. Some got past barricades and marched to Tahreer Square in downtown Cairo. Courageous Egyptians joined them to denounce their government's role, risking severe measures freely used against anyone defying government orders.
Police separated them from the marchers, then assaulted them. One of them, Desiree Fairooz said:
More measures likely followed, unreported away from the demonstration, perhaps including arrests and brutal treatment in detention, common measures by Egyptian security forces, including torture.
On January 1, marchers protested in front of the Israeli consulate, and were quickly confronted again, but demonstrated again the next day. Reports were that Egyptian plainclothes police were involved, used violence, and injured seven or more protestors. Mick Napier, head of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign said:
Marchers were also "dragged, pulled, and manhandled" according to Code Pink's Medea Benjamin. Surprisingly, no one was arrested, but they were fenced into a pen and held for two days, surrounded by baton-wielding riot police, forced sleep on the sidewalk, and most were denied food or toilet access. About 50 US citizens were roughed up and held briefly in detention.
On January 3, organizers reported a French citizen's death from security force sustained injuries. Marie Renee died in a Cairo hospital. She was one of 300 members of a French delegation.
The same day, Al-Jazeera reported that hundreds of Israelis and Arab activists protested against the siege in central Tel Aviv chanting "Freedom and Justice in Gaza." They demanded an end to the blockade, calling it a "war crime," according to the AFP new agency.
Besides wanting access to Gaza and the siege ended, marchers want to stop Egypt (with US Army Corps of Engineers help and congressional funding) from building a 9 - 10 km long iron wall across its Gaza border, extending up to 30 meters below ground to prevent essential goods from the Strip through hundreds of tunnels.
Washington, Israel and Egypt call it "smuggling." Gazans say it's a vital lifeline bringing in food, medicines, fuel, and other essentials in whatever amounts possible, way short of what's needed, but important nonetheless.
Gaza Freedom Marchers persist and on January 1 issued their Cairo Declaration saying:
Before heading home, Freedom Marchers formed a five member working committee to implement specific measures outlined above, including a BDS speaking tour and efforts to have Israeli war criminals prosecuted.
They were prevented from entering Gaza, but highlighted the complicity of Israel, America and Egypt in stopping them, aroused greater world outrage, and enlisted more support as a result - including in America despite a mostly dominant media blackout on their mission.
Finally on January 3, one marcher, Emily Ratner, delivered this message:
May Israel, Washington and Egypt know that committed activists and growing millions worldwide won't relent until the siege and occupation ends and those responsible are held fully accountable.
Viva Palestina's Commitment to Break the Gaza Siege
In an emergency year end appeal, the registered UK charity announced that on December 6, its third aid convoy left London, traveling almost 3,000 miles through nine countries, gaining support to bring vital relief to Gaza and end the siege.
On Christmas eve, over 500 people from 20 countries in 250 vehicles, loaded with humanitarian aid, were stranded in Aqaba, Jordan when they were refused permission to take the short route to Egypt.
Forced to turn around, they headed back to Syria to travel a longer one to get there. Because of the added cost, they appealed for help to charter ferries and a plane to complete their mission. World Bulletin.net reported that a Gulf businessman paid for a Turkish cargo ship to transport them, named Ulosoy 6, after which they prepared to leave.
On January 3, Al-Jazeera reported that the convoy left Latakia, Syria with 210 lorries of medicines and other supplies, sailing for the Egyptian port of El Arish on the Mediterranean where they were expected to arrive the next day.
British MP George Galloway and Kevin Ovenden lead it, had appealed to Egypt for Gaza access through the Red Sea Nuweiba port, but were denied. Cairo ordered the alternate, much longer route, risking Israeli interception, and no assurance of Gaza entry on arrival regardless of promises made.
On January 4, AP reported that the "convoy will be allowed to enter the Gaza Strip after organizers struck a deal with Egyptian authorities over its transit route."
On January 4, they arrived at El Arish, cleared customs, expect to enter Gaza as soon as possible, are just 100 miles away, and "198 vehicles" are coming with aid that includes specialized medical equipment and the vehicles themselves. Those let in will stay and are vitally needed.
Convoy organizer, Kevin Ovenden, expressed optimism saying:
"We now have every right to expect unhindered and safe passage into Gaza, but we call on all our friends internationally to stand ready to raise their voices if we face further unjustified delay."
On January 3, Al-Zajeera reported that Egypt will temporarily open the Rafah crossing from January 3 - 6, something sporadically done before, only to be shut again on short or no notice.
Whether all, or even any, aid gets in unknown as earlier promises have been broken, and Israel keeps Gaza isolated under siege with Cairo a complicit ally.
Events are fast-moving and fluid. On January 5, aid members reported that Egyptian authorities seized 157 passports, including from convoy leaders George Galloway and Kevin Ovenden. They'd been stamped on arrival, then got an exit stamp, meaning they'd have to leave the country. Word was that these members alone would gain Gaza entry, not another 400 flying into Al Arish late Monday. After "noisy protests," passports were later returned with exit stamps removed, so temporarily the issue was resolved.
However, members report that the "situation is changing by the hour," yet everyone remains hopeful. Spokeswoman Alice Howard said the "convoy expects to enter the Gaza Strip via the Rafah crossing from Egypt at 2pm local time on Tuesday." In 2009, Galloway lead two successful missions. He hopes to make this one his third with much more aid if successful.
On January 5, a late report from Al Arish casts doubt saying:
Early AM January 6, it's reported that hundreds of members broke down the gate at the Al Arish port in protest. George Galloway scuffled with Egyptian police, and 55 activists were injured when police used water cannons, tear gas and batons to beat people who objected to Cairo's obstructionism.
Authorities told Galloway and other convoy leaders that dozens of aid vehicles would be sent to the Israeli checkpoint, not Rafah that Egypt controls. Of course, nothing entering Israel reaches Gaza, so this idea was rejected. Hence the scuffle, standoff, and unsuccessful resolution as of early AM US Central time, January 6.
As a result, Viva Palestina calls on friends and supporters to protest by any means possible and demand that the entire convoy be granted free access to Gaza. The situation remains fluid, so new developments are likely after this article is published. Follow them at vivapalestina.org and web sites reporting their progress, or lack of it.
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Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.
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