how to end the blockade?

by tobybee

You’ve probably heard about the recent protest march, the Gaza Freedom March, that was organised to go from Egypt to Gaza, but was stopped by the Egyptian police. If you haven’t, here is a brief explanation from an article by Uri Avnery:

“About 1,400 activists from all over the world gathered there on their way to the Gaza Strip. On the anniversary of the ‘Cast Lead’ war, they intended to participate in a non-violent demonstration against the ongoing blockade, which makes the life of 1.5 million inhabitants of the Strip intolerable.

At the same time, protest demonstrations were to take place in many countries. In Tel-Aviv, too, a big protest was planned. The ‘monitoring committee’ of the Arab citizens of Israel was to organise an event on the Gaza border.

When the international activists arrived in Egypt, a surprise awaited them. The Egyptian government forbade their trip to Gaza. Their buses were held up at the outskirts of Cairo and turned back. Individual protesters who succeeded in reaching the Sinai in regular buses were taken off them. The Egyptian security forces conducted a regular hunt for the activists.

The angry activists besieged their embassies in Cairo. On the street in front of the French embassy, a tent camp sprang up which was soon surrounded by the Egyptian police. American protesters gathered in front of their embassy and demanded to see the ambassador. Several protesters who are over 70 years old started a hunger strike. Everywhere, the protesters were held up by Egyptian elite units in full riot gear, while red water cannon trucks were lurking in the background. Protesters who tried to assemble in Cairo’s central Tahrir (liberation) Square were mishandled.

In the end, after a meeting with the wife of the president, a typical Egyptian solution was found: 100 activists were allowed to reach Gaza. The rest remained in Cairo, bewildered and frustrated.”

More information can be found in writings by Antony Lowenstein, who participated in the march, here, and here. You can read a poignant story about the build-up to, and happening of, the final protest on December 31 in Cairo by Philip Weiss here.

The declaration which they signed, named the Cairo Declaration, reads in part:

We, international delegates meeting in Cairo during the Gaza Freedom March 2009 in collective response to an initiative from the South African delegation, state:

In view of:

o Israel’s ongoing collective punishment of Palestinians through the illegal occupation and siege of Gaza;
o the illegal occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the continued construction of the illegal Apartheid Wall and settlements;
o the new Wall under construction by Egypt and the US which will tighten even further the siege of Gaza;
o the contempt for Palestinian democracy shown by Israel, the US, Canada, the EU and others after the Palestinian elections of 2006;
o the war crimes committed by Israel during the invasion of Gaza one year ago;
o the continuing discrimination and repression faced by Palestinians within Israel;
o and the continuing exile of millions of Palestinian refugees;
o all of which oppressive acts are based ultimately on the Zionist ideology which underpins Israel;
o in the knowledge that our own governments have given Israel direct economic, financial, military and diplomatic support and allowed it to behave with impunity;
o and mindful of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (2007)

We reaffirm our commitment to:

Palestinian Self-Determination
Ending the Occupation
Equal Rights for All within historic Palestine
The full Right of Return for Palestinian refugees

The piece mentioned above, by Uri Avnery, explores the reasons behind Egypt’s involvement and support of the blockade of Gaza, for the blockade wouldn’t work if Egypt wasn’t helping out – their latest ‘helpful’ endeavour being to build an iron wall along the border between Gaza and Egypt in order to stop the smuggling through the tunnels which brings much needed goods and people into Gaza. Avnery writes:

Why are they doing it?

There are several explanations. Cynics point out that the Egyptian government receives a huge American subsidy every year – almost US$2 billion – by courtesy of Israel. It started as a reward for the Egyptian–Israeli peace treaty. The pro-Israel lobby in the US Congress can stop it any time.

Others believe that Mubarak is afraid of Hamas. The organisation started out as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, still the main opposition to his autocratic regime. The Cairo–Riyadh–Amman–Ramallah axis is poised against the Damascus–Gaza axis that is allied with the Tehran–Hizbullah axis. Many people believe that Mahmoud Abbas is interested in the tightening of the Gaza blockade in order to hurt Hamas.

Mubarak is angry with Hamas, which refuses to dance to his tune. Like his predecessors, he demands that the Palestinians obey his orders. President Abd-al-Nasser was angry with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO – an organisation created by him to ensure Egyptian control of the Palestinians, but which escaped him when Yasser Arafat took over). President Anwar Sadat was angry with the PLO for rejecting the Camp David agreement, which promised Palestinians only ‘autonomy’. How dare the Palestinians, a small, oppressed people, refuse the ‘advice’ of big brother?

All these explanations make sense, yet the Egyptian government’s attitude is still astonishing. The Egyptian blockade of Gaza destroys the lives of 1.5 million human beings, men and women, old people and children, most of whom are not Hamas activists. It is done publicly, before the eyes of hundreds of millions of Arabs, a billion and a quarter Muslims. In Egypt itself, too, millions of people are ashamed of the participation of their country in the starving of fellow Arabs.

It is a very dangerous policy. Why does Mubarak follow it?

The real answer is, probably, that he has no choice.

Whether or not he has no choice, we can, surely, all agree that supporting the blockade is wrong, and that pressure must be placed on the Egyptian Government, as well as the Israeli Government, to open the borders.

And finally, an email from B’tselem landed in my inbox today. In the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead they gave video cameras to 15 young Gazans to record what life was like in Gaza, as no journalists have been allowed inside Gaza since the ensd of the onslaught. B’tselem explains that “As the Gaza Strip is largely cut off from the outside world, the Internet played a crucial role in the project, and the training was conducted mostly through Skype video conferencing and telephone calls.

The result is a series of short films depicting various aspect of life in Gaza, reflecting each volunteer’s viewpoint. The films show a rarely-seen side of life in Gaza, capturing moments of joy, creativity, absurdity and prosaic routine along with familiar images of suffering and despair. In an unusual move, Israel’s premier news site – Ynet – devoted a special feature to these films. The importance of putting a human face on the siege on Gaza cannot be underestimated.”

The films are about hiphop, girls playing soccer, life in the smuggling tunnels, how children stave off the boredom, and the damage wrought on young bodies, minds, and lives.

To watch some of the films, something you should definitely do, you can go to ynet, and watch them here. There was also an article about the project published in the New York Times.

I could editorialise – express my outrage, anger, sadness, desperation and burning need to fight against what is happening – but I feel like all of these pieces, separately and together – convey so much more than I have the capacity to say.

*hat-tip to Ben for the Uri Avnery article