Good morning all,
It is 5am here on Thursday morning and we are waiting to begin our march here in Cairo. A lot has happened in the last couple days but the fact still remains that the Egyptian government has still refused to let us into Gaza for the Gaza Freedom March.
Last night we got word that organizers from CodePink met with Mrs. Mubarak and negotiated a deal to allow 100 people and 2 buses leave for Gaza the next morning. We were given just one hour to make the very tough decision of choosing 2 people from each delegation (more or less, depending on proportion) to send on those buses. After submitting the names, the Canadian delegation met and decided that this deal was just one big slap in the face. 100 people on 2 buses is NOT the Gaza Freedom March! This back-door deal ultimately dilutes our message, divides our groups, and really affects our morale. Because of this, we decided that if all of us don’t go, then NONE OF US will go!
We, as Canadians, told other countries’ delegations and succeeded in getting many others on board including Sweden, Italy, France, and the New York groups. Later that night at a meeting, Wendy Goldsmith, leader of the London (Ontario) delegation, announced our decision to boycott the decision to allow just 100 people to enter Gaza. This sparked a whole debate and discussion in the meeting showing us that we had support from many more delegations than we’d expected. Scotland, South Africa, New York state, and others were among the supporters of our decision.
This did of course cause divisions and rifts within our group but we all believed that this was the right thing to do in order to keep our message and our purpose for this march focused and clear: we want to break the siege on Gaza, not simply provide a humanitarian aid convoy. The people of Gaza receive aid convoys all the time and while we fully support those convoys, the Gaza Freedom March was never a humanitarian effort; it has always been a political mission since the start. To accept the Egyptian government’s bread-crumbs offer would be a huge blow to our mission and an even larger victory to the corrupt regime that is the Egyptian government.
Basem (Bassem Omar) was quoted by the AFP as saying:
“This just gives the Egyptian government a photo-up and the chance to say we allowed people through,” said Bassem Omar, a Canadian protester.
Furthermore, the governments decision to allow 100 people into Gaza on two buses shows very clearly that all the excuses that they have been providing about why they cannot let us in (dangers and tensions on the border) are completely unfounded and absolutely ridiculous! If you can allow 100 people in through the Rafah border, then what’s to say you cannot also allow the rest of the 1,360-strong delegation? This was clearly a strategic move by the Foreign Ministry to trap us into accepting a token gesture based on lies and deceit. To illustrate just how deceitful it was, Ahmed Aboul Gheit held a press conference in which he said that the 100 people allowed to go on the buses were hand-picked by the Egyptian government as the 100 most peaceful delegates in Cairo, referring to the rest of us as members “from organizations that are only interested in subversion and acting against Egyptian interests, to sow havoc on the streets of Egypt” referring to the continuous protests and actions we have had over the past week.
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This morning at 7am the buses were to depart for Gaza carrying the 100 delegates as well as the aid and supplies that were brought in to Cairo with all 1,360 marchers. The 100 chosen people to go on the buses were at the bus stop as early as 6am. The rest of the delegates who were not going also showed up with their bags packed, ready to board the buses, but with one message in mind: “Where are the rest of the buses?” We came to show our support and solidarity for those going, but wanted to make it clear that this was in no way a victory for the Gaza Freedom March, nor was it something to celebrate!
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As delegates began boarding the buses, the rest of us begged and pleaded with the chosen ones to get off the bus, and ensure our entire group was united. We chanted slogans such as “Don’t go!” “Where are the buses?” “Please don’t go!” and “The people united, will never be defeated!” Eventually, some people began to get off the buses, and were welcomed by our shouts and screams of support for their decision to get off. Unfortunately, there was some back and forth yelling between those on the bus and those of us begging them to get off. Later on, Ehab Lotayef, international steering committee member, made a phone call to his counterpart in Gaza, put him on speaker phone for the bus to hear, and asked him if the 100-person convoy should still come despite the missing 1200 delegates; he said no! So basically, Gaza said no don’t send the 100 people because it just wouldn’t be the same march as that which was planned for the past several months.
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A couple hours later, we were barricaded off by some light-security riot police.
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We had signs and banners voicing our pleas and to the press, the 100 on board the buses, as well as the Egyptian locals and police. By the time the buses left, there were 60 people on-board (many of whom were replacements for those who decided not to go). Unfortunately, there were 2 Canadians on the bus, but they did not go as part of the Canadian delegation, nor did the 100-person convoy go as the “Gaza Freedom March.” So, as of this writing, the 60 people are on their way to Gaza with 2 bus-loads of aid and donations. Of those, about 15 people were of Palestinian descent and had family in the strip with whom they had hoped to be united. We support them on their independent, personal missions but cannot support them as the Gaza Freedom March or as part of any type of political effort.