Saturday, 16 January 2010

What's Next?

GAZA ONE YEAR ON

Palestinian Solidarity Campaign UK are hosting a free event this week to mark Israel's siege of Gaza.

________________________________________________________________

Tuesday 19 January 2010 - 7pm

Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, WC1R 4RL, London

All welcome.
________________________________________________________________

Speakers include:

Dr Karma Nabulsi, Oxford University

Bruce Kent, Vice President Pax Christi

Sir Gerald Kaufman MP – Just returned from Gaza

Phyllis Starkey MP

George Galloway MP

Alison Shepherd, UNISON

Daud Abdullah, Middel East Monitor

Jeremy Corbyn MP

Kate Hudson, Chair CND

Alexei Sayle

Richard Burden MP

Joseph Healey, The Green Party

Lindsey German, Stop the War Coalition

Hugh Lanning, Deputy General Secretary PCS

Anas Altikriti, BMI

Ismael patel, Friends of Al Aqsa




Monday, 11 January 2010

One small step towards the breaking of the siege of Gaza...



Exactly one year after the "Operation Cast Lead" in December 2008, where 1400 Palestinians were massacred by Israeli war crimes, 1400 international peace activists from more than 40 countries gathered with the one common aim to break the siege of Gaza in a nonviolent freedom march against the ongoing blockade, which forces the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza into a severe humanitarian crisis due to unjustifiable national security reasoning of its neighbour states – Israel and Egypt. The border to be crossed was Rafah on Egyptian territory, and it was through Mubarak’s oppressive government negotiations were to take place. The idea was beautiful and strong. It was humanitarian and we had international law on our side. Together we were peace marchers of all kinds Irish Nobel Laureate Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, Filipino senator and activist Walden Bello, American-Palestinian activist Ali Abunimah, writer Alice Walker, 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, Anti-zionist journalist Amira Haas, and hundreds of politicians, writers, artists, musicians social workers, social-therapists, teachers, students, products of the ’68 movement and concerned citizens from all over the world. The Gaza Freedom March was to make history.

Yet, alas, as we were all gathered strong-willed and united in Cairo, the Egyptian government made the decision to ban our Free Gaza mission. Mubarak declined to grant us the permission to enter Gaza through the Rafah border-crossing, banned all bus companies from taking us there and denied us all rights to assemble in Egypt in groups larger than six people, giving the Egyptian police straight orders of surveillance. It was clear that Egypt was terrified of the scope of the Gaza Freedom March project as it had turned out, and could not risk letting 1400 international civil disobedients pose a threat to their national security. Instead Mubarak nobly offered us to remain in his capital to do tourism and discover the wonders of the pyramids, the Sphinx, and the mystery of the missing Rosetta stone in the Egyptian museum.

Disillusion, drama, tension, claustrophobia, anger, frustration, desperation. The atmosphere was heated at the reception of the news that we were all stuck in police-state Cairo. Our unified solidarity with the Gazans was firm and non-negotiable. Yet that was the only way in which our unity remained, and as soon as the bad news spread the 1400 scattered into volatile disunity, chaos and emotional anarchy. Alas, had we all stayed united in Cairo fighting for our cause together with one voice, maybe things would have turned out differently. ALL possible methods were taken by the respective delegations of activists to carry out the planned “breaking of the siege”. Some started making their own way to El-Arish and the Raffah border, either by bus/train or taxi, only to either be stopped halfway, put under hotel arrest or deported back to Cairo by Egyptian police escorts. Back in Cairo, all our attempts at peaceful protests were infiltrated by egyptian police; demonstration in front of respective national embassies, candle-light vigil by the Nile River, peace camp in front of UN World Trade Centre were barricaded, occupied, besieged, violated and broken up. Hunger strikes started beginning with Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein.

Some even took innovative methods out of desperation by starting negotiations with the director of the Egyptian Museum. Could there be a potential link between the re-launch of the campaing to return the Rosetta stone from the British Museum in London to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the Egyptian involvement in the siege of Gaza? Children of Egypt are denied their right to education, as the Rosetta stone is the key to the understanding of Egyptian culture, language and the reading of the hieroglyphs. Children of Gaza are denied their rights to education because of the blockade, deprived of basic school supplies and taking places at universities abroad. Could one violation of the human right to education be removed as a condition for the removal of the other? Is this innovative international negotiation or just artificial bullocks?

Meanwhile the organisers were in constant negotiation with Egyptian government officials. After several attempts, Code Pink played the “we’re women for peace” card, and a compromise was brokered by supposedly feminist Suzanne Mubarak. Only a 100 delegates were allowed into Gaza the next morning. An incredibly unfair deal, that should have been opposed straight away based on false grounds of women’s rights promotion, taking the focus away from the humanitarian issue we came to fight for – the siege of Gaza. Yet, the Code Pink organizers gave in, perhaps worried of losing face by letting their mission fail entirely. They gave the 1400 people crowd only a few minutes to chose their delegates, there was no transparent consultation, and the final election procedure couldn’t have been more top-down and undemocratic. The disunity of the crowd became even more remarked. Several delegations boycotted the deal with the strong message “NO ONE to Gaza or EVERYONE”. It’s was a matter of pure Realpolitik. Yet the final Schindler’s Apartheid list of the ‘chosen few’ was made, and Kat and I were on it by pure luck.

The departure at the bus station the morning after was an emotional turbulence. Cope Pink announced they would no longer take any responsibility of people’s individual decisions to get on the busses or not. This turned it all into an anarchy of self-interest. People were going on and off the busses. People standing by the busses screaming “traitors” at the people on the busses. Palestinians crying because they simply wished to go to reunite with their families in Gaza. The initial notion of the altruistic noble aim to break the siege for the people of Gaza was nowhere to be seen.

Kat could not cope with it all no longer, she could not go under such circumstances. As we had sworn not to separate, no matter what, finally deciding to go on the bus to Gaza without her was one of the toughest decision I have ever made. However, my decision was driven by the fact that now the deal was sealed, the busses were there, Palestinians in Gaza were expecting us. Did no one get on those busses, there would be no Freedom March. Within this reality, there was no space for “no one or everyone” egalitarian doctrines or democratic principles. It was no longer relevant discussing the means by which we were going to break the siege of Gaza, the fact was that it needed to be done. Even if only a small step towards breaking the siege would be made by a small minority of us, unable to represent the strong commitments and contributions of everyone. In this context, a few people going was crucial and better than no one. Thus, we couldn't let the busses leave without at least one of us being on it to go to Gaza, so Kat decided to stay and I to go.

The final ‘Gaza delegation’ was full of inspiring people of all kinds. Fareed Bitar, a palestinian phychotherapist musician who especially works with traumatised kids, Pete a british psychotherapist working at the Palestinian Trauma Centre, a woman working at Orphanage in Gaza, two people from UK Amnesty International working at Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, 5 anti-zionist Rabbis, a venezuelan film-producer making a documentary on 'ressistance and oppression' for a venezuelanb TV station, photographers, journalists, palestinians coming to reunite with their families, and many many more.

I cannot describe how incredible it felt driven straight past a wide open border. It almost all seemed too easy, “too good to be true” as Walden Bello noted. The two busses of only 100 people passing the Raffah border was no way near breaking of the siege, however it was indeed a step towards opening the borders of Gaza to the rest of the world.

We received an incredibly warm welcome by Hamas. They treated us as their guests of honour served us an extravagant dinner and lodged us into the most luxurious 5 star hotel I’ve ever stayed in in my life. I was in a huge moral dilemma. This was not the kind of Gaza I had expected to see having read about the misery of life under occupation and oppression. Despite being grateful for Hamas’ overwhelming hospitality, trying to make our stay in their land as comfortable as possible, it felt wrong. I could not sleep in my princess hotel bed that night in the hotel suite I shared with Nancy from Lebanon, and I could not take a warm shower in the hotel bathroom the next morning. I smelled of “humanitarian disaster tourism”, and I did not sign up for that.



Day 1:

Today was the Gaza Freedom March, where we crossed the Eretz border together with thousands of Palestinians. The atmosphere at the march was the most empowering and europhoric I've ever experienced. Peace marchers of all backgrounds, all countries, all religions, all ages marching together chanting, singing and playing music with one single humanitarian goal in common: a free gaza and an end of the siege. We marched together internationals and palestinians all the way the border with Israel, when we reached the border the palestinian marchers stopped, but the international code pink delegates continued across the border another 1-200 meters where we sat down withour banners peacefully singing "We shall overcome.. because deep in our hearts, we do believe, that Gaza will be free someday". At the front were the 5 Rabbis, functioning as human shield. Hamas Minister of Social Affairs made a speech higlighting this symbolic border-crossing as a unique historical moment. Suddenly we heard Israeli warning shootings in the distance, and we all hurried back to the busses.

Sadly, however, because the march had been organised by Hamas, all NGOs in Gaza boycotted the march. Notably, the march was clearly male-dominated as all Palestinian women's organisations were prohibited from taking part, which made the march far less powerful than intended. In the very back of the march a bus full of women were following us. We were a group of international women trying to negotiate with Hamas to let them join. Finally they were allowed to march with us with pink banners saying: "Women say Free Gaza." A touching moment. Many people felt the march had been hijacked by Hamas, however I felt this was a arrogant western type of argument. As the democratically elected government, we had the duty to respect Hamas and their hospitality whilst on their territory, namely by focusing on our one common denominator: breaking the siege and fighting for a free Gaza. All other cultural clashes could not fit appropriately into this scenario, even though the female oppression was impossible to turn a blind eye to.

After the march, Hamas took us on a tour around the endless areas of devastation in Gaza. Walking through Gaza City you pass one destroyed building after another, making it seem sick and inhumane that the Goldstone Report has not been implemented when the evidences of israeli war crimes are right in front of you everywhere in there. 5356 palestinian homes were either completely or partially destroyed during Operation Cast Lead last December, and standing inside one of them earlier today the plight went straight to my heart, and could not help bursting into tears. The most ironic sight was the remaining ruins of the International American School; funded by US governement, bombed by US-funded Israeli war crimes and now being cleaned up and rebuild by Caterpillar.

In the evening we celebrated the end of 2009, a tragic year for Gaza, and hoped for a brighter future in 2010. I definitely had the New Years party of my life dancing carelessly with palestinians in a parc in Gaza with performance of the underground palestinian ressitance hiphip band Darg Team: http://www.myspace.com/damcz. Had the 100 of us not gotten on the busses to Gaza, this party organised by Hamas would never have taken place. As our friend Ahmed put it, "you know we normally never have any reason to party and celebrate New Year’s Eve like this in Gaza, but now that you are here are just so happy because we know that you support us." Everyone, kids, young and old, were dancing, singing and laughing perhaps for a moment forgetting about their daily life under blockade. That evening definitely made going all worth it. I cannot imagine how dissapointed people at the party would have been had none of us made it there.


Day 2:

Hamas had arranged a football match for us; CodePink versus Hamas. The most surreal experience ever. Yet, my initial positive view of them quickly changed as they 'politely' came up to us female delegates and said " no women on the pitch please, it would be embarrasing for us to play against you". Moreover, meeting up with a women's NGO later this evening, who told me about how Hamas has banned their free operation, closed down their offices, forbidden "lessons about warnings of early marriage" in girl schools in Gaza and introduced hijabs for all school girls, and indirectly increased the amount of domestic violence and multiple-wife marriages, only made me feel more skeptical.

I visited a palestinian family, a big house full of children. I felt so welcome in their house and their hospitality seemed so warm and genuine. They made me the biggest feat of a meal ever and almost ended up giving me more gifts that I had brought for them. Sadly, many of their stories were tragic and heart-rendering, talking about how the war last december affected them, how depended they are on getting things in through the tunnels, how worried they are about the egyptian iron wall. While I was there the electricity went off, as it does for some palestinian homes 4 days a week. The father of the family explained that most palestinian families have at least 5 children, as they know at least 2 out of them will die early. He said that the only games his children ever played were war games of palestinians versus israelis shooting with toy guns and throwing with stones."My kids are not militant terrorists as many newspapers write, they are simply the product of what the Israeli occupation has made them".... He explained that most kids in Gaza are deeply traumatised. Pete, a social therapist from the UK offered me to stay in Gaza a few days longer to assist him at a center working with traumatised kids in Gaza, the same center that Kat and I have decided to donate the money you all helped us raise to. I believe the work they do is some of the most important humanitarian work for the palestinians in post-war Gaza. please read more about the center on their website:http://www.ptcgaza.com/

I don't think I've ever met more ambitious and motivated students than the students from the Islamic University of Gaza. They all had big plans for their futures and were desperate to stay up all night to have long intense intellectual debates with all of us. Ahmed for one, dreams of becoming a Doctor in the UK one day. A bunch of students, including Ahmed Elraai grabbed hold of me and we sat down to talk about setting up a buddy-scheme with students from Warwick and to try to negotiate with our university to grant scholarships and admissions letters to students in Gaza to come study in Warwick. I believe any university in the world would benefit MASSIVELY from allowing them out of Gaza and into their education system - they would make the most out of it, unlike any other student.

The Palestinian people went beyond all my expectations. They are so alive, warm people full of energy, hope and friendliness despite the tragic conditions under which they live. If only they had the right and opportunity to travel the world so that everyone would get the chance to meet the palestinians, I am convinced the world would be a better place. All the palestinians I met both young and older were bright, open-minded, reflective and politicised people with opinions about every single issue in any part of the world. When I told people I was from Denmark, many people told me they really appreciated my support despite the negative view's of my country's islamophobic foreign policy, as was seen during the cartoon crisis. During several visits around Gaza, I managed to convince several palestinians to shake hands and make peace with the 5 rabbis in our delegation, which they to my pleasant surprise had no difficulty with - "The Jews are our brothers, it is the Israeli government that is our enemy", as they righlty clarified. They were full of ambitions and aims they wanted to achieve and believed they could achieve if they fought hard enough for it. I believe one (inofficial) reason for the Israeli siege of Gaza is the Israel's fear of the potential powerfulness of the palestinian people.

By far the majority of all fruit and vegetables (with the exception of amazingly tasty gazan strawberries), as well IT hardware, kitchenware, furniture and many other essential living goods are brought in to the people of gaza through the tunnels. The family i visited pointed out which of their belongings were tunnel goods which ended up being almost everything, such as their one refrigerator. This great dependance on tunnel transportation of fundamental goods needed for decent living standards only makes the building of an egyptian "iron wall" even more disastrous, and many of the palestinians I talked to were very scared of how this would impact their lives, suddenly only having access to an even more limited amount of food, medicine, as well as educational supplies. When talking to egyptians in Cairo, they all explained the building of the wall as a necessary response to the national security threat the Israeli siege of gaza poses on Egypt, by trapping the palestinians in Gaza and indirectly causing a major outflux of palestinians through the tunnels and into egypt. However, whilst some egyptians blamed Israel for this scenario, most claimed that the palestinians themselves are to blame as they were the ones who democratically elected Hamas into power, and because it is Hamas so-perceived "Islamic project" that the Israeli siege is a response to. So it seems like a never-ending ping-pong of accusations and denying responsibility between Israel and Egypt, with the palestinians as the victims.

Alas, just as i had installed myself in the palestinian trauma centre, ready to stay there for the following weak to help Pete with his work their with the children, whilst waiting for Nora and Fred to arrive with Viva Palestina, Hamas gave us all orders to return to Egypt immediately. They announced that there were rumours of the launch of another Israeli war on Gaza, and they could not risk letting us stay any longer for our own security. This was the saddest news ever, and even though we tried for several hours negotiating with Hamas their position didn't change. Even a group of Amnesty people from London had been employed to work at the Palestine Center for Human Rights the next 6 months were forced out. I was in tears when saying goodbye to Ahmed and all the other incredible people we met in Gaza. Yet, when we were driving out through the Raffah border again I was determined to return again whenever the opportunity occurs.

Going with the small delegation to Gaza was nowhere near a humanitarian act of heroism, and it could essentially have been one by anyone. Contrarily what we did by going to Gaza was simply our obligation to show the Palestinian people our solidarity, respect and willingness to help them fulfill their dreams.

After the return from Gaza, my anger towards Israeli war crimes and occupation could not be stronger. However, I was still determined to obtain a balanced view by making my way up to Israel with a group of fellow activists. Yet we were met by a brutal rejection at the Iraeli border by Taba. They kept us in the border control office for 13 hours, from 5am to 6pm. We were strip-searched, and our bags were emptied at least 20 times by 20 different Israeli border control staff - they carelessly spread our stuff all over the place, which meant that we lost several personal belongings, in my case that meant my only credit card. We were interrogated a million times, with questions such as ' are you a member of any left-wing groups' , 'are you jewish or have any jewish family?', 'what do you think is great about our country and why do you wanna visit it?', and of course they asked a thousand questions about why we were in Gaza, which they referred to as 'the southern part of Israel'. When I tried explaining them about the trauma centre they looked at me all puzzled and asked why there was a need for a trauma centre, "Miss, do you believe there is any TRAUMA in Israel!?". It was all kicked off when they found the "Palestine Guidebook" in my bag, after which the israeli staff searching through my bag gave me a cold look asking loudly "Excuse Miss, WHAT IS PALESTINE!? I have never heard of such a thing". During the final interview they took us all into a small room individually. When my friend was in there we suddenly heard loud screams, and stormed to the door together with other tourists waiting in the hall to try to get him out. But we were quickly grabbed by some of the military staff there, who dragged us out of the building outside to the egyptian side of the border with big red "DENIED ENTRY INTO ISRAEL' stamps in our passports. "you will NEVER come back to our country' they said as they left us. Later when our friend joined us at the Egyptian border control, he told us the Israelis had punched him in his face 3 times and hand-cuffed him when he asked them why Gaza and the West Bank weren't on the map of Israel/Palestine in their office.

All in all this trip has been one big ressistance struggle against one oppressive police-state government after another. Experiencing Middle Easter Conflict surrounding the Siege of Gaza up front, with key players such as Egypt, Israel and Hamas. The irony of it all it though, that the one government that gets the worst labels in western media, Hamas, where in the end the ones that treated us by far the best. I definitely believe that the "terrorist" image they have in the international community needs to be changed and world leaders need to cooperate more closely with them instead labeling as extremists. Talking to several palestinians it has become more and more clear to me how much good they have done to help the palestinians of Gaza, and if the international community want to do the same they essentially need to work more closely with Hamas. Thus, I believe the dilemma is how to push the international community to collaborate further with Hamas, rather than regarding their "Islamic project" as national security threats (namely Egypt and Israel), whilst being concerned about Hamas' violations of women's rights in Gaza. Alas, I had wished CodePink as a women's organisation would have made a bigger political statement out of that whilst we were living under Hamas' wings in Gaza. In Gaza I met people who were strongly for and strongly against Hamas' political rule, yet no one mentioned what's perceived internationally as their dangerous "islamic project", but contrarily even those against Hamas liked their strong political connection with Islam, which is something many palestinians use to generate hope in a truly hopeless situation. The divide is approx 60 % for, 40% against, and the head of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (www.pchrgaza.com) argued that it is precisely this interna disunity which makes it even more difficult for the palestinians in Gaza to receive internatinal support for their cause.

Peace in the Middle East. Free Gaza.

Marie


Sunday, 10 January 2010

Congratulations!

Viva Palestina have published messages of support and congratulations for the convoy on their website.

http://www.vivapalestina.org/alerts/congratualtions3.htm

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

West Bank: checkpoints, walls, apartheid.

Dear All,

I have returned to a snowy London... it's bizarre walking into a country that is obsessed with its winter wonderland.

Viva Palestina have finally broken the siege! Considering the difficulties to get to Gaza, never would I have thought that it would be so hard to help. That people would make it so difficult for us to deliver aid and show support.

I believe none of us should stand for that- help should be accessible and aspired to. We all have a little role to play in our daily lives, that whenever we can, we ought to help somebody who may need it.



1. Last Cairo events
2. Jerusalem settler conflict (perverse)
3. West Bank & Ramallah NGO & refugee camp


Last Cairo events
Once the 2 buses had left for Gaza it was a matter of rebuilding the feeling of solidarity in Cairo. Mick Napier from the Scottish delegation sort of took lead from this point and managed to inject the necessary sense of urgency, delegation and leadership that Code Pink had been lacking. He successfully led all of us into a final protest which Marie described in a former blog post. It started off violently, but ended peacefully in Tahrir Square, central Cairo. The atmosphere was festive and solid, yet I am unsure whether we had good media coverage. Some photos below.










And a nice little video...


video

2. Jerusalem
It was a 10 hour bus journey that stole us from Cairo on the last night of 2009 to drop us off at the border with Israel on the first day of 2010. At Taba we walked to the Israeli border and as a striking contrast to Marie's experience, we got through fine.

I'm going to put this down to the fact that
1. we were travelling in a couple
2. we had re-entry visas in Egypt
3. no evidence of Palestine.


At midday we were in Jerusalem and all I see is very dark clothing everywhere. Our hostel was in the Old City, which is incredibly beautiful and full of small winding roads. Unfortunately tourism has cast its long commercial shadow, hiding any evidence of the conflict. It was so strange to be there, because there was no sign at all of any occupation.

That evening we went to the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, in Occupied East Jerusalem, where Israeli settlers had kicked out Palestinians from their homes. We met a lot of people from the International Solidarity Movement, who took us right down into the middle of the whole issue (to read more see here).




We were walking down the road towards the backdoors of a Palestinian home we were going to enter, when suddenly a lot of young Israeli Orthodox boys came running towards us, blocking our entry.


They started hissing at us, filming our faces up-close with their mobile phones and told us to "Go to Jesus". Rather aggressive and spiteful, but we eventually were let through the doors, which took a lot of struggle from the Palestinian side. The Israeli boys started kicking down and pushing through the doors. Imagine somebody trying to barge their way into your front door, because they claim it their right.



Eventually we emerged onto the other side, spilling out on the main road. I turned to face a house adorned in Israeli flags and I suddenly felt that in a way these settlers may have highjacked their own religion in the name of nationalism. The house I was looking at used to belong to Nasr, who was born there 53 years ago and had been living there up until 5 months ago. He now lives in a tent on a street with his family.





A large group of young Israeli Orthodox Jewish boys began to assemble at the top of the road to pray. It was a Friday and apparently they do this every Shabbat. But was it really to honour their religion? It hardly seemed so,... the praying was aggressive, provocative and not in the most logical of places to celebrate Shabbat. It was quite perverse. The boys come every week from different areas to sing as loud as they can and most times get aggressive by throwing rocks.


Possibly the worst thing was observing the children on both sides developing a premature sensation of hate.



3. Ramallah: NGOs, refugee camp, checkpoints
D and I travelled to Ramallah for only 2 days. It was entirely different to what we expected. There were many posh Mercedes, BMWs and brand new Land Rovers driving through the town.
Ramallah is the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and home to most international organisations and NGOs. There's a lot of money going through there via the EU, raising the impression of a false economy.

We met with 3 different NGOs:

All three are headed and run by Palestinians. D and I were impressed- they were incredibly well spoken, opinionated, informed and highly capable people. Not like the stereotypical Palestinian you see on TV. On top of advancing feminist issues and addressing issues of health, both the women's and the health work committees stressed their objectives to create a national movement for an independent Palestinian state. So they are going beyond their specialist goals to form a political movement and be a political organisation, as well as a social/charitable one.

There are the right kind of people in Palestine that are fit for leadership, like all the of people we met at these NGOs. Unfortunately they are not heard, but instead suppressed.

Refugee camp
I took no photos since there are many out there already. I just want to provide a description of our the impressions we got from our short visit.

The refugee camp was established in 1948 and is now home to over 15,000 displaced Palestinians. What began as a temporary lodging for the refugees has now been accepted as de facto residences. But to compare the camp to a residence is a bold overstatement.

The houses are made up of cold concrete, providing little warmth in the winter chill. The entire camp was bleak, grey, sad and very dirty. The only little bursts of colour were provided by the dozens of children playing and delightfully laughing in the streets.

We visited one of the 2 youth centres in the camp, which provides a space for the young people to express themselves through dance, activities, learning and simply talking. The aim of the centre is to engage young people in activities that improve their self-confidence and inspire them to be leaders. It was really nice, D and I had a good chat with a teacher and 5 other young guys (17/18/19 yrs old) and Hosni! A gorgeous young 13 year old.

Their knowledge of the conflict is thorough and they are totally aware of the historical occurrences leading to the establishment of Israel and the slow erosion of Palestine. It was really inspiring to see how in such a sad place, learning and the passing on of history was successfully being upheld.

Yet there are only 2 centres like this for 15,000 people... hope doesn't really survive in an environment like that and I wonder how humanity can even exist in a place where you cannot move, express yourself, be creative or develop. It's a big trap, a big prison.

Checkpoint
I don't have many pictures of this but the few below speak for themselves. The only thing to note here was the lack of ANY Israeli soldiers. They were all shut up in towers or behind bullet proof glass. There is a real fear of terrorist attacks and they make sure to check all Palestinians for weapons. The checkpoint was devoid of any familiar sounds and all you could hear was machinery, metallic clinking and microphone voices barking orders. It was horrid, took 2 hours and is something we would never tolerate here. So why do we accept it over there?












Much love and once again, we are so grateful for all your support,
Katerina



Convoy Clashes Reported by BBC

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/8442758.stm

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Convoy News

Viva Palestina Convoy Press TV Report from El-Arish:


Godbye gaza...5/1/2010

Kicked out of Gaza by Hamas: Alas, just as i had installed myself in the palestinian trauma centre, ready to stay there for the following weak to help Pete with his work their with the children, whilst waiting for Nora and Fred to arrive with Viva Palestina.. Hamas gave us all STRICT orders to leave immediately! They announced that there were rumours of the launch of another Israeli war on Gaza, and they could under no circumstanced allow us to stay for our own security. This was the saddest news ever, and even though we tried for several hours negotiating with Hamas their position didn't change. Even a group of Amnesty people from London had been employed to work at the Palestine Center for Human Rights the next 6 months were forced out. I was in tears when saying goodbye to Ahmed and all the other incredible people we met in Gaza. Yet, when we were driving out through the Raffah border again I was determined to return again whenever the opportunity occurs.

Cairo updates: All the way from Raffah to Cairo a line of police cars followed our bus, not allowing us to stop at anytime to get food or go to the bathroom out of fear that we would start marching back to Gaza. Back in Police-state Cairo we were received by a brigade of police cars, who then escorted us to our hostels, constantly shouting paranoid questions at us "Raffah??Gaza!!?". During our de-brief session with some of the 1300 CodePink delegates who had remained in Cairo we were informed about the activities they had been doing while we were in Gaza. The Freedom march had been incredibly powerful, with both internationas and egytians taking direct action, resisting the violent police force and ending with a symbolic peaceful sit-down in the Cairo central square. Tragically, many peace marchers had been severely injured, some had even broken their ribs! This made our march in Gaza seem even more weak in comparison, none of those kinds of sacrifices had been made by the Gaza delegation. Other actions in Cairo had been a camp outside the Israeli Embassy and raising the Palestinian flag on the Giza pyramids.

A Gaza Freedom Mach "Boycott Israel" declaration has been initiated by the South African CodePink delegation, please sign it via this website: http://www.scottishpsc.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3017:gaza-freedom-marchers-issue-the-qcairo-declarationq-to-end-israeli-apartheid-&catid=530:international-voices&Itemid=200489

DENIED entry into Israel: yesterdat a group of codepink delegated and I decided to begin a jouney towards Israel, to see Jerusalem, the settlements, the west bank, and get the other perspective on the palestinian issue, and I was hoping to perhaps join Kat there. Yet we were met by a brutal rejection at the Iraeli border by Taba. They kept us in the border control office for 13 hours, from 5am to 6pm. We were strip-searched, and our bags were emptied at least 20 times by 20 different Israeli border control staff - they carelessly spread our stuff all over the place, which meant that we all lost some of out items, in my case that meant my ONLy credit card.. We were interrogated a million times, with questions such as ' are you a member of any left-wing groups' , 'are you jewish or have any jewish family?', 'what do you think is great about our country and why do you wanna visit it?', and of course they asked a thousand questions about why we were in Gaza, which they referred to as 'the southern part of Israel'. When I tried explaining them about the trauma centre they looked at me all puzzled and asked why there was a need for a trauma centre, "Miss, do you believe there is any TRAUMA in Israel!?". It was all kicked off when they found the "Palestine Guidebook" in my bag, after which the israeli staff searching through my bag gave me a cold look asking loudly "Excuse Miss, WHAT IS PALESTINE!? I have never heard of such a thing". During the final interview they took us all into a small room individually. When my brittish friend was in their we suddenly heard loud screams, and stormed to the door together with other tourists waiting in the hall to try to get him out. But we were quickly grapped by some of the military staff there, who dragged us out of the building on to the egyptian side of the border with "DENIED ENTRY INTO ISRAEL' stamps in our passports. "you will NEVER come back to our country' they said as they left us. Later when our friend joined us at the egytian border control, were we had to wait for another 4 hours, he told us the israeli had beaten him up and punched him in his face 3 times because he had asked them why Gaza and the West Bank weren't on the map of Israel/Palestine in their office.

Stuck in no man's land: So now after having been rejected by governments on all sies of the Gaza conflicts, a group of codepink delegates and I have now gone into exile along the coast of the Red Sea, maybe this will give us some time to rest and digest after two weeks of police/government/border-crossing/humanitarian activism struggle and all the emotional turbulence involved.

All my thoughts are with Fred and Nora, who I truly hope, Inshallah, will get safely into Gaza, with all aid vehicles being shipped over.

Please keep showing them all your support and thanks for all the support you hve given Kat and I.

Peace in the Middle East, Free Gaza.
Love, Marie