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Gaza Freedom March: Alan Gilbert Comments

December 30, 2009

 (note – Alan Gilbert is a full professor at the Korbel School of International Studies. I teach there too. Besides Alan’s comments just below are articles by Cindy Sheehan, Philip Weiss and some takes from Democracy Now! on the situation of the Gaza supporters now being stymied in Egypt)

           An international solidarity brigade of 1400 people from many countries has gone to Gaza.  Among them are Jews including Hedy Epstein, an 85 year old holocaust survivor whose parents were killed in the Nazi camps.  But they have been stopped at the border by the American-funded dictatorship of Mubarak in Egypt.  She and other grandmothers are currently on hunger strike (one ceases being a newsworthy Jew even a concentration camp survivor if one is on the wrong side of the Times’ preferred though self-destructive policies in Israel; so far, only one brief mention on December 26 of this demonstration here). 

           Some 300 from France staged civil disobedience at a major boulevard.  The passer-bys honked or waved (ordinary Egyptians are naturally sympathetic to uprooted and brutalized Palestinians).  But the government is so corrupt that it is planting a deep metal wall to prevent food and supplies from getting into Gaza.   It will not allow housing materials to enable the reconstruction of the buildings destroyed by the Israeli offensive a year ago which murdered some 1400 people (as opposed to 11 dead Israelis from Hamas rockets). It took down paper signs of solidarity put by the marchers on the Kasr al-Nil bridge (the bridge over the Nile).

          Gaza has been rightly described by my friend Tom Farer (a well-known international lawyer and also a Jew) as a large open air concentration camp.  In a crime against international humanitarian law, Palestinians trapped within are unable to flee Israeli rockets.  As the Goldstone report revealed (written by another Jew and wellknown Zionist), the army of Israel aimed its rockets at houses in which children slept. That is a hard sentence.  Perhaps one should repeat it to oneself.   The Israeli government murdered some 300 Palestinian children; Hamas murdered a 7 year old Israeli boy.

          Internationalism as in the Abraham Lincoln and European brigades that fought the fascists in Spain (Franco armed by Hitler) between 1936 and 1938 is one of the great and noble forces of the last century and of the modern world.  The Lincoln brigade was half-black; more than half of its 3,000 members, barely armed against Franco and harassed by the U.S. government, were killed by the fascists.  The surviving heroes returned to the United States of America to be stigmatized by the House Unamerican Activities Committee headed by Martin Dies, as “premature antifascists.” 

          Democratic internationalism is the idea that we are linked and that the most terrible suffering needs our solidarity, even against our own government and media, and sometimes at the risk of our lives; if not, others, and perhaps we too will suffer such things (See my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? or think of Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous poem that first they came for the Jews and the Com munists…).  Such actions are also called by my friend Ilene Cohen in today’s idiom, those of civil society elsewhere uniting with Palestinian civil society against corrupt governments and parties like the Democrats.  Today, the conduct of Democrats as well as Republicans toward the Palestinians is reminiscent of the solid Democratic Segregationist South.

        As in Palestine, however, internationalist action, the democratic action from below of civil society, can be nonviolent.  It does what it can to heal the world.  Even stopped in Cairo, the 1400 participants on this march are recognizing the force and joy of such solidarity (see the comments of Phillip Weiss below).  It is possible to stand up against the murder and corruption of powerful governments, and the enormous self-destructiveness of the Israeli government and of American foreign policy (five wars and counting as Greenwald says this morning here).

       This morning Cindy Sheehan who lost a son in Iraq and has courageously led protests at Bush’s Texas manor and elsewhere, reported, from friends, that Americans holding a peaceful demonstration outside the Embassy were turned over to the police state.  International or not, 50 were beaten and arrested.  One who escaped arrest was Ann Wright, a career military officer and American diplomat, who was one of three people who resigned because of the Bush-Cheney aggression in Iraq.  Her words are also below.

       Sheehan points out that today is the sad anniversary of the massacre of Native Americans at Wounded Knee in 1890 by the US government. The Palestinians are the indigenous people of Palestine.  Ben Gurion and other Israeli leaders saw them as the American Indians or the blacks of apartheid South Africa.  They could be “transferred” and persecuted, and the international community would remain silent.

       Many Jews have thought (Uri Avnery, Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt inter alia) that such policies were criminal from the beginning.  Jews needed a place to settle after the genocide.  There was no help for the original crime; Europe and America would not permit Israel on their territories.  But Israelis needed to achieve a workable peace with the Palestinians in one state with equal basic rights (Arendt – see here) or two.   The renewal of this crime today – and the madness that has seized Israeli leadership about “Greater Israel”  – is now instigating world wide resistance.  Even in the United States, Obama’s opposition to the settlements (now sadly dropped)  is popular and the desire for a decent two state solution strong among Jews and others.  In the United States, however, the veil of ignorance about this international protest in Israel and the facts of life in the occupied territories is drawn especially tight in the mainstream media.  But these facts will out.  There is such movement.  Change from below is happening before our eyes. 


BREAKING: U.S. Citizens attacked by Egyptian Riot Police in Cairo outside of U.S. Embassy

Cindy Sheehan

One of my friends, Joshua Smith, just texted me from Cairo and said that some U.S. citizens of the Gaza Freedom March went to the U.S. Embassy today there to try and implore the staff there to intercede on behalf of the March to help get them into Gaza–they were not so warmly welcomed.

Recently, almost 1400 people from around the globe met in Cairo to march into Gaza to join Gazans in solidarity and to help expose their plight after years of blockade and exactly a year after the violent attack in what Israel called “Operation Cast Lead” that killed hundreds of innocent Gazan civilians. So far the Marchers have been denied access (Egypt closed the Rafah crossing) and their gatherings have become increasingly and more violently suppressed.

In my understanding of world affairs, embassies are stationed in various countries so citizens who are traveling can seek help in times of trouble [not when they protest our Government’s reactionary policies however], but this doesn’t appear to be so right at this moment in Cairo.

Josh reports, and I also just got off the phone with my good friend and Veterans for Peace board member, Mike Hearington, that about 50 U.S. citizens were very roughly seized and thrown (in at least one case literally) into a detention cell at the U.S. embassy. We are talking about U.S. citizens here being manhandled by Egyptian riot police. According to Josh and Mike (who both just narrowly escaped), it appears that people with cameras are especially being targeted. Another good friend of mine, and good friend of peace, Fr. Louis Vitale is one of those being detained. Fr. Louis is well into his seventies!

Josh posted this on his Facebook wall about his near-detention experience:

We just got away. They were trying to drag me in but we kept moving… And most were dog piling another guy. Then they drug him into the parking lot barricaded riot police zone, lifted him up and threw him over the police and down into the zone. And attacking those taking pictures or attempting to.

When I was talking to Mike he said that an Egyptian told him that all Egyptians are in solidarity with the Marchers and with the people of Gaza/Palestine, of course, but the “Big Boss” (the U.S.) is calling the shots.

Egypt is third in line for U.S. foreign aid (behind Iraq and Israel) and its dictator for life, Hosni Mubarek, is a willing puppet for his masters: the US/Israeli cabal. Israel could not pursue its apartheid policies without the U.S. and it’s equally important for this cabal to have a sold-out ally as its neighbor.

Today also happens to be the anniversary of the 1890 U.S. massacre of Native Americans (Lakota Sioux) at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. It is sad enough that we are also living on stolen land, but also that the Israeli government had good teachers in disposing of its indigenous population!

 What are the Israeli settlements on the West Bank, if not stolen land from the indigenous population and what is Gaza if not a mega-reservation? As at Wounded Knee 119 years ago, the Israeli siege and attack on Gaza is nothing more than big bullies shooting fish in a barrel.

Call the U.S. Embassy to demand the release of those detained/that permission is granted for the March to cross into Gaza: Telephone: (20-2) 2797 3300.

Please re-post this alert and spread the word.


Weren’t things supposed to “change” in the Age of Obama?

Stymied in Cairo–still something is gelling among the international marchers

by Philip Weiss on December 28, 2009 

Gaza Freedom March delegates in Cairo. (Photo: codepinkhq)

 The Egyptian authorities have told the organizers of the Gaza Freedom March once, twice, three times and four that we can’t go to Gaza, but the organizers will go back a fifth, sixth and seventh time, Medea Benjamin promised outside the U.N. offices in Cario here today. Still, it doesn’t look good for our year-end march. The chances are “less than zero,” says a friend.

Yet I have to say that the broken Gaza Freedom March has been a great achievement. How can that be, when we are going stir in Cairo? Well an international conversation over the issue is taking place here among the most diverse collection of people. I keep thinking of ways to convey just how inspiring that is. One minute you are talking with a slim, proper Japanese man. Then a minute later an Egyptian youth is telling you that Gaza thanks you for your moral solidarity. Then a minute after that Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb is saying that she came here to march, and she will march. Borders have fallen away here, and the American frame is gone. On my plane I met a kid from Jersey who had done the free Jewish “birthright” trip a year ago and whose Jewish friends have been angered at his decision to come here, but when I saw him today, he seemed enthralled, transformed, way down the path of education, in a pink scarf.

He had been up most of the night, talking to the French. They are most inspired delegation. 300 of them are camped on the sidewalk outside the French embassy, surrounded by what appear to be 600 Egyptian policemen in riot helmets and black uniforms. The French came here to get into Gaza, they are angry and have taken direct action. They are without water and toilets, and this will be their second night, that is if they are not taken away in the scores of paddywaggons set up across the road, in this police state. Many of them wear t-shirts that call for boycott and show a missile aimed at a baby carriage. “Reminds me a lot of the J Street conference,” Antony Loewenstein joked, after we got into the French camp for a ten minute police-supervised visit.

It was a good joke because it was about the limiting American frame. No one here is talking about the two-state solution or land swaps. They know what the Goldstone report says–those missiles aimed at houses with sleeping children–and they are morally clear on the question. They reflect an international consensus: the end of patience for war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and an ideology of Jewish exceptionalism supported by western governments. Those governments have failed to act so we are speaking out as civil society (Loewenstein again).

I sense something gelling here. We held a protest at the U.N. plaza here today, and Medea Benjamin called up the hunger strikers, eight or ten of them, and, flanked by young men from Syria, Egypt, and Libya, for once it did not matter that Hedy Epstein, the oldest of the strikers at 85, is a Holocaust survivor. In the U.S. that is her principal license to speak: the giant neon over her head, Hedy Epstein survivor. Here it means little; her ultimate status is, She is from St. Louis, USA. Decades ago the Palestinian leader George Antonius said that if he only took the issue to the court of world opinion, he would gain support against an injustice. Well it never happened. Yet now that support is forming, because global activists have embraced the cause, and yes, because the privileged European and American left has accepted the issue and are proud at last to be melding with Muslims and Arabs.

We didn’t do what the brave French did, and try to claim the UN plaza with sleeping bags and tents, but when we left we sang We Shall Overcome, mingling the American civil rights anthem with this international cause. Gaza will be free-ee-ee. No it doesn’t look like we will be getting into Gaza, still we are doing important work in Cairo, to transform ourselves and our presence on the world stage.


Here are some words from Democracynow this morning here which did cover the protests:

ANN WRIGHT: My name is Ann Wright, and I’m a retired US Army colonel and a former diplomat who resigned in opposition to the war in Iraq back in December 2003. We are stalled here in Cairo because the decision of the Egyptian government was that we cannot go into Gaza. We have been appealing that decision every day, providing more information to the government of Egypt about how important this mission is, not only on the humanitarian basis, but also on the human basis of people that have been imprisoned in a quarantined small area for many, many years now and who have been the subject of a brutal twenty-two-day attack that started a year ago yesterday, on December 27th, and ended up with the deaths of 1,440 Palestinians, the wounding of 5,000 others, 50,000 people made homeless, and virtually every government institution blown up.  Now, a year later, the international community continues the siege. No construction materials have been able to be brought in. And the people of Gaza are living in the ruins that were created over a year ago. The collective punishment of the people of Gaza for their election of Hamas and now the siege of the international community on those people is wrong. It’s a violation of international law, and it must be ended. And that’s why all of these people have come here, to say with the voices of the citizens of the world, “The siege must end. We must force our governments to stop this.”

HEDY EPSTEIN: I’ve been for many, many years—in fact, for most of my life, I’ve been involved in human rights and civil rights struggle. But I’ve never been on a hunger strike before. And I think there comes a time in one’s life when one meets up with this kind of obstruction that the Egyptian government is providing us, instead of opening the borders and letting us into Gaza, and there comes a time in one’s life when maybe one needs to do more than just talk and march and picket, and maybe go on a hunger strike, as I am now about to do here, to change the opinion of the Egyptian government so that they will let us go to Gaza. I desperately need to go to Gaza. I have a severe case of Gaza fever, and it can only be cured by going to Gaza. And I don’t want to go alone. I want to go with the 1,300 or 1,400 people of us from forty-two different countries.

RAE ABILEAH (Codepink organizer): I think this is a very exciting moment. I mean, it’s amazing! There’s a bus that just drove by with Egyptians with their hands in the peace sign out the window. The people are really, really supportive, and that’s exciting to see. And it’s powerful just to see. It’s the first time that everybody has converged for our Gaza Freedom March, and here we are on the anniversary of the start of Operation Cast Lead, devastating reality of people still living in their homes one year after this attack. And one year later, the world is saying no. The world is saying, “Lift the siege.” And we’re gathering in mass and in mourning and also in action and with hope. And so, that feels exciting to me.

ANNA: Hello, my name is Anna. I come from France, and I came with this group to go to Gaza. We were all supposed to take buses yesterday night at 7:00, but they didn’t come. So, we understood that it was from the government, so we just went through the road, and it’s one of the biggest road of the Caire, so we just blocked the traffic. Finally, the big trucks came, and we were quite obliged to come here. So we slept here.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 7, 2010 11:16 am

    Nice! I always wanted to write in my site something like that. Can I take part of your post to my blog?

    • January 7, 2010 11:33 am

      thanks for kind words. yes you can post stuff from my site on your blog. would appreciate if after you have done so that you send me the link. cheers. RJP

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