The Egyptian government has told organizers of the Gaza Freedom March that the Rafah border crossing will be closed into January, delivering a setback for the planned December 31 march in the besieged Gaza Strip. But with over 1,300 international delegates converging on Cairo this week, the organizers of the march have vowed to press on.
In a message on the Gaza Freedom March website, the organizers noted that, “although we consider this as a setback, it is something we’ve encountered—and overcome–before. No delegation, large or small, that has entered Gaza over the past 12 months has received a final OK before arriving at the Rafah border. Most delegations were discouraged from even heading out of Cairo to Rafah.”
The march’s planners have urged participants and allies to call and email the Egyptian government in hopes of applying enough pressure for them to reverse their decision.
“Using the pretext of escalating tensions on the Gaza-Egypt border, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry informed us December 20th that the Rafah border will be closed over the coming weeks, into January. We responded that there is always tension at the border because of the siege, that we do not feel threatened, and that if there are any risks, they are risks we are willing to take.
Please contact Egyptian embassies and missions all over the world with a clear message: Let the international delegation enter Gaza, let the Gaza Freedom March proceed!
You can call Hisham Seif-Eldin, Director Palestinian Affairs in Ministry of Foreign Affairs Cairo, Egypt (tel 25741344 fax 25749682) and/or the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, D.C. at 202-895-5400 or find your local consulate here and appeal to them on behalf of the Gaza Freedom Marchers: http://www.mfa.gov.eg/MFA_Portal/en-GB/mfa_websits/”
Egypt’s attempt to discourage the Gaza Freedom March delegates comes as Egypt “has begun the construction of a massive iron wall along its border with the Gaza Strip, in a bid to shut down smuggling tunnels into the territory. The wall will be nine to 10 kilometers long, and will go 20 to 30 meters into the ground, Egyptian sources said. It will be impossible to cut or melt,” the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported.
The people of Gaza rely on smuggling tunnels for many supplies, including food, clothes, medicine, fuel and more. Israel and Egypt, with the backing of the United States, have blockaded the Gaza Strip since 2007, when Hamas took power in Gaza after democratic elections in Palestine.
Hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza protested Egypt’s decision to build the iron wall December 21.
During last year’s Israeli assault on Gaza, which killed over 1,400 Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians, thousands of houses and homes were destroyed.
A December 22 report by human rights organizations says, “One year after the start of military action in Gaza, the international community has betrayed the people of Gaza by failing to back their words with effective action to secure the ending of the Israeli blockade which is preventing reconstruction and recovery.
The Israeli authorities have allowed only 41 truckloads of all construction materials into Gaza since the end of the offensive in mid-January.”
Alex Kane is a junior at Marymount Manhattan College, and a reporter and writer with the Indypendent. He is part of the student delegation to the Gaza Freedom March, where he will be joining over 1,300 delegates in a historic march in Gaza on December 31.
Follow his reporting on Gaza here on the IndyBlog, and at his Twitter account.