Occupied Palestinian Territory, Gaza City, Gaza Strip–About 85 international delegates marched with hundreds of Palestinians in the area of Beit Hanoun in Gaza yesterday afternoon. The protesters called on Israel, Egypt and the United States to lift the devastating siege on Gaza and to let the over 1,300 delegates from the Gaza Freedom March still in Cairo to be allowed in.
The delegates, who came from numerous countries, including the United States, France, Turkey, Canada, Germany and Australia, had crossed the Rafah border late last night. Along with the over 80 activists who crossed, humanitarian aid worth tens of thousands of dollars were brought in for the people of Gaza.
The crossing came after a tense day full of bitter debates and fights amongst the Gaza Freedom March delegates (for more, see Ellen Davidson’s piece here).
The Egyptian government had blocked any international activists from crossing for days, and they continue to repress activists still in Egypt. There have been reports of beatings, detainments and injuries of Palestine solidarity activists still in Cairo and el-Arish at the hands of Egyptian security forces. Egypt receives billions of dollars in economic and military aid from the United States, and also seals the border it shares with Gaza, though it occasionally opens it.
“Our happiness is not complete,” because the majority of the delegates are stuck in Egypt, said Ahmed Alnajjar, the director of international relations for the Ministry of Education in Gaza.
The march was much smaller than expected because of security concerns, according to Tighe Barry, an organizer with CODEPINK. Some Gazan non-governmental organizations pulled out of participating in the march after Hamas, the Islamist party that won democratic elections in Palestine in 2006, took a much bigger role than originally promised.
On the bus towards Gaza late Dec. 30, Barry stressed the importance of the smaller delegation breaking the siege, albeit in a small way, on the people of Gaza.
“We are cracking open the door, and we need to do this every day,” said Barry. “We set Gaza free in some ways.”
After two hours of marching, the international delegation led the way towards the Erez border crossing with Israel, which has been shut since Hamas took power in Gaza in 2007. The activists and Gazans chanted “Free, Free Gaza, Free Free Palestine,” and “Lift the Siege.”
“We are living in jail. We are living in a cage. There is nowhere to go, what to do?” said Mustafa Elhawi, 51, a Gaza City resident who is on the board of directors for the Gazan Community Bridge Initiative. “We welcome people, delegations, like you coming here, and you just give us hope.”
The march advanced a little less than 500 meters away from Erez, but couldn’t go farther for fear of provoking the Israeli Defense Forces. The Israeli military killed three Gazans December 27 when they were seen crawling along the border between Israel and Gaza.
There was a separate march with about 300 people on the Israeli side of the Erez crossing.