CAIRO, January 3–Taking advantage of the publicity generated by its attempt to reach Gaza, the Egyptian government’s refusal to allow it to do so, and its protests in Cairo, the Gaza Freedom March (GFM) concluded with plans to intensify its work when marchers return to their own countries.
On New Year’s Eve, several hundred GFM delegates met again in Tahrir Square, this time holding candles to commemorate the 1,400 dead in Gaza following Israel’s bombardment and invasion last December and January. They sang quietly and spelled out “Gaza” with flickering candles. Delegates formed a five-member working committee to implement concrete measures proposed in the Cairo Declaration (see Complete Cairo Declaration)including a speaking tour of Palestinian and South African activists to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign and the creation of citizens’ arrest bureaus to seek prosecution of Israeli war criminals in connection with Israel’s deadly bombing and invasion of Gaza last December and January.
At a final New Year’s Day meeting in Tahrir Square, delegates summed up the accomplishments of the march. Key organizer Medea Benjamin, discussing the crisis around the coalition’s original decision to accept the Egyptian government’s offer to let 100 marchers into Gaza—a decision that was rescinded hours later—said that the first decision “was made too quickly and we didn’t have any democratic structures to use to make that decision, we didn’t have any place to meet, we were a coalition that came together that never even met each other before, and so we did it in a very bad way, and for that I apologize profusely.”
The crowd was buoyed by Ehab Lotayef, who said, “We are here because we worked really hard for something we really believed in. … Our work will not end tonight. It will not end tomorrow or this week. It is our responsibility to carry the energy that we created from the time we came here with the goal of lifting the blockade of Gaza. But that’s only a partial goal. The goal is justice and freedom for the people of Palestine!”
In other actions, some GFM delegates climbed up one of the pyramids Jan. 2 and opened a banner that read “Open the Borders” in English and Arabic. They were following the example of the French GFM participants, who had unfurled a large Palestinian flag on one of the pyramids a couple of days earlier. The banner yesterday was quickly removed by Tourism Police, who had also stopped some GFM activists from entering the pyramids area earlier because they wore t-shirts that said “We Will Not Be Silent” in English and Arabic.
Finally, on January 2, New York participants met and decided to demonstrate on Monday, January 4, at the Israeli Consulate in New York City, led by the 16 Gaza Freedom Marchers scheduled to arrive in New York that morning—some of them still maintaining the fast they began December 28 inspired by 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein. Eager to take their fight straight to the source of the siege, they will go right from the airport to the Israeli Consulate. Local supporters are encouraged to join them at the consultate (Second Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Streets) at 11 am.
Although the GFM did not succeed in bringing the nearly 1,400 delegates who signed up into Gaza to march with Palestinians there, the week had its accomplishments: The role of Egyptian complicity with the Israeli blockade of Gaza was highlighted, especially in the Arabic-language press, and the plight of the Palestinians in the world’s largest open air prison was kept in the headlines around the world on the anniversary of Israel’s brutal assault on the territory.