Tuesday, June 9, 2009
International Community Activists Arrive at the Rafah Border
More about Ellen Grave's group...
At 8 a.m. Egypt time, seven of the International Movement to Open the Rafah Border walked to the Rafah, Egypt/Gaza border. The group consists ofDavid Mattacchioni, Italy; Christian Chantegrel, Micheline Garreau, Jacque Denko, France; Paki Wieland, Ellen Graves, and Don Bryant, USA. Theycame by a circuitous route, avoiding all checkpoints between El-Arish and Rafah. These international activists attempted to enter Gaza the morning ofJune 9, but were denied. They were told the border would open at 1 p.m.
The goal of the International Movement to Open the Rafah Border (IMORB) is not to enter Gaza, but to protest the extended siege and the 22-day Israelimilitary attacks of Gaza. "A humanitarian crisis exists in Gaza due to the siege and the Israeli invasion in December and January." explained Don Bryantof Cleveland, Ohio. "We were in Gaza three months ago and saw the extreme destruction in every village, refugee camp, and business district. Over 1400were killed, 85% were civilians."
"There's a lot of destruction, almost like the day of judgement." said Cesar, born in Gaza, now of Denton, Texas. His family had planned to return to Gazauntil their last visit, when they decided it was just too bad to stay. The IMORB sat with Cesar, his wife, and four children, at the border checkpoint, as theywaited to enter Gaza, to visit with family.
Four men who wanted to go to Gaza today also waited with the IMORB. Awni from UAE wanted to see his sick mother, Mohammad had surgery in Cairoand wishes to go home to Gaza, and two students, Salama and Mohammad graduated and are hoping to go home to Gaza. Awni told the activists,"unfortunately, we found the border closed, and we have to wait, six days now. What do they think, we are not human? What did we do to these people?
There are treating us very bad, they treat us like animals, but we are all the same as you from America. Why? Why?"
In late morning, a European Parliament delegation came to visit Gaza. The IMORB displayed a banner, "Open the Gaza Border," and hoped to have a meeting with the dignitaries. The Rafah gate was suddenly opened wide to make them pass as quick as possible in order to make sure there was no contact with the activists or the other people waiting. The demonstration was captured on camera by convoy passengers. Families trying to enter Gazajoined the demonstration.
If Egyptian security allows the international activists to enter Gaza, they will accept the visa on one condition. "If the gates are open for everyone to comeand go as they wish., explained Ellen Graves. "We have people here with us who have come to visit their loved ones; forbidding these visits is againstinternational law, and contrary to human dignity. Families come long distances, and then they have to sit here for days before entering, It is inhuman.
On June 4, 2009
In response to US President Barrack Obama's visit to Cairo, Egypt on June 4, seven "international community activists" from the International Movement to Open the Rafah Border, and US anti-war groups Code Pink and Raging Grannies began a day-long protest to end the Siege of Gaza. The group began their protest at 9 am at the US embassy in Cairo. They unfurled a banner in front of the embassy with the message, "End the Siege of Gaza." Code Pink co-founder, Medea Benjamin carried a letter from the Palestinian government, Hamas, to deliver to the embassy and to President Obama. The letter had been issued to Medea the day before coming from Gaza. The correspondence from Hamas stated their desire to negotiate with israel and the US with no preconditions. "It was a very dignified letter," said French demonstrator, Christian. The group was also asking President Obama to visit Gaza, Palestine on his Middle East tour. "If the president could see Gaza for himself, he would see the result of US tax dollars, that support the Israeli war crimes in Gaza ," shouted the demonstrators. "Obama, go to Gaza!" they continued.
The international community activists (ICA) were diverted from delivering their message to the embassy, being directed from one entrance to another. They were also told that cameras would be confiscated if any pictures were taken. The group was joined by members of two student delegations that had been to Gaza. The students had scribed a letter to the president, protesting the Israeli siege and war crimes in Gaza. Tigue from Code Pink had a contact within the embassy, whom he called to find out who was in control at the embassy that day. He was told that embassy security had the final say. Embassy security tried to contain the ICA in a barricade, which they crawled under, and escaped.
The demonstration was pure improvisation. After leaving the embassy the ICA had planned to display their banners from various bridges or buildings. Instead they decided to see how close they could get to the Cairo University, where the president would deliver his Middle East address.
Being separated from the students, the seven travelled in two taxis, arriving 1 km from the university. The police stopped all traffic including their taxis. Exiting from the taxis, the demonstrators began walking freely, through the heavily secured area. Christian said it was like the American movie, "Little Big Man," when Dustin Hoffman escorted the blind native chief through a raging massacre. The demonstrators walked for one minute towards a monument thirty meters from the university and the security checkpoint. The plaza was crowded with spectators, security officers, and police dogs.
In front of the monument the demonstrators unfurled the bright pink banners in English and Arabic. All the spectators had to pass by the demonstrators on their way to the presidential address. While some of the ICA remained with one banner in front of the monument, the others wandered among the crowd addressing the spectators by microphone, openly displaying the letter from Hamas. People took interest and took pictures of the letter and the demonstration.
The demonstrators saw about 1000 security officers; Egyptian officers in white and black, and many plain-clothes police from the US and Egypt. Security officers noticed the protestors and communicated on walkie-talkies apparently trying to figure out how to handle the demonstrators. The demonstration went on for nearly 1/2 hour before security finally approached them. Actually there were 30,000 security officers on duty, as was later revealed. Security told the ICA to leave but they said, "we are Americans. We are protesting. This is our right of free speech." The only Egyptian protestor was told to leave, but others joined the demonstration, which now included, one Chinese and three American students, two Frenchmen, and four others from the US....the Italian who tried to join them was searched and sent away because security discovered a video camera in his back pack.
Three of the ICA took a banner to another gate where the president was supposed to pass by. They were told to leave this area. As they went to rejoin the larger group, security tried to drive them with some physical force, to no avail. Medea told them, "President Obama wouldn't like you do that."
Finally, a full line of security officers faced the demonstrators. The ICA knew something was about to happen. Suddenly sirens blarred. The Obama motorcade was approaching. President Obama passed, as fast as possible, by the demonstration in full view of the banners' messages "End the Gaza Siege," "Stop Funding Israeli War Crimes."
When Obama had entered the university, the situation was calmer and Egyptian security warmed up to the protestors, serving them juice and cookies.
When the president's speech was over, suddenly a huge crowd of diplomats, journalists, and Egyptian VIPS all left at the same time. In the hot sun an intensity resurged. The ICA met the masses with increased vigor. and they were actually greeted by some of the crowd. Some of the demonstrators were engaged in interviews by the journalists.
The group decided it was a good time to exit when they noticed that most of the public had dissipated and that other security forces were slowly enclosing the area around the monument. The International Community Activists quickly packed their banners and slipped through an opening in the security barrier, even while the police were following and trying to grab them.
The banners were later hung from a hotel on Independence Plaza.
Upon later reflection of the intense deployment of security, Raging Grannie Paki, said, "what kind of a world is this that we have to have this much security?"
Christian answered, " it is an occupied world."