Egypt blocks travel of Gaza Freedom March activists
Activist and Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein is amongst those prevented from traveling to Gaza by the Egyptian authorities. (Ali Abunimah)
CAIRO-  More than 1,000 persons from 42 countries who have vowed to travel from Cairo to the Gaza Strip on 31 December in a bid to highlight and break the Israeli economic blockade, will be prevented from carrying out their mission, according to the Egyptian authorities.

The protesters hope to bring aid to the 1.5 million residents of Gaza a year after Israel’s 23-day offensive ended on 18 January 2009.

“It’s a shame on Egypt to prevent these people from entering Gaza, which has been suffering this Israeli blockade for a long time now,” Diaaeddin Gad, a spokesman for the activists, told IRIN.

On 27 December, the marchers were prevented by police from floating 1,400 candles on the River Nile to commemorate the deaths of 1,400 Palestinian victims of the offensive.

Margaret Hawthorn, 62, who flew in from Massachusetts in the US to take part in the event, said she was stunned to discover she would not be allowed to show solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza. “It’s important that we come here to express support for the people of Gaza,” she told IRIN.

She was one of some 1,360 persons — including doctors, lawyers, diplomats, rabbis, imams, a women’s delegation, a Jewish contingent, a veterans group and Palestinians born overseas — due to take part in the event on 31 December organized by Gaza Freedom March, a coalition of activists of all faiths focusing on human rights.

Police also prevented the activists from staging a protest outside Egypt’s Bar Association in central Cairo.

“This is so contradictory,” said Nikos Progonlis, a Greek man who came to Cairo with his wife for the march. “Egypt declares its support to the people of Gaza on the one hand, but asks us not to march for Gaza on the other. I really can’t understand that.” He said friends of his who wanted to come to Cairo via the Egyptian city of al-Arish had been arrested earlier in the day.

Other activists said many people had been denied Egyptian visas.

Steel barrier

Tensions between Gaza activists and the Egyptian authorities are already high because of a recent Egyptian decision to build an underground steel barrier along its part of the border with the Strip — designed to prevent the smuggling of arms and goods through underground tunnels between Gaza and Egypt.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit defended the barrier, calling it a “national security issue,” and others have publicly condemned the Gaza activists.

“Some of these convoys contain radical people from several countries who can cause trouble if they are let in,” Sherif Hafez, an Egyptian political analyst and specialist on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, told IRIN. “These people want to spoil Egypt-Israeli relations.”

“Egypt is just taking its orders from Israel,” activists’ spokesman Gad said. “It would never have prevented us from entering Gaza and would never have built this barrier if Israel had not wanted that.”

A report in August 2009 by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) detailed the humanitarian effects of the blockade, which has been in place since 2007.


Gaza Freedom March Update

Contributed by: Greta Berlin

The Gaza Freedom March was thrown into disarray today after a surprise announcement by the Egyptian government that it would allow 100 march participants to travel to the Gaza Strip early on Wednesday morning. The decision was reportedly as a result of a direct request from Egyptian first lady Suzanne Mubarak to the Egyptian foreign ministry following intense lobbying by marchers and organizers over the last three days.

Organisers had two hours within which to accept or decline the offer, and the impossible task of deciding which 100 delegates to send. The quota amounts to a mere 7% of the more than 1,300 people who are registered for the march. After consultation with local organizers in the besieged Gaza Strip, the international steering committee decided that sending 100 delegates as a symbolic show of support was better than having nobody arrive in Gaza.

Due to time constraints, march organizers compiled a list of proposed delegates with each country being alotted roughly two places. Because marchers are dispersed across Cairo at various ongoing protest actions, these developments were only communicated to the representatives of each country’s delegation at an emergency meeting called on Tuesday night.

This meeting soon descended into a heated debate. Several marchers were enraged that a decision of this magnitude had been taken unilaterally by organisers. Many felt that this move compromised the unity of the international delegation by excluding more than 1,200 registered participants. Adding to the tension was the near-impossible task of deciding who would go and who would remain behind.

The intensive and at times emotionally charged discussion, which lasted several hours, saw the attendees split into two main opposing camps. Some were of the opinion that a small representative delegation of this nature was an important “victory” against Egyptian government policy vis-á-vis the Rafah crossing. They also argued that it was vitally important to have an international presence inside the Gaza Strip during the planned march on 31 December as a show of support to Palestinians, despite this delegation being a fraction of the originally planned size.

The opposing view, which seemed to be the dominant feeling amongst most countries represented at the meeting, was that the decision to compromise was a grave mistake. Proponents of this view argued that they had come “not to send another symbolic aid delegation to Gaza, but rather to break the siege en mass and challenge the policy in the region with respect to Gaza’s isolation.”

This group feared that by endorsing the 100-person quota, they would play directly into the Egyptian government’s hands, affording them much needed positive publicity in the international media, whilst a longterm change in policy regarding the closure of Rafah would be left unchallenged. “This just gives the Egyptian government a photo-op and the chance to say we allowed people through,” said Bassem Omar, a Canadian delegate.

Many here see this as merely an attempt by the Egyptian government to save face in the international community while the country is in the media spotlight and under global political pressure to allow the march to proceed.

After a chaotic few hours of wrangling with these issues, the group split up into their various national delegations and affinity groups to decide amongst themselves whether they would accept the offer and participate in the 100-person convoy. At the time of writing, the Canadian, South African and Swedish national delegations had decided not to participate as they felt that this approach undermined the very purpose of the march, which was to break the siege, not send an aid convoy.

A spokesperson from the French delegation also slammed the idea as “divisive” and said that the sit-in at the French embassy would continue instead. Activists who remain in Cairo are planning to continue their protest action at several venues across the city, culminating in a single mass mobilisation planned for 31 December in direct contravention of a ban on large gatherings imposed by Egyptian police.

Greta Berlin



  1. December 30, 2009 at 10:51

    morning DP:) Ive had an email this morning that tells me they are refusing the offer. I hope this is not true. I wrote about it here and why they should go


  2. December 30, 2009 at 11:36

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