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We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that, among these, are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; and, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it. -July 4, 1776. The Declaration of Independence


Home arrow Blog arrow January 2010 arrow January 11, 2010

January 11, 2010
January 11, 2010: Gaza activists under siege by Hamas and Egypt and what about the children?

Amira Hass is an Israeli journalist. She went to Cairo to report on the Free Gaza March activists and got into Gaza with the small group that was allowed to enter. 

Haaretz : 08/01/2010       

Pro-Gaza activists under siege - imposed by Egypt and Hamas
By Amira Hass

The departure from Ramses Street in Cairo, in about 20 buses, was set for the morning of Monday, December 28. However, the organizers of the Gaza Freedom March knew the buses would not arrive. Just as on Sunday night, the buses hired by a group of French activists never made it to their starting point - Cairo's Charles de Gaulle Street, near the French Embassy and across from the zoo.

In the week before the planned march, the Foreign Ministry in Cairo made it clear that the protesters would not be permitted to enter Gaza. Boats even mysteriously disappeared from the Nile on Sunday evening. The Egyptian authorities knew that scores of activists were planning to sail and light candles to mark the first anniversary of Israel's attack on Gaza and the 1,400 people who were killed.

A total of 1,361 people came to Cairo from 43 countries to participate in the Gaza Freedom March, 700 of them from the United States alone, many more than initially expected. It started out as a small initiative. Then the American feminist and peace group Codepink signed on, and it gradually spread to other countries.

Bringing Gaza to Cairo

"If we can't go to Gaza, we'll bring Gaza to Cairo," said one American peace activist. And indeed, for an entire week, more than a thousand foreign citizens, the vast majority of them from Western countries, scurried around the Egyptian capital looking for ways and places to demonstrate against the blockade of Gaza.

"The demonstrations in Cairo are conclusive proof that Israel pressured Egypt not to allow entry into Gaza," said one Egyptian citizen (who like other Egyptians, did not dare participate in the demonstrations, for fear of punishment). "What does Egypt need this headache for? It would have been easier and simpler to have sent them all to Gaza and forget about them."

When the buses didn't show, the French activists set up tents and sleeping bags outside the embassy. At 2 A.M., they discovered that le camping had been surrounded by a fence and a tight cordon of riot-dispersal police. Tents, a police barrier, movement restrictions, and an area under siege: Without having planned it, they were replicating the Gazan situation in particular and the Palestinian situation in general. Withstanding the siege conditions became an aim and a challenge.

During the next two or three days, the cordon intensified, from one row of police to three. Every few hours, the activists discussed how to proceed; this was direct democracy in action. Without secrets, without orders from on high, without hierarchies.

A similar process unfolded at various spots around Cairo. Some activists discovered police were surrounding their hotels, blocking them from exiting. Several demonstrated in front of their respective embassies - and were immediately surrounded by riot police. The most violent were those posted to the American Embassy.

Who's to blame?

One large group set up under the United Nations Development Program's offices. "In our presence here, we are saying that we are not casting the blame on Egypt. The responsibility for the shameless and obscene Israeli siege on Gaza rests squarely with our own countries," explained one of the organizers.

This sounded like an answer to an accusation voiced mostly by supporters of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah: With Hamas encouragement, international especially Arab popular pressure is being directed at the wrong address - Egypt, rather than Israel. Some of the organizers said they were indeed under the impression that Hamas was not at all interested in demonstrating at the Erez crossing into Israel, which is almost sealed, but rather at the Rafah crossing into Egypt.

The dream was to have tens of thousands march to the Beit Hanun/Erez crossing point on the first anniversary of the Israel Defense Forces offensive, in order to demand that Israel and the world lift the siege. The would-be participants are a very varied bunch: Some have been left-wing activists for decades, while others joined only during the Gaza campaign itself. Students and pensioners, university lecturers, paupers, young and old.

The older activists included Hedy Epstein, 85, a German-born American citizen whose life was saved when her Jewish parents sent her to England when she was 14. They later perished in Auschwitz. She sat on a chair under the building housing the UNDP offices, with those on hunger strike, in protest of their being banned from entering Gaza. Hippies in their 50s and 60s cavorted nearby, Italians sang "Bella Ciao," and South African activists unfurled a banner calling for sanctions on Israel and quoting Nelson Mandela: "Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians."

Jewish mother

"I feel that I'm doing something for Israel, for the sake of its future," said one bearded young man from Boston, who has been volunteering in a Palestinian village in the West Bank. His mother, who is Jewish, accompanied him on one of his flights into Israel to have a look at his new life. When they landed, they learned his name was on a Border Control list at the airport, and mother and son were detained for eight hours of questioning.

"She came out of there a radical," laughed the young man, who a year and a half ago discovered the alternative discourse about his "second homeland."

A Venezuelan documentary director said, "Eighty percent of the participants I have interviewed at random are Jewish." Eighty percent is probably an exaggeration, though a large percentage of those present were Jews. The colorful crowd also included Palestinians who are citizens of Western countries, some of them Gazans hoping to see relatives for the first time in years. There were also religious Christians and Muslims. Some of the slogans they proclaimed were overly ambitious, such as "We have come to liberate Gaza."

But by and large, this variegated whole sounded a message of militant pacifism and feminism, liberation theories and a lot of faith in the cumulative, positive effect of popular, non-hierarchical action and its ability to bring about change.

It's a pity, I thought to myself: The Egyptians are preventing us from seeing what happens when this direct, transparent democracy meets the Hamas regime.

On Monday evening, the demonstrators learned that, at the request of the president's wife, Suzanne Mubarak, 100 people would be allowed to enter the Gaza Strip. Many saw this as a way of breaking the demonstrators' solidarity and lessening the pressure on Egypt. In the end, on December 30, about 80 people set out on buses, including several journalists who were not affected by the dilemma.

At midnight, about 12 hours after leaving Cairo, we arrived at a hotel in Gaza. There the first surprise awaited us: A Hamas security official in civilian dress swooped down on a friend who had come to pick me up for a visit, announcing that guests could not stay in private homes.

The story gradually became clear. The international organizers of the march coordinated it with civil society, various non-governmental organizations, which were also supposed to involve the Popular Committee to Break the Siege, a semi-official organization affiliated with Hamas. Many European activists have long-standing connections with left-wing organizations in the Gaza Strip. Those organizations, especially the relatively large Popular Front, had organized lodging for several hundred guests in private homes. When the Hamas government heard this, it prohibited the move. "For security reasons." What else?

Also "for security reasons," apparently, on Thursday morning, the activists discovered a cordon of stern-faced, tough Hamas security men blocking them from leaving the hotel (which is owned by Hamas). The security officials accompanied the activists as they visited homes and organizations.

During the march itself, when Gazans watching from the sidelines tried to speak with the visitors, the stern-faced security men blocked them. "They didn't want us to speak to ordinary people," one woman concluded.

Hijacked or poorly organized?

The march was not what the organizers had dreamed of during the nine months of preparation. The day before the trip to Gaza, they already knew that the non-governmental organizations had backed out. Some people said that Hamas government representatives had found the NGOs did not have a clear, organized plan for the guests and therefore had taken the initiative. One Palestinian activist insisted: "When we heard there would only be 100, we canceled everything."

Another said, "From the outset, Hamas set conditions: No more than 5,000 marchers, no approaching the wall and the fence, how to make speeches, how long the speeches should be, who will make speeches. In short, Hamas hijacked the initiative from us and we gave in."

Hamas, or its Popular Committee, brought 200 or 300 marchers. The march turned into nothing more than a ritual, an opportunity for Hamas cabinet ministers to get decent media coverage in the company of Western demonstrators. Especially photogenic were four Americans from the anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jewish group Neturei Karta, who joined the trip only at Al Arish. There were no Palestinian women among the marchers - a slap to the many feminist organizers and participants, both women and men.

After the march, the guests voiced protests to some of the official Palestinian organizers. "We came to demonstrate against the siege, and we found that we ourselves were under siege," they said. Their variegation and the transparency of their behavior did not suit the military discipline the official hosts tried to impose. The officials listened, and after the reins were loosened a bit, I set out to visit the homes of friends.

There people described the lingering fear from the Israeli onslaught. Saturday afternoon, at 11:30 A.M. - the time of the first aerial bombardments - remains today a sensitive hour for many children. Just as thunderstorms, or electricity failures (an everyday occurrence) or a persistent drone flying above cause anxiety and evoke nightmarish memories.

Some of the marchers were now allowed to go out on their own, with Gazan acquaintances they had previously known only via telephone and e-mail. Some, especially the Arabic-speakers, complained that "a shadow in the shape of a security man" continued to accompany them. In quick "safari" tours of bombed neighborhoods, through bus windows, they saw ruins that had not yet been cleared, like the complex of bombed-out government buildings that are still standing - ugly concrete skeletons with empty rooms and no walls, like screaming mouths.

In meetings without the security men, several activists got the impression that non-Hamas residents live in fear, and are afraid to speak or identify themselves by name. "Now I understand that the call for 'Freedom for Gaza' has another meaning," one young man told me.

The participants spent Thursday and Friday in the Gaza Strip. Friday, January 1, was the 45th anniversary of the establishment of Fatah. The Hamas government does not allow the rival organization to assemble, just as the PA does not allow Hamas to assemble in the West Bank. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh congratulated Fatah on its anniversary, but at the same time the Hamas security services did all they could to deter the movement's activists from even thinking about a celebration.

Hundreds of Fatah activists were summoned by the police and kept in semi-detention for several hours, until evening. Security officials entered homes where candles were burning or Fatah flags were being flown to mark the anniversary. In one home, the security officials tried to arrest two people, and the mother tried to block them. One policeman allegedly hit her - and she had a heart attack and died.

I wondered: Were the restrictions an order from above, or an unwise interpretation by lower ranks? Does Hamas think it can entirely prevent the few visitors - clearly pro-Palestinian - from hearing non-official versions? Don't the people giving the orders realize what a bad image they were creating? Or was there really a security concern?

Someone who, to put it mildly, is not a Hamas fan explained to me that young men who quit Iz al-Din al-Qassam for the amorphous Jaljalat militia are a genuine headache. They are a convenient excuse for restricting contact with "just anyone," but the fear that they might try to harm the visitors in order to damage Hamas is real.

These are devout young men who, officially, criticize Hamas for not enforcing Islamic religious law in its entirely. However, as the critic said, "Unwittingly, because of their lost lives, our lost lives, they are angry at the whole world."

Postscript: After two days all the visitors, journalists included, had to leave Gaza. According to Hamas, this was an explicit Egyptian demand. Egyptian officers confirmed this.

Related links follow a repeat of what I wrote on May 23, 2009:

 Hope for
Gaza: Send in the Clowns

United Nations human rights investigators announced this week that they intend to enter Gaza in early June to hold public hearings on whether war crimes were committed between December 27 to January 18th, during Israel's invasion on Gaza which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians-over 900 were civilians- and destroyed over 4,000 homes and buildings and displaced over 50,000 on top of a brutal three years of economic blockade.

Israel's investigation of its armed forces last month exonerated the troops, but "international human rights groups have called for a credible independent investigation into the conduct of Israeli troops in Gaza, including the destruction of several Gazan residential areas and firing artillery shells containing white phosphorous which can cause severe burns...The U.N. team will also investigate allegations that Hamas fighters fired rockets at civilian targets in southern Israel."[1] 

Richard Goldstone, the South African jurist who heads the June four-member team, has requested Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allow their entry; but no official response has yet been received. Richard Falk, the U.N. human rights investigator for the Palestinian territories, was detained and refused entry by Israel when he tried to conduct a separate mission last December. 

On May 21, 2009, Ori Nir, Journalist and Spokesman for
Americans for Peace Now, reported on the Obama and Netanyahou White House meeting in a conference call hosted by Churches for Middle East Peace:

"Israel is no longer America's favorite son…The clear message from the USA was that the tight siege was unacceptable and needed significant change in regards to the restrictions at the checkpoints…The US demands are sweeping and not dependent on Palestinian performance…The friendship between Israel and the US has been one of warmth that showed empathy to the extent they supported without objection Israeli policies…Israel's greatest asset is its relationship with the USA…Recognition of Israel as a Jewish State are stalling tactics and Obama will not buy into it… A source of hope is that Netanyahu is pragmatic and pressure able [and] progress in the Jewish camp in the US is gaining strength and momentum. We need to push together as Jews, Christians and others on the path for peace."

President Obama admitted that, "The fact is, that if the people of Gaza have no hope, if they can't even get clean water at this point, if the border closures are so tight that it is impossible for reconstruction and humanitarian efforts to take place, then that is not going to be a recipe for Israel's long-term security or a constructive peace track to move forward."

In an email to the Network of Spiritual Progressives, Rabbi Michael Lerner wrote that, "Hillary Clinton told me when I met with her in the White House: that when FDR met with labor leaders in 1934, after four hours of meeting, he said the following: 'You've convinced me that you are right. Now, go out there and FORCE ME TO DO IT.'

"What he meant, Hillary explained to me, was that the pressures on a President to stay with the status quo and the forces of the economic and political elites of the country are enormous, so that even when a President wishes to move in a different direction, he needs to be able to point to forces from the progressive world that are equally vociferous and pushing him in the direction he wished to go."

One of many Americans who are pushing Obama in the way to go if there is to ever be security for Israel and peace in the Holy Land, is Dr. Hunter Campbell "Patch" Adams, a social activist and professional clown who inspired the Robin Williams film,
Patch Adams. Adams wrote:

"While President Obama and the Middle East leaders talk endlessly about talks, we can actually DO SOMETHING to lift the siege and flood Gaza with love and laughter.  As a 'doctor/clown'  I have traveled the world over to bring the healing power of laughter to children and adults in virtually every corner of the world -- from Afghanistan, to Bosnia, to Haiti. Right now, there is a group of children who are really in need of healing -- the children of the Gaza Strip.

"The 1.5 million people of the Gaza Strip (more than half of them children) have had their homes destroyed, their playgrounds crushed and their schools gutted in the recent Israeli attack on this small, crowded corner of the world. Their borders -- both on the Israeli and Egyptian sides --are closed, making it impossible to rebuild.

"For the first time ever, we'll be part of a coordinated effort to push open the borders by land and by sea! On June 5, I will join CODEPINK: Women for Peace, the Coalition of Women for Peace (Israel) and more than 100 American and Israeli peace activists -- Jews, Muslims, Christians and everything in between. We will set up an encampment on the Israeli border calling for a lifting of the siege. We will be joined by over 150 people trying to enter Gaza through Egypt and others coming by sea.

"We will bring materials to build playgrounds, sports equipment, children's medicines -- and performances that will get the children to forget their dire circumstances for a little while and laugh."

More than 160 Americans and internationals have already arrived in Cairo, but operators of Egyptian bus services say they have been prohibited by the Egyptian tourist police from transporting them to the border.

“We had chartered a private bus company to take us from Cairo to Al-Arish, the closest town to the Rafah crossing into Gaza,” explained Sandra Ruch, who is leading a delegation of Canadians on the humanitarian mission. “However, the operators told us that the government had prohibited them from taking us anywhere near the border. They obviously believe this tactic will keep us away, but we are determined. The Gazans are completely isolated and struggling to survive. We cannot abandon them.”

The 10-member Canadian delegation will be followed by a 14-member group from New York and a contingent of 40 students. The largest of the CODEPINK delegations, numbering about 80, will set off for the border on May 29, invited to the Gaza Strip by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, to visit schools and hospitals and work with Gazans to build an International Friendship Playground.

Delegation coordinator Pam Rasmussen said, “The majority of Gazans are under 18, and many of the youth are traumatized and depressed. Thousands are now living in rubble or cramped tents, while mourning the deaths of loved ones and struggling to support their families despite an unemployment rate in excess of 50 percent. It’s important for us to go there to show that the international community cares about their plight.”

 Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace, stated, “President Obama is coming to Egypt on June 4 to speak to the Arab world. He claims he wants to stand for peace and justice. We need to start by lifting the blockade of Gaza.”

This reporter will be embedded the CODE PINK delegation arriving at Erez Checkpoint; driven by a spirit of dissent for 2009 is the final year of the UN Decade of Creating a Culture of Nonviolence for All the Children of the World, and America is on the record in the UN as abstaining from voting because "it would make it harder for us to go to war."

Israel, Zimbabwe, Burma and North Korea remain the ONLY states in the world that denies international media and humanitarian aid workers access.

On November 18, 2008, I was one among forty seven international ecumenical Christians and other people of faith who rolled out of bed before 5 AM to travel from Jerusalem to the Erez Crossing to stand up as a united people of conscience in NONVIOLENT Solidarity with the people of Gaza and in support of all the NGO’s that have been denied access into the Gaza Strip.

We went in love and for love of all of God’s children; 
Be they the oppressed or the oppressors
Those imprisoned by walls and those who erect them,
Those who are denied clean water and their deniers,
Those whose fears rule their hearts and the heartbroken,
Those whose ideology, greed, apathy, and power blind them to their culpability, responsibilities and obligations.

We went with hope to arouse the consciences of the leaders of the world to seek peace through justice; equal human rights for all. I return with hope that the consciences of the leaders of the world can be accessed for the sake of the children of Gaza Palestine and Israel, for "HOPE has two children. The first is ANGER at the way things are. The second is COURAGE to DO SOMETHING about it."-St. Augustine

Send in the clowns.
Don't you approve?
One who keeps tearing around,
One who can't move.
Where are the clowns?
Send in the clowns.
But where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns.
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don't bother - they're here.- Stephen Sondheim

Learn more and do something:




December 31, 2009: NO Excuses and all about Gaza

December 29, 2009: The Good out of the Misery in Gaza: Love in Action and Global Conscience  

December 27, 2009: Today, a year ago and what this little one knew in 2005 regarding Gaza 


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"HOPE has two children.The first is ANGER at the way things are. The second is COURAGE to DO SOMETHING about it."-St. Augustine

 "He who is not angry when there is just cause for anger is immoral. Why? Because anger looks to the good of justice. And if you can live amid injustice without anger, you are immoral as well as unjust." - Aquinas

BEYOND NUCLEAR: Mordechai Vanunu's Freedom of Speech Trial

Published 10/30/10

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The Paradoxical Commandments
by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

© 1968, 2001 Kent M. Keith

" In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway."-Mother Teresa

“You cannot talk like sane men around a peace table while the atomic bomb itself is ticking beneath it. Do not treat the atomic bomb as a weapon of offense; do not treat it as an instrument of the police. Treat the bomb for what it is: the visible insanity of a civilization that has obey the laws of life.”- Lewis Mumford, 1946

The age of warrior kings and of warrior presidents has passed. The nuclear age calls for a different kind of leadership....a leadership of intellect, judgment, tolerance and rationality, a leadership committed to human values, to world peace, and to the improvement of the human condition. The attributes upon which we must draw are the human attributes of compassion and common sense, of intellect and creative imagination, and of empathy and understanding between cultures."  - William Fulbright

“Any nation that year after year continues to raise the Defense budget while cutting social programs to the neediest is a nation approaching spiritual death.” - Rev. MLK
Establishment of Israel
"On the day of the termination of the British mandate and on the strength of the United Nations General Assembly declare The State of Israel will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel: it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion it will guarantee freedom of religion [and] conscience and will be faithful to the Charter of the United Nations." - May 14, 1948. The Declaration of the Establishment of Israel
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