I’m sorry we haven’t had much time to blog here about the latest developments in Egypt, where the faction in the government that seems ready to go along with the Israeli-U.S. siege of Gaza seems, for now, to have the upper hand.
The Egyptian government is thus currently imposing a major (and very expensive) rerouting on the large Viva Palestina (Lifeline) convoy that had driven down from Europe via Turkey, Syria, and Jordan. It has also been almost completely blocking the 1,400 international activists who have gathered in Cairo for the Gaza Freedom March, from making the 6-hour trek to the Rafah crossing, and thence to Gaza.
I say “almost” completely blocking the GFM marchers, because just a couple of hours ago, Robert Naiman reported that the Egyptian government has agreed to let 100 of the 1,400 GFM participants go to Gaza tomorrow (Wednesday). That was after several GFM participants, including Hedy Epstein, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor and resident of St. Louis, Missouri, went on a hunger strike in central Cairo to protest the blocking of the GFM’s procession.
The GFM people also originally planned to march from Gaza, along with scores of thousands of nonviolent Palestinian marchers, in a peaceful, anti-siege march scheduled for December 31, from Gaza up to the main Erez checkpoint with Israel.
(In light of the experience our own CNI delegation to Gaza had at the Egyptian side of the border, back in November, I have to say that even the GFM’s “Lucky Hundred” who have reportedly received Egyptian permission to cross haven’t had all their problems solved yet…)
Stephen Walt had a great post on his blog today noting that the “big” US mainstream media outlets like the NYT and the WaPo have thus far made no mention of the GFM or Viva Palestina efforts at all. (And this behavior comes, I note, from media outlets that just love to complain that “there is no Palestinian Gandhi, or Mandela, or whatever… “)
I’m happy to see that the Christian Science Monitor had a piece about the GFM march and its tribulations today.
But why, you may ask, is the Egyptian government behaving this way?
One part of the answer doubtless resides in the government’s heavy dependence on U.S. financial and military aid– and in the apparent zeal with which the Obama administration partners with Israel in maintaining this lengthy, completely illegal siege on all of Gaza’s 1.5 million people. (By the way, “zeal”, in Arabic, is “Hamas”.)
With regard to the Obama administration’s role in helping Israel keep the sege as suffocatingly tight as possible, Phil Weiss had an interesting post on December 19, in which he wrote that Code Pink (and GFM) organizer Medea Benjamin reported on some of the contacts she had had with the State Department, as follows:
The Obama State Department has discouraged the march. “I had the most horrendous conversation,” Benjamin related. “I called [the State Department] with the best intention, to tell them we’re going, and I had this horrible conversation with a Palestinian-American woman. All she could talk about was Hamas being violent. ‘Why are we going? We’re only going to give good publicity to Hamas. It will seem like you’re supporting Hamas when you should be criticizing Hamas for attacks on civilians and for being repressive… If Hamas would only renounce violence, there would be a peace process…’”
Benjamin went on, “It made me feel that what we’re doing is so important. If the people appointed by Obama to move the peace process forward won’t even talk to those who are running the government in Gaza, we won’t make any progress.”
Good point. The official’s name is Sahar Khoury-Kincannon.
Sahar Khoury-Kincannon is a career foreign service officer in the U.S. State Department, an ethnic Palestinian, and also– for what it’s worth– presumably a Christian. (Though there are also, certainly, numerous Muslims among those Palestinians who, like Mohamed Dahlan, have adopted a very hard-line anti-Hamas position.)
Anyway, the very best of luck to both these international siege-busting efforts– and to the Israeli justice activists who are planning to march to the Israeli side of the Erez crossing, on December 31, to meet up with those walking up to Erez from Gaza.
I think all these efforts are great– mainly because of the role they can play in spotlighting the inhumanity of the siege and the criminality of the Israeli-U.S. project to keep it in place. I’m a little less sure of the actual value of the “relief goods” the marchers may plan to take into Gaza. Such goods are, necessarily, just a tiny drop in the ocean of what Gaza’s 1.5 million people need on a daily and continuing basis. (And I disagree with the aspersions some of the convoy participants cast on the intentions or competence of UNRWA.)
What Gaza’s people need, primarily is for the siege to be completely lifted, and Israel to no longer have any right to control the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza— which means that Israel’s 42-year occupation of the Gaza Strip has to be brought to a complete end.
Throughout the entire history of international humanitarian law– the portion of international law that governs the behavior of governments that run occupations over foreign peoples– there has never been a military occupation before that has lasted anywhere close to this long.
Military rule of any kind is always abhorrent. But for a foreign military to exercise direct control over the lives and movements of an entire population for 42 years?? That is unprecedented, and quite unacceptable.
U.S. diplomacy should be aiming at ending Israel’s siege of Gaza. But even more importantly it should be aiming at winning a speedy end to Israel’s military occupation of both Gaza and the West Bank.