Egyptian Security Forces Detain Gaza Freedom Marchers in el-Arish and shut down Gaza Memorial in Cairo
As Gaza Freedom Marchers continue to push the Egyptian Government to allow us to leave Cairo for El Arish, they are beginning to push back. This morning at 7am Freedom Marchers met at the garage where we were expecting to board buses headed to El Arish. Instead we were met by a large group of soldiers who turned every bus and taxi away. Until we reached a large crowd, the authorities were forceful, pushing peaceful demonstrators and trying to prevent the filming of the situation.
Some of the Freedom Marchers then went to the French Embassy to offer to support to the 300 French delegates who had camped out at the embassy overnight following a dramatic die-in on the road that stopped traffic and lasted several hours. Ten Canadians entered the barricaded area where spirits were high but were told that if we entered we would not be permitted to leave. However, after approximately one hour the Canadian delegates were allowed out. The French delegates were awaiting an announcement from the Embassy which was to be delivered sometime this morning.
Next, the decision was made to march to the UN World Trade Center Cairo to request assistance from the UN to plead our case to Egyptian Authorities. At noon, approximately 900 delegates gathered in song, dance and silent vigil. Holocaust survivor, 85 year old Hedy Epstein announced that she would begin a hunger strike as she sat among school supplies designated for children in Gaza. Five Canadians have agreed to join her and other internationals will undoubtedly come forward. The UN Square was quickly surrounded by police, and later by physical barricades as we continued to sing and dance to songs of peace.
As security around us tightened, an American woman at the front of the barricade was assaulted by a police officer. She was punched in the face. This young woman was able to leave the barricaded area and indicated that she will go to the US embassy to ask for assistance. In addition, we received news that at the French Embassy a Canadian Citizen with dual UK citizenship had been detained by riot police and was being threatened with either detention for a minimum of five days or deportation immediately to the airport. Naomi Katharine Riches is trying to organize support in order to reduce the risk of the use of excessive force. The Canadian Embassy is now closed in Cairo. Local and international press are being turned away and refused entry into the barricaded area.
Several Delegates have entered into discussions with representatives and will ask for UN assistance in negotiating with the Egyptian Government to allow us to proceed to the Rafah Border. Failing that, we will request that a smaller delegation of representatives from each country be allowed to pass to deliver the humanitarian items that have arrived from around the world. Finally, if the Egyptian Authorities will not agree to this we are asking that the UN assist in facilitating the transportation of the humanitarian aid without any delegates.
Delegates have determined that they will hold the space at the UN World Trade Center for as long as possible, continuing to engage in non-violent acts of peace.
Below is a report issued by the group on Sunday, December 27th
When: Sunday, December 27, noon: the Egyptian security forces detained a group of 30 internationals in their hotel in el-Arish and another group of 8 at the bus station. They also broke up a memorial action commemorating the Cast Lead massacre at the Kasr al Nil Bridge
At noon on 27 December, Egyptian security forces detained a group of 30 activists in their hotel in el-Arish as they prepared to leave for Gaza, placing them under house arrest. The delegates, all part of the Gaza Freedom March of 1,300 people, were Spanish, French, British, American, and Japanese. The Egyptian security forces eventually yielded, letting most of the marchers leave the hotel, but did not permit them to leave the town. When two younger delegates, a French and Japanese woman, attempted to leave el-Arish, the Egyptian authorities stopped their taxi and unloaded their luggage.
Another group of eight people, including citizens from American, British, Spanish, Japanese and Greece, were detained at the bus station of Al Arish in the afternoon of December 27. As of 3:30 PM, they were still being held.
Simultaneously, Egyptian security police broke up a commemoration of the Israeli invasion of Gaza organized by the Gaza Freedom March at Kasr al Nil Bridge, one of the main bridges connecting Zamalek Island, in the middle of the Nile, to Cairo. As a nonviolent way of commemorating the more than 1300 Palestinians killed in the Israeli assault on Gaza that began a year ago on December 27, 2008, Gaza Freedom Marchers tied hundreds of strings with notes, poems, art and the names of those killed to the bridge.
“We’re saddened that the Egyptian authorities have blocked our participants’ freedom of movement and interfered with a peaceful commemoration of the dead,” said Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK, one of the March’s organizers.
Benjamin added that the Gaza Freedom March participants are continuing to urge the Egyptian government to allow them to proceed to Gaza. They visited the Arab League asking for support, various foreign embassies and the Presidential Palance to deliver an appeal to President Mubarak. They are calling their supporters around the world to contact Egyptian embassies and urge them to free the marchers and allow them to proceed to Gaza.