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Free Gaza! Free Egypt!

The anniversary of the Israeli assault on Gaza was marked with protests in the Middle East and in Britain. Internationals converged on Egypt for the Gaza Freedom March, others took part in a land convoy taking aid from London to Gaza itself with Viva Palestina, and people around the world took part in demonstrations against the continuing siege.

Gaza Freedom March

The Gaza Freedom March – initiated by US author Norman Finkelstein and organised by the US women-led group, Code Pink – was planned to be a march in Gaza of hundreds of internationals and tens of thousands of Gazans, marking the first anniversary of the Israeli attack and demanding an end to the Israeli siege.

1,361 internationals arrived in Cairo in response – just short of the estimated 1,417 Palestinians killed in the Israeli attack the year before – but the Egyptian government banned marchers travelling from Cairo to Gaza or meeting in groups of more than six. At the last minute, the government said it would allow 100 delegates to take aid into Gaza. This proved divisive, some arguing that it was better than nothing and others that accepting was a betrayal of the aims of the march. About 85 went and took part in a Hamas-controlled “Gaza Freedom March” in Gaza on New Year’s Eve.

Those in Cairo, despite continual harassment from Egyptian police (which included blockading marchers in their hotels), held demonstrations to oppose the ban – at their own embassies (300 French activists camped outside their embassy for three days), at the UN building, in the city centre, joining an Egyptian protest at the visit of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and holding a hunger-strike – 85-year old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein participated.

On New Year’s Eve, the internationals held a “Gaza Freedom March” in Cairo; after 20 minutes this was violently stopped by police.

Viva Palestina convoy

On 6 January, a Viva Palestina convoy carrying food and medical supplies was allowed into Gaza for 48 hours by the Egyptian authorities, who’d held it up for 10 days by initially refusing to allow it to enter Egypt by sea from Jordan. On its arrival, Egyptian police had attacked the convoy injuring 55 members and arresting seven. The original convoy had consisted of 450 people in 220 vehicles, but the Egyptians stopped 59 of the vehicles from entering Gaza.

On 8 January, organisers George Galloway and Ron McKay were deported from Egypt when they returned from Gaza and tried to intercede on behalf of the seven Viva Palestina activists who had been arrested.

Onwards

Though neither initiative led to the lifting of the siege, the determination and ingenuity of those involved led to worldwide publicity for its iniquities and for Egypt’s key role in maintaining it. Egypt is currently constructing a 100-foot-deep underground steel wall to cut off supplies to the Palestinian territory. The anniversary of the attack was also marked in Tel Aviv on 2 January when a march and rally of 3,000 demanded the lifting of the siege on Gaza.

The Free Gaza Movement is planning to send at least six boats to Gaza in the spring to break the blockade. A cargo ship purchased with donations from the Malaysian people will be loaded with cement, water filtration systems and paper – all essential reconstruction materials denied entry to Gaza by Israel.