Tuesday 12 January 2010
As I write this, I am still in
The problem is that the Egyptian government is like a "black box." There is no way of knowing what works and what doesn't, or why. There seems to be one type of document that will get you to the border; without it, you'll be stopped at one of the multiple checkpoints between
Israeli warplanes carried out a series of raids throughout the
I am waiting through a forced period of inactivity (due to three days of government holidays) to hear the status of the application I filed with the Foreign Ministry Sunday night for 12 of us with letters of invitation from NGO's. In addition, I will apply for a press pass. With one or both of those approvals, three of us will head to the border on Monday - hopefully a day when all the hullaballoo has quieted down and the checkpoints have been relaxed.
The unfortunate thing is that as time passes and people with approaching flight reservations get desperate, it becomes increasingly "everyone out for themselves." There is competition for every new little bit of intelligence, and if someone hears of a good route, or a good time, to make it to the border, off they go, without saying a word to anyone else, for fear of too many people coming along and somehow jinxing it. And that brings to mind the dilemma we faced during the march itself.
The situation is rather like the tale about the liferaft. At first, everyone sticks together, with a strong feeling of comradeship and shared purpose - everyone helping each other. But then, once it becomes obvious that not all of you can survive - that one or more must be sacrificed if any are to live (or to achieve their goal), then that team spirit quickly begins to unravel. Should you all prepare to go down with the ship out of solidarity, if that is what is required? If not, how do you choose who is lucky, and who is not?
This is the dilemma faced by almost every large delegation or convoy that tries to bring aid or moral support into the
The protests continued nonetheless, and that's when Suzanne Mubarak (wife of the Hosni, the president), made a compromise offer: permission for just 100 of the marchers to cross into
The pros and cons of accepting such a compromise are fairly simple:
Pro: At least some people/aid get in, avoiding total defeat and providing some level of relief to the Palestinians of
Con: If the offer accepted is only a small fraction of the original delegation or payload,
Ruth James, who joined the march in the hopes of establishing contacts in Gaza for her British clown troupe, recalls a similar dilemma when she was traveling with the European Campaign to End the Siege of
"Bedlam broke out," recalls Ruth. "We had told participants we would stand together, that it was all or no one. There was no preparation, no attempt to explain before the chosen 20 were announced, that we had changed our minds." In retrospect, says Ruth, who was a team leader for the convoy, she thinks the campaign - and the march - should have discussed with the larger group in advance how this scenario would be handled and held out for a better (larger) compromise. "Even a Palestinian woman on my team who hadn't seen her family in years agreed we shouldn't have accepted the offer," says Ruth. "That wasn't the purpose of our mission."
Ruth identified an issue at the heart of the dilemma faced by both the European Campaign and the
In the case of the European Campaign - as well as of Viva Palestina, now in
When the decision to accept the offer was reconsidered at the 11th hour (too late, as it turned out, to reverse it effectively), I voted against it. My reasoning was this:
1) The Egyptian government would use our acceptance as a PR ploy, and media attention would dissipate once the perception was created that an acceptable compromise had been reached. And in fact, Abu Al-Gheit of the Foreign Ministry announced at a press conference that the 100 marchers the government had "graciously allowed" to enter Gaza were from organizations that Egypt considers "good and sincere," whereas the majority left behind were "from organizations that are only interested in subversion and acting against Egyptian interests, to sow havoc on the streets of Egypt, not to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians." He added that the Egyptian public was wise enough to see these remaining marchers as "hooligans." (I am planning on making a customized T-shirt when I return home: Hooligan for
2) Given the nature of our march ("people power" vs. aid), it seemed to me that we would do more actual good for the Palestinian cause by challenging one of the primary jailers - Egypt. Mubarak rules with an iron fist; standing up to him requires international "cover." CODEPINK, one of the main partners in the march coalition, had already successfully brought seven delegations as large as about 60 members into
A front-page headline in an Egyptian daily proclaims the "first-time ever" that the Israeli embassy in
3) Perhaps one of the most important considerations is what do the Palestinians want? After witnessing the "use" to which the 100 compromise was put by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, the leaders of the Palestinian coordinating committee sent us this message:
Our longer-term interests as Palestinians is not to allow the regime to get off the hook this easily. Either they allow all 1,400 participants into
We cannot possibly decide on this matter, as ultimately this is up to ALL of you. If a CLEAR majority among you feel that you want to go through with the deal, we shall always welcome you in
In the case of the European campaign, which was delivering a substantial amount of aid, the Palestinians signaled that the offer of all trucks and 20 people (out of 105) should be accepted. And to me, that makes sense. On the other hand, though, there is something to be said for sticking to your demands and refusing to be splintered when you have the advantage of the world stage. For instance, George Galloway's Viva Palestina convoy finally managed to enter
But perhaps even more important than the end decision is the process used to reach it. The
The bottom line: The focus must be on the Palestinians and
Pam Rasmussen is a peace activist and communications professional from
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs