Friday, January 08, 2010

"Freedom for Gaza" Has Another Meaning

Amira Hass has an interesting piece about an unsuccessful march organized by a coalition of leftist groups, unrelated to George Galloway's Viva Palestina. You can read it either in Hebrew or English.

Some of the parts I found most interesting:

"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."

"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."

"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."


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