Gaza Freedom March Day Two: Arrests, a UN protest and Joe Sacco

Gaza Freedom March Day Two: Arrests, a UN protest and Joe Sacco


I have, in the weeks prior to Code Pink D-Day of the 28th of December, received many e-mails and updates. I’ve been informed 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein will be joining the march, American telecommunications companies AT&T and Verzon Wireless supports the Republican Party and pro-Israeli politicians and one of ten good things to celebrate about 2009 was that in a recent poll most Americans did not see the war in Afghanistan worth fighting. Code Pink organizers stressed the point that they were organized and ready for the march. Then enter the Egyptian government. This unexpected spanner thrown into the works have forced Code Pink to stop and re-calibrate.

At Monday morning’s 9:30 briefing, the young Code Pink press officer, Ziyaad, stressed that organizers were doing everything they could to adapt to the changing situation, that the protestors had not come for nothing. “We are here to take goods to Gaza, we are here to break the siege,” Ziyaad reminded the group.

36 protestors had been arrested in Al Arish, reportedly being confined to their hotel, 6 were arrested in Ismailiyah making their way to Rafah and buses did not turn up to collect the 400 people in the French delegation in front of the French embassy, despite assurances from their ambassador the buses would come. The French then proceeded to block traffic outside the embassy, and about 80 riot police were called in complete with water cannon to push the protestors back onto the sidewalk. I wondered if the emphasis had shifted from calling attention to the Gaza blockade, and onto the repressive Egyptian state.

Code Pink organizers had decided it would be most effective if activists gathered in front of the World Trade towers, home to the offices of the United Nations in Egypt for the first day.

When I arrived, police had joined batons facing the road, fencing in the protestors and obscuring their signs. However such a large police presence made it a spectacle to be watched. Well over 200 protestors were penned into a small space chanting “let us march”, singing and waving various signs of support for the Palestinians of Gaza. A few Egyptians working in a nearby bank had wandered in, curious as to why so many foreigners were protesting the Gaza blockade so close to their bank.

An English lad holding a banner let it go with relief, passing it on to a fellow protestor, to talk to me. It turns out he was a historian that specialized in British-mandated Palestine. “This mess all began with the British,” he exclaimed. We talked of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which was used by Zionist groups to increase Jewish immigration into Palestine with the aim of creating a Jewish state. Gaza itself was created after the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, for the Palestinian refugees that left their homes to escape fighting, or in some cases, which were forcibly evicted from their homes.

Amongst the crowd was a Jewish man with a magnificent white beard, a round brimmed hat dressed all in black. He was a representative for the Jewish anti-Zionist group Neturei Karta, which believes a Jewish state should not be created until the Messiah comes. He wore a badge that read “I am Jewish but not a Zionist”. Happy to answer my questions he said he had never been to Israel and in fact this was the closest he had been to it. An older couple from Norway approached him, the lady with her hand stretched out. He smiled with slight embarrassment saying he could not shake her hand, as it was forbidden in his religion to shake the hand of a woman. The lady, not seeming to understand, kept her hand out stretched and asked if she could take his photo.

As I continued talking to the man in black, a middle aged Scotsman sidled up, clearly friends with my companion and asked if he would testify in an upcoming court case. “What are you being charged with?” I asked the Scotsman. “Inciting racism” he shot back. He then handed me a brochure and went on to explain Israeli musicians with links to the Israeli military had come to the Scottish capital Edinburgh to play a concert. The Scotsman and other fellow protestors interrupted the performance yelling the band was complicit in Israeli war crimes. The police then arrested the protestors and eventually charged them with racially aggravated conduct.

The protests in front of the UN offices continued for most of the day and for some more devout, into the night. I left them to it and decided to look for a copy of Joe Sacco’s new book ‘Footnotes in Gaza’. The young English historian had recommended it to me saying it was an important key in understanding Gaza. I wondered, after this protest, if I would understand Gaza.