Tuesday, December 29, 2009

from helaine

Hi, everyone,

Time is somewhat limited, so here is a shortened version of our trip so far:

On the Ground in East Jerusalem

1. House removals of Palestinians: Religious Jews from Brooklyn took over two Palestinian homes--the Jews spit on the ground near the Palestinian children and teens, and the P children and teens call the Jews "pussy" and "faggot"--the IDF arrives to stop the "dialogue" and is clearly there to protect the Jews

2. The many checkpoints throughout the West Bank are obviously there to stop the movement of the P people and to make their lives miserable--what used to be a 20-minute drive can now take one and a half hours—this obviously interferes with people going to work and school and it makes it very difficult to visit family and friends

3. The Separation Wall (the so called security wall) goes on and on, snaking throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory--it seems mainly to separate P from P, and P from their land—from what we could see, it has little to nothing to do with the security of the Israelis (this wall does not follow the Green Line—rather, it creates closed-in prisons of neighborhoods with only one means of entry and egress)

4. Israel is in the process of building train tracks straight through East Jerusalem (so that Jews from the settlements [aka colonies] can travel from their condo homes downtown to work and to stores--these tracks divide East Jerusalem into two sectors (talk about divide and conquer)

5. Settlements/Colonies can have as many as 32,000 Jews living in them—they look like housing developments everywhere in the US with condos that have balconies (the one difference is that here in East Jerusalem the condos look out onto P barrios/favelas rather than looking out onto golf courses)

6. P from the WB are not allowed into EJ or even to travel in cars with residents of EJ (this means that a resident of EJ cannot have his/her spouse in the car if s/he is not also from EJ)—if this order is disobeyed, the IDF can fine/imprison the driver, impound the car, etc.

7. P from EJ are considered residents, not citizens of Israel

Get the idea? Segregation, Racism, Apartheid, Bantustans at its finest

Cairo, Egypt

1. 20 million people live in Cairo--there are more cars than you can imagine (more than you have ever seen in NYC)—there are few traffic lights—honking horns and speeding around each other is the name of the game

2. There are few street names on streets--the one traffic light we did see shows a person running across the street rather than walking—it is truly a trip to cross streets

3. Cairo is filthy—the air pollution is terrible—there are lots of mosquitoes and flies all over the place

4. From what we can ascertain, there is little to no freedom of speech here (Egyptian college kids were beat up today for rallying for democracy in front of a lawyers “guild”)—the E government has forbidden E to travel into Gaza with any Code Pink group

5. There are uniformed and undercover cops everywhere!--They watch and listen to all we do and say--they have totally shut us down--they stopped us from putting flowers and notes to commemorate the victims of Cast Lead—they stopped us from going onto falukkas (boats) on the Nile to send commemorative candles down the Nile for the 1400 killed in Gaza—They sent large foreboding paddy wagons/armed-service carriers filled with police/military to corral us and to harass us

6. They cordon us off at every event we have—this feels confining and threatening, although it does appear that a number of the young soldiers may very well be in support of what we are doing—it seems that a number of them have been “hired” to avoid jail terms and are “carrying out orders”

Gaza Freedom March

1. It appears that the GFM leadership never established a firm and clearly laid out Plan B, other than having different groups do direct actions. Many of us believe we desperately need a unified and clear plan with a clear message.

2. Since we arrived in Cairo a few days ago, different groups (which represent different countries, women, students, interfaith, Code Pink, states, counties, etc.) are doing different actions; to many of us, this feels pretty scattered and unfocused.

3. Approximately 200 French set up an encampment at their Embassy and were immediately surrounded by the military police—they are allowing people to go out of the encampment one by one to go to a bathroom but it appears that once out they cannot return.

4. Other groups have spoken about speaking with their Embassies. It appears that the US Embassy has no interest in assisting us (big surprise).

5. Yesterday, the larger GFM group planned to encamp at the UN, but abandoned that idea later in the afternoon; 5 very courageous Es and one American Palestinian poet (the poet who performed at our Arabic luncheon) decided to remain overnight--they were arrested and then released.

6. Hedy Epstein, 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, is heading up a contingent of 30+ people (thus far) who are beginning a hunger strike (in conjunction with those from Viva Palestina who are on a hunger strike).

7. Today Netanyahu is meeting with Mubarek here in Cairo; there is discussion about whether to hold an action at the Presidential Palace.

8. There is also serious discussion about whether to join with the Interfaith Group, which is planning to begin a pilgrimage to Gaza (knowing full well that the police can and probably will shut this action down within only yards of taking their/our first steps). Already, people who attempted to get to Al Arish by cab, public bus, private bus (which the E govt. have forbidden to drive there) have been arrested, detained, held at their hotels, etc. Yesterday, two young people were taken out of their cab, had their passports confiscated by the police, and were forced to walk 4 hours back to Cairo.

That is it for now. I hope this gives you a feel for what is transpiring here. Our sense is that Plan A to travel to Gaza ended before we even arrived here. Reasons for this may include: the E general fear of having this number of organized internationals intervening in the situation; the current discussion about an exchange of prisoners; the current E shutdown of many of the tunnels going into Gaza; the possible Israeli plan for another military action in Gaza; fear of terrorist attacks to commemorate the anniversary of Cast Lead; ……

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