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From Cairo to Al-Arish

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We left Cairo this morning around 9:30a.m. for Al Arish, Egypt. This is no easy task since our numbers now total 59. The energy of the group is really quite fascinating. The group is diverse in ages, backgrounds and nationalities. The group is mostly American and Canadian and more women than men. We are make quite a scene wherever we go with all the pink, the noise and the craziness.

CODEPINK has raised enough money for 1,000 gift baskets so we have 1,000 pink baskets, pink scarves and then soaps and candies and so on. Gifts to just brighten the life of a woman in Gaza on International Women's Day. We learned yesterday that the UN organizers in Gaza said that we should bring a treat to the women and not the staples of rice and beans that first comes to mind but instead something to remind the women of the Gaza that for one day they are just women.

The trip was long but the conversations on the bus were lively and interesting. We had one bus for 15 passengers that I was on and the other was much larger holding the bulk of the group. I heard that on this bus they were singing and learning to belly dance as well as telling their personal stories.

Once we were out of Cairo the scenery was lush and green and beautiful until we reached the desert and the Suez Canal. After that for me the landscape was just awesome. I am so fascinated by the desert and the rolling hills of sand, the Bedouin homes, the camels and goats. We drove onto the magnificent bridge that goes over the Suez Canal. We could see several big cargo ships moving gracefully along the canal.

At one point we stopped at a rest stop -- similar to any truckstop in North America -- mediocre bathrooms and junk food. The CODEPINK organizers were ahead of the game though and produced a delicious lunch of hard boiled eggs, hummous, pita, buns, salads, fruit and cake. We had a short stop and kept on our way to Al Arish.

We arrived here around 4:30 p.m. We are about 26 miles (the Americans don't talk in km and I am too tired to look it up) from the Rafah border. I am staying at the Sinai Star Hotel. I would guess that it is a 3 star hotel. It is clean and stylish and the staff have been very welcoming. We went to dinner at 7p.m. -- everyone back on the bus. It was a lovely restaurant where the dinner had been prearranged and we were served the moment we sat down. Barbecued chicken, rice, salad and hummous with pita.

As soon as we were finished eating we were told to go outside where we were taken to an outdoor, Bedouin style lounge. Rag rugs covered the sand and the walls were made of cement blocks. The room was beautifully lit for the evening. Minutes later we were joined by Egyptian activists and journalists from Al Arish. One of our group members brilliantly translated the discussions. Medea offered them a creating and an explanation of who we were and why we are here. The first question we were asked was if we supported Hamas -- a democratically elected government even though our governments do not. I guess because of the diversity of the group, Medea chose to not answer the question directly. The next was why were coming here at all bringing our "pink gift baskets." The person was trying to make the point that Gaza doesn't need presents -- it needs the world to hear what is happening and to end the siege.

At this point Cindy Corrie -- mother of Rachel Corrie who was killed when an Israeli bulldozer drove over her as she tried to prevent a Palestinian home from being destroyed -- stood up to speak. As soon as she told who she was our guests stood up and applauded her -- they gave she and her husband beautiful Palestinian scarves and greeted them with honour. One man said that Rachel was a Palestinian. Cindy then spoke so clearly and so eloquently about the election in Palestine. She was in Gaza at that time. She told how it had been a fair and democratic elections sanctioned by Jimmy Carter. I was in Palestine on that same day as an observer at the Hawarra checkpoint. She made it clear that this was the chosen government of Palestine and that violence on either side is not acceptable. It was emotional and this time, I wasn't the only one with tears in my eyes.

Sheikh Arafat spoke that he understood that people of all faiths were in our group and that they did not have a problem with Jews but with Israelis. When he said this comment I asked to speak but another speaker was ahead of me. He spoke at length -- I think we should have had a timer for our speakers. Eventually it was my turn and as I started to say "With all my respect to Sheikh Arafat, I am a Jewish woman, a Canadian and an Israeli." Before I could finish someone shouted that the caravan of trucks -- George Galloway's caravan was driving by....it caused some excitement and several of our group just ran out of the area to witness the trucks passing. Our Egyptian guests asked me to continue and I told them that I worked in Israel with thousands of Jewish men and women that were like me and that I had occupied the Israeli consulate in Toronto with 7 Jewish women - 3 of us that are Israelis and that we had been arrested. Immediately one of their group gave me a gorgeous embroidered cushion cover -- something I have wanted for a long time. I started to cry. The Sheikh and another guest explained that they did know that some Isaelis are against the Israeli government and they did respect what they do. It is these dialogues that are invaluable to help us to hear each other and to become strong allies in our work for a peaceful world.

It is 11:30 now. I need to be up at 6 and on the bus around 7a.m. Tomorrow -- insha'allah, we will be in Gaza. The borders were open today. A couple of British activists and journalists joined our bus at 10pm. They spent the day at Rafah and did not get in but 40 other activists got in. They made lots of noise and commotion and the Egyptians let them go. The other two didn't get in because they had shown their press passes. One day it is good to be a journalist and the next -- well, not so much! Who knows -- it is all so random. Let us see.....the convoy of trucks have arrived. CODEPINK has arrived.

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