CAIRO–We have some great news to report!!!
The day started out with a 3a.m. call from one of our delegations in Al Arish saying that secret police had contacted them at 2p.m. to intimidate them and say they would not get into Gaza. We, in Cairo, told them to go on to the border and see what happens.
Then at 9a.m. in the morning, when all three groups got in their buses to go to the border, they were stopped at the first checkpoint, surrounded by riot police, and not allowed to even get off the bus.
They were told that there were military exercises going on in the area and that they could not move forward to the border. Meanwhile, they saw other cars going in and out. But they were forced to turn around to go back to Al Arish.
Ann, Tighe and I were furious, planning all sorts of things — press conferences to denounce the treatment of our delegations, protests, etc.
Our first step, however, was to go to the Egyptian foreign ministry’s Office of Palestinian Affairs to see if they could help. We ended spending about four hours with the two people in charge of Egyptian relations with Gaza while they talked to the intelligence services and police, trying to get the group official permission and get that permission to all the officials of various Egyptian agencies at the checkpoints and the border.
Phone calls were flying back and forth, back and forth, as we followed the group’s progress, step by step, from Al Arish through all the checkpoints and finally to the border.
Out of all three delegations (Canadian, New York and student delegation from Cairo), only one person was turned back — a Palestinian student with a brand new passport that had not had her basic visa for Egypt transferred into it.
But all the rest — 66 in total — made it through into Gaza. Yipppppeeee.
We are all thrilled, and are eager to get the next group of 70 who will be crossing on Saturday, May 30.
It was terrific teamwork between the folks at the border, those of us in Cairo and our contacts back in the U.S. and Canada who were advocating on our behalf. Thanks to all who helped.
Today we made another dent in the armour that is imprisoning the people of Gaza. Thanks everyone.
Medea Benjamin, Ann Wright, Tighe Barry