Fanning the Flames of Freedom from Cairo to Gaza and Beyond

The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class–it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of freedom.

–Anna Julia Cooper, page 27, my US passport

The Gaza Freedom March announced the Cairo Declaration to End Israeli Apartheid on January 1st, and so yesterday hundreds of Marchers smuggled freedom’s smoke signals in our luggage as we climbed into buses, vans, and taxis and made a mad dash for the Rafah border crossing. My own van was pulled over at the first checkpoint on the way out of Cairo, where we sat on a dusty curb for two hours before being forced to turn back. As we waited for guards to run our passport numbers and strategized about next steps, a small bus filled with our French friends sped by on the other side of the road, headed back to Cairo. Their hands formed peace signs through the windows as they shouted at border guards, and we were reminded once again of the historic nature of these days, when more than 1,300 people have come to Egypt from 43 different countries to support our sisters and brothers in Gaza. When we were first pulled over I felt silly for thinking our small van, filled with aging activists and suitcases overflowing with medicine and other forms of aid, would be permitted to pass to Rafah. As we drove away from the checkpoint, where we picked up two stragglers who had been pulled from buses and told they must return as well, my thinking began to change: Even if none of us arrive in Gaza (an impossibility given the resourcefulness of this remarkable group), our global solidarity community has accomplished something amazing here in Cairo, and in countries around the world. We will now leave Egypt, either for Gaza or for our homes, with a unified call to action, and a concrete plan to continue this crucial work.

We have seen so many victories here in Cairo in the crazy days since the Egyptian Foreign Minister announced we would not be permitted to cross the Rafah border. There are some moments when the haze of Cairo clouds our eyes with dust and disappointment, but we sing our successes into the smog of this city, reminding ourselves and our allies around the world that our efforts will not be deterred by Egyptian guards at checkpoints and the Israeli politicians who are calling the shots:

On December 27, the French group of over 300 allies and mentors took over Giza/Charles de Gaulle St, a terrifyingly busy thoroughfare, when their Rafah-bound buses did not arrive at the French Embassy. They held the street for a full hour before agreeing to wait for the buses on the sidewalk in front of the Embassy. They camped in “Giza Strip” for a full five days, guarded by three rows of riot police.

On December 29, Hedy Epstein, an 85 year-old Holocaust survivor, began a widely reported hunger strike with thirty activists, announcing that they will feast when all of Gaza feasts.

Later that night, hundreds of internationals stood alongside hundreds of Egyptians, who bravely protested Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit to Egypt and demanded an end to the siege.

On December 30, the Egyptian government sent two buses of marchers to Gaza in an effort to temper the terrible press Mubarak is receiving in Egypt and throughout the Arab world. So many of us refused to be satisfied by this token gesture that the buses were not full when they reached Gaza.

Later that day, hundreds protested at the American Embassy, where police managed to fracture them into small, highly guarded groups but could not divide the loud, unified voice with which they demanded an end to the siege, both from the streets in front of the Embassy and from negotiations inside.

Also on December 30, 25 French activists raced an enormous Palestinian flag to the top of one of the pyramids as hundreds of Egyptians and others cheered them on in this highly illegal act. This was the flag’s second trip to the top of the pyramid since we’ve arrived.

On December 31, more than 500 internationals set out on a Freedom March to Gaza from the Egyptian Museum, where they stopped heavy traffic on Tahrir Square and fought fearlessly against guards who violently moved them to pedestrian areas. In Gaza, internationals joined Palestinian marchers in the trek to the Erez crossing, where hundreds upon hundreds protested the siege from the Israeli side of the border. Thousands more joined solidarity protests around the world.

On January 1, more than 500 protested at the Israeli Embassy, forcing global attention on the government that is desperately seeking to divert our efforts to the Egyptian government’s role in the siege. We have proved that we will not be fooled.

Later that night, the South African delegation officially announced the Cairo Declaration that we have worked together to create in partnership with our sisters and brothers in Gaza. The Declaration demands an end to Israeli Apartheid, lists our renewed commitments, and provides an action plan as we move forward in this important work. In a week of historic events, this document proves we have accomplished the mission that brought us to Cairo: We are now united with the people in Gaza, and have a unified plan as we move forward in our crucial work.

While Egyptians turn us away from check points and borders, we remember that it is the Israeli government that has demanded we be kept out of Gaza. And the Israelis have made this demand because they are terrified of our movement. Their weapons and soldiers are no match for the ideas we carry with us, sparked in Palestine and now aflame in Egypt and throughout the world. Our global community join Palestinian civil society in some demands of our own, which the Israelis cannot quell by preventing our passage to Gaza. As the Cairo Declaration states, we demand Self-Determination for all Palestinians. We demand an End to the Occupation. We demand Equal Rights for All within historic Palestine. We demand the full Right of Return for all People of Palestine.

And we insist that as a global solidarity movement, we have the right to make these demands. Egyptian guards have been unable to stop us as we scream our demands from atop the pyramids, from the sidewalks of the U.S. and Israeli Embassies, and from the front pages of newspapers in Egypt, Kuwait, Yemen, and around the world. Allies have stamped these demands into the world’s streets as they march for Palestine’s freedom.

We must make these demands because our work is too important to wait for the the governments of the world to acknowledge that the Israelis will never offer Palestinians what they are owed. We can make these demands because we have the power of a global boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement that will some day be strong enough to cripple the Israeli economy, if we do the work we have promised here in Cairo. And, as Anna Julia Cooper so eloquently states in the US passport that was rejected by Egyptians working on behalf of Israelis yesterday, we will make these demands because freedom is the birthright of humankind.

We celebrate our sisters and brothers in Gaza and throughout Palestine, who have worked so hard to bring us to this historic moment. We celebrate allies here in Cairo and around the world, who are renewing their commitment to their crucial solidarity work by endorsing the Cairo Declaration. And we celebrate all of the travelers who slowly make their way to Rafah, whether they arrive or not. May the Egyptians run our passport numbers thousands of times as they turn us back. May the Israelis be reminded again and again that they have only encouraged us to work more tirelessly than we have so far. May the U.S. government be reminded of the wisdom of Cooper’s words, spat on every time we are rejected at a checkpoint or border crossing. May we leave Cairo with more hope than when we arrived that the siege will end and Gaza and all of Palestine will be free.

Emily Ratner is an organizer and mediamaker based in New Orleans. In June she traveled to Gaza with a New Orleans delegation. This month she will be joining thousands of Palestinians and internationals for the Gaza Freedom March on December 31st. Help us get there. She can be reached at: Read other articles by Emily, or visit Emily's website.

14 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Ismail Zayid said on January 3rd, 2010 at 10:07am #

    The great humanitarian effort, by the hundreds of human rights activists who joined the Freedom March for Gaza, deserves the full praise for this courageous and gallant effort. Sadly, to the shame of the Egyptian government, they have beeb denied the opportunity to make their humanitarian contribution to the people of Gaza who are being subjected to the brutal siege imposed by Israel, in violation of international law. The Egyptian government’s submission to Israeli dictats confirms its coplicity in the war crimes committed by Israel and brings dishonour to the great people of Egypt, who stand opposed to their government’s shameful and criminal role.

  2. lichen said on January 3rd, 2010 at 5:58pm #

    The gaze freedom march is an incredible act of solidarity with the Gazan people; clearly there will be no peace offer from israel, so what we the rest of the world must do is go around them, outnumber them, and end this seige. I still hope that the Rafah border will be opened; it is none of israel’s buisness.

  3. Maryb said on January 4th, 2010 at 1:58am #

    Yes well done to these brave people.

    The convoy of aid vehicles which travelled over 5,000 miles from the UK via Greece, Turkey, Syria and Jordan to Gaza had to retrace 500 miles to Lattakia because Egypt would not allow them to enter Gaza on Israel’s instructions. The vehicles went by ship and landed at Al Arish last night. The drivers will arrive by plane. How resourceful and determined these people are.

    This is about the residents of Gaza whose legal attempts to grow their own food result in being shot at by the IDF and having their homes and land bulldozed. What cruelty and inhumanity.

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain said on January 4th, 2010 at 3:03am #

    mary, I’m listening to the BBC fanning hatred, xenophobia and jingoism over some Moslem ‘cleric’s’ sensible suggestion that there be a march in Wootton Bassett to commemorate the hundreds of thousands of Afghan civilians slaughtered in the racist, colonial war that has crucified that country since the1970s. The bias and cant of the BBC stooge equals that of any talk-back ‘shock-jock’ in Australia. We are clearly being deliberately propelled, by forces plain for all to see, towards a global religious war of neo-imperial conquest. The Wootton Bassett hysteria has clearly been fanned to foment support for a vicious colonial war,and the deliberate non-reporting of Afghan casualties, or the barbaric manner of their despatch by the Western colonial invaders reeks of Western racism and contempt for the lives of non-Westerners.This attitude, of absolute supremacism and total indifference to the suffering of others has been the hallmark of Western imperialism for 500 years, and it is,alarmingly but predictably,being fanned to yet greater intensity by the evil psychopaths who run the West. And, naturally,this racism and xenophobia finds fertile ground amongst the worst amongst the Western publics, brainwashed by years of hate propaganda not to care about Islamic deaths, or, to be frank, revelling in them and fervently hoping for more and more.

  5. commoner3 said on January 4th, 2010 at 4:12am #

    I sense a DELIBERATE attempt to embarrass and consequently to destabilize Egypt.!!
    Egypt has enough problems and doesn’t need or want extra one by confronting Israel and consequently the US which is the only super power in the world right now and who fully supports and backs Israel.
    The Gaza Freedom March should works its problems with Israel and those who support Israel and not to drag Egypt needlessly into problems only Israel and Washington can solve.
    Yes, what is happening to the people of Gaza is dispicable and a crime against humanity, but don’t blame Egypt for the crimes of others.

  6. william nomates said on January 4th, 2010 at 4:14am #

    mugla,was the bbc guy a zionist?

  7. Maryb said on January 4th, 2010 at 5:10am #

    commoner3 I don’t know what axe you are grinding but Mubarak is a brutal dictator in the pay of the USUKIs gangsters-in-charge and receives $2 billion annually from the US for his pains. He is a collaborator/quisling. Ask some of his subjects who have been horrifically tortured by his thugs whilst in prison what they think of him. The other day his heavies were even roughing up some of the 1400 international marchers in Cairo lest the citizens of Egypt get any ideas of breaking their chains.

    Mulga Yes the ZBC is disgusting. The Wootton Bassett weekly display of hearses containing the returned remains of the British military from Helmand province is transmitted live on Sky and the BBC 24 channels with the appropriate commentaries. It is a piece of theatre manufactured by Brown’s Ministry of Defence.

    Yesterday there was a discussion programme on BBC1 called The Big Question. Kelvin Mackenzie, ex editor of Murdoch’s Sun, proposed that all Muslims should be barred from British universities! He also called for passenger profiling at airports – you know the sort of thing that Shin Bet is practising at Johannesburg and elsewhere. All brown skinned passengers taken off for a thorough going over. White Mummies with children and middle aged white men go straight through.

    This week Sky is transmitting a programme about Gaza featuring an actor called Ross Kemp who used to play the part of a thug in a long tunning soap called Eastenders. He has made a series of programmes for Sky gloryfying war whilst embedded with ‘our boys’ in Afghanistan. He is also the ex-partner of Rebekah Wade sometime editor of the Sun and now occupying a senior position in the Murdochcracy. It was reported that she physically assaulted Kemp before they split. You can see what we are grappling with here. God alone knows what will be said about the Palestinians in Gaza.

  8. Mulga Mumblebrain said on January 4th, 2010 at 10:33am #

    MaryB, I imagine that the BBC propagandist is,if not a committed Zionist, or friend of Israel, someone who realises who calls the shots in the UK. I must say that I find it almost comic that a proud, if not jingoistic and chauvinistic state like the UK,with such a glorious and by turns inglorious history, can sit by and be taken over by a tiny minority with allegiances to a foreign state. The carefully fomented hysteria over the proposed march for innocent Afghan victims in Wootton Bassett simply beggars belief. Undoubtedly Mr Chowdry sounds an unsavoury fellow, in my opinion, with his misogyny and homophobia, but this proposal ought to be worthy of general approval.
    To express the hysterical outrage at a proposal to commemorate the tens of thousands of innocent Afghans slaughtered by Western forces simply reeks of race hatred.Those most vociferous in their opposition were clearly of low mentality and some degree of moral imbecility, but their callousness is still reprehensible. The public displays of mourning at Wootton Bassett are plainly a contrived exercise in jingoism and chauvinism designed to heighten support for the neo-colonial slaughter in Afghanistan and Iraq. And the reaction to this long overdue proposal to recognise the civilian death-toll is plainly wicked in the extreme and carefully fashioned to heighten hatred and contempt for Moslems.
    Interestingly, at lunchtime the BBC entertained a racist from the so-called ‘English Defence League’ on air. He got fifteen minutes of fawning publicity to air his racism,jingoism and threats against Moslems. How interesting it is, don’t you think, that this mob uses the same nomenclature as Kahane’s ‘Jewish Defence League’, particularly given the Zionazi’s collaboration with neo-fascists in the UK in their Islamophobic campaigns, an inconvenient reality suppressed by the media sewer.

  9. commoner3 said on January 4th, 2010 at 3:04pm #

    Re:Maryb said on January 4th, 2010 at 5:10am #

    You shoud have first read my post carefully….
    I thought the main issue here is the plight of the Palestinian people in Gaza and not the internal politics of Egypt.
    You are diverting the discussion from the real Israeli oppression of Gaza and now you are harping and carping about what you call the “oppresion” of the Egyptian people by Mubarek.
    Yes, most Egyptians want justice for the Palestinians but in the mean time they don’t want confrontation with Israel and consequently the US. Most Egyptians understand very well that Israel has the full support of the United States and that the United States is the only super power in the world now!!
    If your REAL aim is to help the Palestinian people then talk to Israel and Washington instead of wasting your time and energ attacking the Egyptian government.

  10. lichen said on January 4th, 2010 at 5:24pm #

    Since the us and israel aren’t going to change, it is up to us to get the rest of the world to stand up to them, to go around them, and to demand justice despite them. Thus, going through the border in Egypt is sensible, and cooking up another ludicrously stupid conspiracy theory to defend another morally bankrupt dictatorship is ridiculous. Egypt absolutely does not have a right to obstruct the rights of Palestinian’s by closing off the border and building an underground wall.

  11. Maryb said on January 4th, 2010 at 9:59pm #

    commoner3 I stand by what I said. Why have you altered my name to myrab? That is not a typo and as it is a habit of Zionist trolls on this site to do this, what is your game?

  12. commoner3 said on January 5th, 2010 at 3:02am #

    Re: Maryb said on January 4th, 2010 at 9:59pm #,


    I swear it was an honest typo, and I swear I am not a Zionist Troll! Are you??!
    Did you visit Egypt and saw how real hard is life for most people?
    It is very easy to sit on a recliner sipping Martinis thousands of miles away from Egypt and lecture and pontificate without any any knowledge of the complexity and murkiness of politics in the Middle East.
    Why did you revert to name calling and accusations? I answered your post with respect so why don’t you do the same??!!

  13. Maryb said on January 5th, 2010 at 4:30am #

    No of course not.
    Yes I have visted Egypt several times.
    Yes I know a lot about life of the people there.
    No I do not have a ‘recliner’ whatever that is and no I do not drink alcohol.

    Time for end of ‘ conversation’ I think.

  14. Maryb said on January 6th, 2010 at 3:25pm #

    Emily I was sorry to read that many of you have had to return home and that you received such bad treatment from the Egyptians and were not allowed to enter Gaza to break the siege.

    After all the hoops they had been put through, it was so heartening to hear that the Viva Palestina convoy finally entered Rafah tonight minus 59 vehicles which will be left in the care of Turkey. The aid that they contained has been taken into Gaza for the people who need it so badly. There are some good Press TV videos on this Viva Palestina link and some lovely people from Ireland being interviewed.

    “Gaza Gaza don’t you cry. We will never let you die.”