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Gaza Freedom March Members Gain a Small Taste of the Palestinian Experience

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Gaza Freedom March participants, numbering 1,360 people from 42 countries, have assembled in Cairo, Egypt, where they plan to break the Israeli imposed siege on Gaza by delivering humanitarian relief supplies, on December 31st. After passing through the Rafah border crossing which divides Egypt and Gaza, they aim to join 50,000 Palestinians in a march across the Gaza Strip, ending at the Erez border crossing which leads into Israel.

But, the Egyptian government has dispersed peaceable assemblies that the marchers organized, in Cairo, and detained activists in multiple locations. Egyptian authorities previously issued permits for public actions, but have now revoked all permits and refused permission for any members of the Gaza Freedom March to even approach the border between Egypt and Gaza. Yesterday, they broke up a gathering of people who were commemorating the 1,409 Palestinians who were killed by the Israeli military's "Operation Cast Lead" assault that began last year, December 27th, and continued for 22 days.

"We're saddened that the Egyptian authorities have blocked our participants' freedom of movement and interfered with a peaceful commemoration of the dead," said Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK, one of the March's organizers.

Benjamin added that the Gaza Freedom March participants are continuing to urge the Egyptian government to allow them to proceed to Gaza. They visited the Arab League asking for support, various foreign embassies and the Presidential Palace to deliver an appeal to President Mubarak. They are calling their supporters around the world to contact Egyptian embassies and urge them to free the marchers and allow them to proceed to Gaza.

Gaza Freedom March coordinators and participants are weighing alternative plans while continuing to call for assistance from various Embassies. Three hundred French delegation members have camped overnight at the French Embassy in Cairo and are still maintaining their presence despite being encircled by three rows of Egyptian riot police. The U.S. delegation has been unable to approach the U.S. Embassy, which was cordoned off and surrounded by police immediately after U.S. delegation members arrived in Cairo.

Hedy Epstein, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, from St. Louis, MO, has begun a hunger strike, in Cairo, and intends to continue her fast until the Egyptians decide to open the border.

"Despite the massive interferences, the marchers have not been deterred and will continue to advocate for the people of Gaza," writes Josh Brollier, a member of the Free Gaza March and co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. "Though these setbacks have been frustrating to the delegates who came to show solidarity with Palestinians, they are just a small taste of the Palestinian experience and can scarcely compare to the daily hardships imposed on the people of Gaza by the devastating Israeli siege and illegal occupation."