On December 31, together with more than 1000 peace advocates from around the world, I plan to join with tens of thousands of Palestinians in a march in Gaza to the Erez border crossing to protest the Israeli blockade of Gaza, and to demand international action to relieve Gaza's humanitarian crisis.
Unfortunately, it appears that the Egyptian government has announced that it will not allow the internationals to enter Gaza as planned. If would be a shame if that were the case.
This apparent decision though, could be reversed with sufficient public pressure in Egypt and around the world. Concerned individuals can write to the Egyptian Embassy in Washington and to the Foreign Ministry in Cairo. There is also contact information for the Egyptian consulates in Chicago, Houston, New York, and San Francisco here.
The aim of the march is to call on Israel and the international community to lift the siege, and to respond to Gaza's humanitarian crisis. The international participants will also take in badly needed medical aid, as well as school supplies and winter jackets for the children of Gaza. Dec. 27 will mark the first anniversary of the Israeli invasion, from which Gaza has not recovered, in large measure because of the ongoing Israeli blockade, which has prevented Gaza from rebuilding.
Of course, if the Egyptian government decision stands, and the international participants are not allowed to enter Gaza, then much less international attention will be drawn to the ongoing blockade, and that would be an unfortunate setback for peace efforts, because the need for international attention is great.
In the Guardian yesterday, former President Jimmy Carter wrote:
... those under siege in Gaza face another winter of intense personal suffering. I visited Gaza after the devastating January war and observed homeless people huddling in makeshift tents, under plastic sheets, or in caves dug into the debris of their former homes. Despite offers by Palestinian leaders and international agencies to guarantee no use of imported materials for even defensive military purposes, cement, lumber, and panes of glass are not being permitted to pass entry points into Gaza. The US and other nations have accepted this abhorrent situation without forceful corrective action.
I have discussed ways to assist the citizens of Gaza with a number of Arab and European leaders and their common response is that the Israeli blockade makes any assistance impossible.
Carter argued that with the "peace process" at an apparent impasse - and with Egyptian efforts to resolve differences between Hamas and Fatah impeded by "US objections" - addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza can't wait on broad diplomatic progress. There should be an intense diplomatic effort by the international community - and the United States in particular, which obviously has strong influence on Israel and Egypt - to ensure that humanitarian supplies can get into Gaza and rebuilding can begin.
Indeed, some Members of Congress, led by Reps. Jim McDermott (D-Wa.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), are urging the Obama Administration to press for an easing of the blockade. If the Gaza Freedom Marchers are allowed to go forward, it will add to this pressure. In support of peace, the Egyptian government should allow the marchers to go through.