The Gaza Freedom March itself did not ever actually take place, as our web visitors will have learnt in reading the diaries of Ragini Kistnasamy, LALIT member who was to be on the March. The reason it did not take place is that the 1,400 protestors from 43 countries were not allowed into Gaza. The siege itself stopped the march against the siege.
When the Egyptian Government ceded and agreed to let in only 100 marchers, the Steering Committee of the Gaza Freedom March in Cairo at first agreed to go ahead. 100 delegates were chosen. No doubt to represent as many parts of the world as possible.
When the 100 delegates were in the buses ready to go to Gaza, however, they were spoken to on the telephone (see Ragini Kistnasamy's diaries) over loudspeakers. The other Steering Committee (the Gaza-based one) informed the Steering Committee in Cairo of its preference for them not to come, under the Egyptian Government-imposed conditions of only 100 delegates. Although they said they would respect the decision of the Steering Committee in Cairo.
At this point the Code Pink women's delegation decided not to go ahead, and our member Ragini Kistnasamy also withdrew from the buses. (We believe that some 72 people went on into Gaza, but the march itself was cancelled because the Steering Committee in Gaza was not going to be in it.)
Being a political party ourselves, in LALIT, we are aware of the difficulties that civil society networks have in taking decisions in crises; we are also aware that the political conflict between Fatah and Hamas further complicates things; and the attitude of the Egyptian Government to the siege makes it even more difficult.
Ragini Kistnasamy over the phone said yesterday that the experience of trying to get into Gaza for the Gaza Freedom March had been overwhelmingly enriching in every way. It showed both the possibilities and the limits of this particular kind of international solidarity based on organizations and individuals who do not share a very clear understanding of a common program or strategy.
"The mere fact of 1,400 people going to Gaza in order to contributing to breaking the siege, shows the real will of people to act against the Israeli domination of Palestine. The difficulties of making decisions in changing circumstances, however, highlights the limits of civil society type actions," she said. She said she was aware that, though they did not get to Gaza, the action contributed to building opposition to the Israeli siege, and to exposing the role of the Egyptian State in the siege.
Ragini Kistnasamy then participated in the demonstration at the Eqyptian Museum, which the police encircled and kept inside a Park. In the afternoon, the Police allowed the protestors, including the LALIT member, to leave in small groups.
When Ragini Kistnasamy comes back to Mauritius, LALIT will organize a "report back" as we usually do. This will allow us all to share the learning experience that she has participated in.
LALIT thanks all the hundreds of people who have expressed their support so warmly. And of course we thank our member, Ragini Kistnasamy, for having shared the experience hour by hour with us.
For your interest, as LALIT site visitors, here is the communique from the Gaza-based Steering Committee that influenced the decision of our delegate to withdraw.
Press Release from Gaza - Gaza Freedom March Steering Committee in Gaza 30.12.2009
"Over the past week we, representatives of various civil society sectors in Gaza, have been humbled by the sacrifices that you, 1400 people, have made in order to come and support us in breaking the siege.
"Despite our grave disappointment that we can not yet meet you all that we are still separated by this medieval siege we feel that your arrival in Cairo has already borne fruits. Your insistence to break the siege in order to be in solidarity with us has inspired many and shamed many others. Thanks to your presence with us, a network to break the siege and free Palestine has been established.
"We support any decisions taken by the Gaza Freedom March Coordination Committee about the entry of just 100 of 1400 delegates into Gaza instead of all the delegates presently in Cairo. Obviously it is, as all previous decisions, a majority decision. We, at the Gaza- GFM Steering committee have reiterated our position, namely, that it is up to The Gaza Freedom March Coordination Committee in Cairo to decide.
"We initially felt that if representatives of all forty some countries can go to Gaza and join a march along Palestinians it would convey a very strong message to the world public opinion. Had they decided to go through with the Egyptian offer, we would have welcomed them in Gaza and deeply appreciated their solidarity.
"The decision to send 100 delegates, however, seemed too divisive for the growing solidarity campaign with the Palestinian people. The unity of the global solidarity campaign is of utmost importance for us, the besieged Palestinians of Gaza. We have repeatedly argued that the march itself is not supposed to be only a symbolic gesture, but rather a part of a series of events which will lead to the end of the siege, once and for all. We want to intensify and continue building the solidarity campaign, not divide it.
"We salute the GFM delegates and thank them for the tremendous amount of work they have been doing and whatever decision they came up with.
"Gaza-GFM Steering Committee, in Gaza, 30.12.2009"
Despite all the difficulties and limitations, the Gaza Freedom March has contributed to pressure to End Siege. There have been strong demonstrations of solidarity everywhere in the world to "Break the Siege", in particular in the 43 countries where delegates in the Gaza Freedom March came from, creating an international momentum continued by the Gaza Freedom March action. This momentum was strong enough to put Gaza on the agenda worldwide.