December 31, 2009
Cairo—Today at 10:00 AM, the Gaza Freedom march converged on Midan Tahrir, or Liberation Square in English. This was no easy task for the marchers. We left in small groups to avoid being followed by police who were monitoring our hotels. Several of the larger hotels were monitored more closely, and the Lotus Hotel was completely barricaded, making it impossible for most of the Marchers to leave.
Many marchers, maybe three to four hundred, did make it to the square and a delegation of women gave the signal to converge by waving large flags. We moved into the streets with the intention to occupy a major thoroughfare and march towards Gaza. Egyptian police and riot cops fanned out of alleyways and side streets as quickly as we came together. The police then attempted to push us out of the street and into the square. As planned, we continued to try to march, but things quickly came to a head. Most of the marchers decided to sit down and lock arms.
The Egyptian cops swiftly became violent and began grabbing, beating, and pulling marchers who did not leave the street. I was kicked in the side and back, punched in the head and slapped in the face. My glasses were broken and one plainclothes officer pulled violently on my hair for what seemed like nearly a minute. I managed to hold on to one of my comrades,and we held the space in the street for a while longer. Many of the police in uniform were trying to avoid violence, but a handful of plain clothes officers were taking pot shots at the crowd of peaceful and non-violent protesters. Eventually the police succeeded in moving the marchers to the sidewalk where we were barricaded and surrounded by several rows of cops.
I emerged alright from the incident, but several others were not so fortunate. One young man had his shoulder dislocated and others were close to passing out from the trauma of the encounter. Though we were removed from the square, beaten and prohibited from marching, our spirits were quickly rekindled through the solidarity born out of the struggle and by remembering the much worse hardships that Palestinians often face when they attempt to hold peaceful demonstrations; it is not uncommon for Israeli troops to fire on crowds of Palestinians with rubber and real bullets merely for assembling. It is difficult to imagine the horror of being trapped in Gaza and having to endure an onslaught like the one that occurred last January. We held a moment of complete silence as we honored those who had died. Not even a cop made a noise.
So we chanted, we marched, we danced, drummed and sang, as we were together in Midan Tahrir. We may not have liberated the Gazan border, but my spirit certainly felt liberated for standing and sitting in solidarity with the Palestinians. We held the space for approximately six hours. We were a truly international group, and it was inspiring to hear about the different facets of the movement across the world. Many people’s commitments to resisting injustice were renewed; some talked of a Cairo Declaration to unite the worldwide struggle for Palestinian freedom.
After holding a consensus meeting between the different delegations, we decided to disperse and regroup for another action later tonight. What a way to hold a New Year’s celebration; taking action with some of the finest people I’ve ever encountered! It may be held at the French Embassy since many from the French delegation that were encamped at their embassy were prevented by the police from entering the square.
I heard that the group of 85 delegates that headed to Rafah with humanitarian aid did make it into Gaza and have marched there with 6,000 Palestinians to the Israeli border. When reaching the border, the internationals,when within 500 meters of the border,sat down while holding a press conference. I hope to find more details on the scene in Gaza soon.
I’m wishing a happy New Year to all, worldwide! I hope this year to be a year of liberation. May we have liberation in our own hearts, in our relationships, in all of our various countries and especially, liberation to the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
Joshua Brollier is a Chicago peace activist who co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence