Monday, 28 December 2009

Four of us are under house arrest in El Arish 40 km from Egyptian Rafah crossing i.e we can leave and walk outside but cannot leave with our luggage to attempt to move any further towards Rafah. [ Since I have been writing this I have received a message that if we try to leave at all now we will be arrested - I came into town by taxi earlier today]. I walked out of the apartment in the morning crossed the road and was hailed by a building worker cheering 'Arafat' and calling 'welcome!' I proceeded into El Arish after hailing a cab a few metres along the road. Having posted this blog I returned late afternoon to find the police presence greatly increased. Discovering that I was missing had raised the level of police containment. Police are now posted 24/7 front, side and back. They are using the next apartment as a base.
Road blocks have been set up around El Arish and activists are being stopped and taken off the buses or taxis in Suez and Ismalia as they try and move north etc. and returned to Cairo in a large operation by the Egyptian authorities and police.
(See below for Gaza Freedmom March actions in Cairo.)
Yesterday plain clothes and uniformed police came to the Hotel Sinai Star where we were gathering as a meeting point and stopped all (approx 25) GFM participants and internationals leaving the hotel at the time we had arranged to leave for Rafah (1130 local time). By prior aggreement with the police it had been arranged to hire a coach and proceed under police escort to Rafah but no coach arived just the police and blocked the only exit from the Sinai.
We were held for about 4 hours, some were manhandled and called for embassy support. The internet connection went down - later four of us got away with the help of Arabic speaking American nun peace activist Ellen Rosser. We were offered refuge in an apartment near to her, then invited to rent the adjacent apartment; the police appeared almost immediately as we moved in and set up surveillance and road blocks.
We planned to leave in the early hours but police were watching from the next apartment which they've occupied and are on watch outside. They are now watching front and back 24 hrs and won't let us leave with any luggage and only with a police escort. They have set up similar surveillance on the other internationals here. Two British GFM members have been stopped and detained at the road block down the road.
I am at the Internet cafe for this message but cannot move any luggage or the art materials I am attempting to take to the Palestine Trauma Centre in Gaza.
The UK contact for the Palestine Trauma Centre (Gaza) was stopped at Suez this morning and returned to Cairo by police.
I am now communicating with other members from the Palestine Trauma Centre from the UK stuck in Cairo and trying to establish the humanitarian case for the materials being allowed into Gaza. I am contacting Ahmed Tahbet, director of the Palestine Trauma Centre in Gaza to negotiate ways of delivering the art materials for therapy work there by some means.
Dr Mohamed Altawil of University of Herts (PTC UK founder) has said that what the internationals are doing is giving the people of Gaza a 'wonderful feeling of hope' and they are watching and waiting each day to hear news of us and the Viva Palestina convoy.
David, the UK Palestine Trauma Centre chair was coming north today and has been stopped at Suez and sent back to Cairo.
Our small group of four UK nationals and 2 Americans are staying together in the beach apartment of El Arish.
The local people, many of them Palestinian, are warm and welcoming and are effusive in helping us in any way and offering us friendship and hospitality and take the opportunity to share with us their experience of being part of Palestinian diaspora and are very proud that we are here trying to help in some way.