Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Today, under police escort we joined the Spanish French and International contingent in Sadat Square El Arish to protest against the continuing blockade and denial of humanitarian aid by Israel and the US client state Egypt.
The suffering of the Gazan's cannot be imagined. Last night I had the privilege to meet a young woman who, after two years of attempted entry had finally been allowed to enter Egypt from beleaguered Gaza to join her husband who resides in El Arish after being engaged in Gaza over two years previously. I met them as arranged in a pizza cafe near to the Sinai Hotel. After a journey through the darkened streets of Arish we arrived at the their modest apartment being decorated to greet the arrival of their first child, which she was expecting. They greeted me with the customary hospitality and warmth of the Palestinian people as they shared tea and she unfolded her story of the tragedy of Gaza and the impact of living for decades within a refugee camp with the rest of her family and I felt the travesty of relations between the governments describing themselves as abiding by international humanitarian law and calling themselves civilised. They were strict Sunni as is the majority of Egypt and Gaza and she spoke close to tears of her ordeal of proving to the Egyptian authorities her credentials for joining her husband, the tragedy is amplified by the fact that the rest of her family is in Gaza and that it will be unlikely that she will be able to see them again because of the increased prohibitions on entry and exit for the Palestinian people.
This meeting was arranged through mutual contacts following my concerns regarding getting the art materials into Gaza to the Trauma Centre and this young couple offered to help in whatever way possible.
Although invited for further hospitality on subsequent occasions through their natural warmth and kindness because of my being followed by the Egyptian police and the precariousness of her recent entry into Egypt following the two years of applications I decided that it would bring the couple the undue attention of the Egyptian authorities (I had managed to elude my police escort on this occasion but might not be so lucky on future occasions).
With warmth and sadness that the political wranglings of governments should intercede in everyday relationships in such a way, I said goodbye to them after they had escorted me through the sandy alleyways of El Arish to meet with the taxi to return me to the apartment.
Today we joined the Spanish and French contingent and other internationals on a protest in Sadat square El Arish. Protesters confronted Egyptian security services plain clothes police) as they pushed to march down 23rd July Street in downtown Arish. They moved forward chanting 'Freedom for Gaza' but were blocked by police as the people of Arish looked on. Demonstrations are banned in Egypt and any Egyptian joining us would be facing severe penalties: poss 5 years imprisonment; despite that we were joined by an Egyptian gentleman, so moved he was by the passion of the protest. As the call for evening prayers went out we gathered under the foot of the statue of the assassinated Sadat. A small contingent of Egyptian troops had arrived and were nonchalantly standing beside their truck. We determined to keep the Egyptian with us and invite him to stay back at the hotel with the rest of the internationals for solidarity.