Posted by CODEPINK Staff
WASHINGTON -- To coincide with Pres. Obama's landmark speech to the Arab world next week in Egypt, more than 150 people will attempt to enter war-torn Gaza this week through the blockaded Egyptian and Israeli borders in five separate civilian delegations. Organized under the umbrella of the peace group CODEPINK, the delegations -- the largest group of Americans to travel to Gaza since the siege began -- hope to pressure Israel to end the horrific 21-month blockade and for the U.S. to halt its support.
After being stopped by Egyptian riot police near the border, three delegations, including a Canadian and student delegation, finally got permission from the Egyptian government and entered Gaza today (May 26). A larger 70-person delegation will attempt to enter May 30. That delegation includes Norman Finkelstein, the acclaimed Israeli-Palestinian relations political scientist who was denied entry into Israel in 2008 for his "anti-Zionist" opinions and criticism of the Israeli government. The delegation also includes Monia Mazigh, wife of Canadian Maher Arar, an innocent man who in 2002 was wrongly seized by U.S. authorities and shipped to his native Syria to be tortured, under the Bush's administration's extraordinary rendition policy.
Meanwhile, on June 7, a fifth delegation will attempt to enter Gaza through Israel. It includes celebrated doctor/clown Patch Adams, whose life was documented in the 1998 film starring Robin Williams.
The delegations, invited by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), are bringing medicines, toys, school supplies and playground building materials for Gazan children since many schools and playgrounds were bombed during Israel's invasion earlier this year that killed more than 1,300, displaced more than 50,000 people and destroyed over 4,000 homes.
“The majority of Gazans are under 18, and many of the youth are traumatized and depressed," said trip leader and retired Colonel Ann Wright. "Thousands lost their homes, lost loved ones, and were wounded in the 22-day assault. We want to reach out to ease their pain and tell them we care.”
If Israeli authorities prohibit the fifth delegation from entering, they will join the Israeli group The Coalition of Women for Peace in protest near either the Erez or Kerem Shalom checkpoints on June 9, participate in a conference on “The Role of International Community in Freeing Gaza” and join protests in Jerusalem and the West Bank between June 10 and 14.
The CODEPINK delegations are not alone. Three British medics began a hunger strike at the Egyptian border crossing on May 21 to protest being refused entry into Gaza to establish a cardiac surgery unit at al-Shifa Hospital, which currently has no such facility, and to help train medical students and junior doctors there. The British medics have been denied access to the Palestinian territory at the Rafah crossing since the beginning of May.
“President Obama is coming to Egypt on June 4 to speak to the Arab world and claims he wants to stand for peace and justice," said CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin. "We will be here during his visit to say that he can stand for justice by demanding an end to the blockade of Gaza.”
For more information, please contact Medea Benjamin, at 011- 20 2-18-956 1919 (in Egypt) or Ann Wright at 011-202-19-50801493, and Jean Stevens, CODEPINK national media coordinator at (US number) 508-769-2138.