Nothing To Declare

Cairo is beautiful, grimy, delapidated, swarming. Everything is bathed in a dreamy, golden veil of smog, as well as the aural smog of non-stop car horns. There are armed police everywhere, looking intimidating with their black berets and large guns, yet seemingly no traffic enforcement. The “walk” signals feature a little animated green man, running frantically for his life. The Cairoans are a well-dressed, sharp-looking bunch. No tee shirts for them. It is easy to spot the peace activists, as they tend to be the most slovenly-looking people around.

I am here to try to get into the Gaza Strip with 1360 people of conscience from 43 countries (44 including Vermont) to march with 50,000 Palestinians to the Israeli border on December 31st. We are calling on Israel and its indulgent parent, the U.S.A, to end their near-universally condemned siege of Gaza. Today is the one-year anniversary of Israel’s 22-day Gaza massacre (let’s not euphemize by calling it a war), which ended the lives of around 1,400 mostly unarmed people, including over 300 children, left more than 5,000 maimed, many with permanant injuries, and nearly the entire civilian and industrial infrastructure in ruins. A year later, Israel maintains its 3 year-old blockade on the strip, and not one building has been rebuilt, and many thousands remain homeless. Gaza’s already fragile economy has been rendered nearly extinct by the bombing and siege, and 97% of factories remain closed. One could go on and on, but I’ll instead recommend reading one or more of several extensive investigative reports that have come out, such as the Goldstone Report, or Amnesty International’s “Operation Cast Lead: 22 Days of Death and Destruction. One should also read the report by the National Lawyers Guild, which conducted a fact- finding mission to Gaza just days after the “war”, and easily demolishes Israel’s self-defense argument. All are available on the web, of course.

I was a bit nervous going through customs, because the Egyptian government, no doubt reacting to U.S./Israeli pressure, has taken a hard line in recent days against the Gaza Freedom March. The organizers of the March have been in negotiations with the government here since September, but it was not until just a week ago when they announced that we would not be allowed to enter Gaza. Why they waited until over 1,360 had already bought plane tickets to Cairo, and many had already arrived, to announce this decision, is anybody’s guess. Shortly after officially refusing the international delegation permission to enter Gaza, Egypt continued hardening its position. Our permit to hold an orientation meeting was revoked. It is illegal to hold a political meeting in groups larger than 6 without permission. The March organizers had already rented fifteen 50-passenger buses to take some of us to the Rafah border crossing, and our permit to travel was revoked. The officials have made it clear that those planning to come to Cairo should either come prepared to be tourists, or they should stay away. Any public protest or dissent would be met with zero tolerance, we were told. People in the U.S. have a hard time understanding this, so much do we take for granted our right to meet and speak freely. I had no idea to what lengths the Egyptians would go to suppress our movement, and before my plane landed, I ripped out all the pages from my notebook in which I referred to Gaza and/or the March. I still had several books about Palestine with me, and it wouldn’t be difficult to figure out why I was there if I was searched. My paranoia proved groundless, though. The customs officer raised an amused eyebrow at my passport, which got wet and infested with mildew some years ago, and is probably the worst-looking passport he had seen, and suggested that I might like to get a new one. Nothing else to it.

We have not given up on trying to get into Gaza. Egypt’s embassies have been flooded with phone calls and emails asking them to let us in. The March organizers are appealing directly to President Mubarak to reverse the decision. We have been meeting in smaller groups in the lobbies of the various hotels where we are staying, since we cannot hold a general meeting. Everything is up in the air right now. Rumors are flying around, and our understanding changes hour to hour. Today there will be a few memorial demonstrations to mark the anniversary of the beginning of the massacre, and I will most likely write about these in my next post.

Thank you for reading.

David Symons


12 Responses to “Nothing To Declare”

  1. Debra Stoleroff Says:

    Thanks for creating a blog to keep us updated, David.

    We had about 25 people at the Free Gaza vigil in Montpelier yesterday on a warm-for-winter, almost 30 degrees, gray day.

    be well,

  2. Jules Rabin Says:

    Thanks for your fine report. My sympathies with the plight of all of you: willing, waiting, and uncertain.
    There was a demonstration in Montpelier yesterday, one of many around the country, protesting the siege of Gaza. We were 25 … which, in proportion to Mtpelier’s population of 8,000, was as significant as a protest of 25,000 people in NYC would have been.
    Jules Rabin

  3. alighierispal Says:

    Thank you for this. Whatever happens, I hope you come through it unharmed. Bearing witness is such a powerful act. More power to you.

  4. Helen Rabin Says:

    Hello David,
    Someday, when I have finished transcribing the voluminous and nearly illegible letters Jules wrote from the “Walk” through the US and Europe fifty years ago that he was on for six months protesting atomic weapons, you may want to read them. The snafus sound very like what you’re encountering.
    Best of luck, and do be careful.
    Helen Rabin

  5. Cliff Bennett Says:


    There was a Free Gaza march Peace Rally held yesterday noon to 1pm in front of the Montpelier Vt City Hall for you, Free Gaza participators and the people of Gaza. Over 20 persons were part of the rally.

    Glad to hear you have arrived safely and made it through customs. It’s all a part of the gamesbetween Govedrnmental Agencies. The biggest common denominator is the US who calls the “shots”. Have supporters be in contact with their Washington DC affiliates and local media outlets. When your local friends hear how your minds are being played with, yet also the people of Gaza…there will be support.

    The best things are the connections nationally and internationally you are making. We anticipate knowing about how the rest of the Global community is responding locally and globally!

    Tally Ho!

    Cliff Bennett
    Burlington VT 05401

  6. Trish Denton Says:

    Be safe, my well wishes are with you (and everyone involved).

  7. Jules Rabin Says:

    (David: If you haven’t seen it, here’s a strong statement in today’s Ha’aretz, of Israeli remorse for the attack on Gaza.)

    Published on Sunday, December 27, 2009 by Haaretz (Israel)
    Was Israel’s Gaza Offensive Worth It?
    by Gideon Levy

    Today offers us an ironic conjuncture of commemorations: the fast of the 10th of the Hebrew month of Tevet and the first anniversary of Operation Cast Lead. On the day of the fast, which commemorates the Babylonian siege on Jerusalem, few Israelis are thinking about Gaza, under Israeli blockade for twice the time ancient Jerusalem was besieged. On the anniversary of the attack on Gaza, few people are doing any real soul-searching.

    One way or another, the year since December 27 was a year of shame for Israel, greater shame than any other time. It is shameful to be Israeli today, much more than it was a year ago. In the final tally of the war, which was not a war but a brutal assault, Israel’s international status was dealt a severe blow, in addition to Israeli indifference and public blindness to what happened in Gaza.

    Even those who still believe that the attack was justified and necessary, that the firing of Qassam rockets would not have been halted except by such a cruel attack, cannot ignore the political and moral price extracted from Israel because of its violence. Its image in the world, not in the eyes of its citizens, is much uglier than a year ago.

    Today it is more shameful to be an Israeli because the world, as opposed to Israelis, saw the scenes. It saw thousands of dead and injured taken in the trunks of cars to something between a clinic and a primitive hospital in an imprisoned and weakened region one hour from flourishing Tel Aviv, a region where the helpless had nowhere to run from Israel’s arsenal. The world saw schools, hospitals, flour mills and small factories mercilessly bombed and blown up. It saw clouds of white-sulphur bombs billowing over population centers, and it saw burned children.

    The world refused to accept the excuses and lies of Israel’s propaganda. It was not prepared to compare Sderot’s suffering to Gaza’s suffering; it did not agree that the sulphur mushroom clouds were for self-defense, that the killing of dozens of police on a parade ground was legitimate, that telephoned warnings for people to leave their homes cleared Israel of criminal responsibility for the bombing of those homes.

    The world saw the Israeli Goliath strike mercilessly at the Palestinian David. It saw the balance of killing: one Israeli to every 100 Palestinians, and the Israel Defense Forces’ new and terrifying doctrine by which almost everything goes if it prevents casualties on our side. The world knew that in this case a democracy was striking a region that does not enjoy self-determination, whose inhabitants lack basic human rights – refugees and the children of refugees living under siege. So the world responded with justifiable severity toward us; it refused to forgive and be silent.

    The world also saw Israel wrap itself in sick apathy despite what was happening. It saw the town squares almost empty of protesters, the cafes in Tel Aviv full of people having a good time. It even saw Israeli families who went to visit the hills around Gaza to show their children the bomb strikes. Later, it also saw that Israel was not even prepared to investigate what it had done, but rather lashed out at all its detractors.

    And the world also quickly forgot. A year later, with $4.5 billion collected to rehabilitate Gaza lying in banks’ basement vaults because Israel refuses to open Gaza’s gates to let in supplies, the world is silent, leaving Gaza to its fate, to its ruins. But Gaza has not forgotten its wounds – it cannot forget them. The 325,000 people whose homes were destroyed, 1,300 bereaved families and thousands of injured and disabled, debilitated by anxiety and terror, remain in Gaza. Their suffering has not dissipated.

    On the first anniversary of the attack, in the face of such a negative political and moral balance, Israelis must at least ask themselves if all this was worth it. But on the first anniversary, Israel is much busier with the political future of MK Eli Aflalo than its political and moral future. Shame or no shame – what counts is that we feel so good about ourselves.

    © 2009 Haaretz
    –Gideon Levy


    Article printed from

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  8. Phinneus sonin Says:

    David, how thankful I am that you have taken this journey and that you keep us updated about your progress. My thoughts are with you. Keep enduring… Phinneus

  9. Sarah-Dawn Albani Says:

    I am full and salty with sorrow and joy for you and all of us. That this is what it means to be human continues to stun me, and I am glad, for the day that I am comfortable with such wickedness I am better off dead.
    Thank you for being there right now, thank you for sharing your words and work.
    love, sd

  10. Joseph Gainza Says:

    David, Thank you for your report from Cairo. My thoughts are with you. I will be reading your blog on my radio show as an update of our interview on Dec. 21. Keep hope alive. Peace, Joseph

  11. Tamar Schumann Says:

    Hi David,
    Just got your update from Jules, its regretable how difficult they are making it for you and the other marchers. I so appreciate what you are doing and writing so well about it. Stay safe and strong.
    Thank you, Tamar

  12. Hilary Says:

    Thank you for creating this blog so that all of us may be with you through your trip. Keep keeping us posted as you can! Remember how many of us are behind you–thank you for representing us! Love and solidarity, Hilary

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