• Latest News
  • Pitch a Story
  • Work with a Journalist
  • Join the Blog Squad
  • Afghanistan
  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Baltimore
  • Canada
  • Egypt
  • Europe
  • Latin America
  • Middle East
  • Russia
  • Economy
  • Environment
  • Health Care
  • Military
  • Occupy
  • Organize This
  • Reality Asserts Itself
  • US Politics
  • Gaza freedom march looking ahead

    Medea Benjamin: Cairo declaration will lead to more international actions in support of people of Gaza -   January 17, 2010
    Members don't see ads. If you are a member, and you're seeing this appeal, click here


    Share to Facebook Share to Twitter

    Finally, News that brings out Facts usually concealed or edited out for Nielsen Ratings-Bravo! - Rev. David
    Log in and tell us why you support TRNN


    Gaza freedom march looking aheadPAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in our studio in Washington. Now joining us and just back from Gaza is Medea Benjamin, cofounder of Code Pink. Thanks for joining us.

    MEDEA BENJAMIN: Nice to be here.

    JAY: So you went to Egypt, tried to get into Gaza with about 1,400 internationals, I think, as you were calling yourselves. What did you expect when you went, and what did you get?

    BENJAMIN: Well, I went representing both Gaza Freedom March and Code Pink. And as Code Pink, we have taken seven different trips to Gaza in the last year. Every time, we've worked with the government of Egypt, and every time we've gotten in. So we thought, "Alright, this is just a bigger trip"—and it was huge. But we'd been working with the Egyptian government for months, many months, and furnished them with all the information they wanted—everybody's names, everybody's passports, everybody's birthdays, everybody's occupations—so they could do their own security checks. We did all that. And then, a week before the trip, they said we couldn't go. What we had expected is we were going to take 1,362 people into Gaza, we were going to have a Gandhi-like walk to the Israeli border, we were going to spend a couple of days learning about the situation, and we were going to go home.

    JAY: So what happened? They told you you can't go before you all got on the planes, or once you got there?

    BENJAMIN: Well, it was as people were getting on the planes. And, you know, people make their reservations way in advance. It's holiday season. We tell people, you know, you'd better get your tickets. And so when they told us no, well, we thought, we've heard "no" before that turns into "yes", that if the people come, they're not going to want us angry sitting in Cairo—they're going to want us happy on the way to Gaza. They'll change their minds. And so we told people we've been rejected, but we think we can turn that around. We encourage you to still come.

    JAY: And everybody went, more or less.

    BENJAMIN: Just about everybody came.

    JAY: So you get to Cairo, and Egyptians are quite serious about their "no". They say "no" means no.

    BENJAMIN: It's very different than we thought, right, because not only did they say no, but immediately they start blocking everything we wanted to do, including getting together. We had reserved an auditorium for an orientation. We needed a big place for us all to come together. We had gotten a permit, because foreigners need a permit for that. Lo and behold, the day before the orientation, we were told, "No, we yanked your permit. You can't meet there." Everywhere we started to go to get another place, they said, "No, government's already said we can't allow you." The government wouldn't allow us to meet the entire time we were there. So it was pretty chaotic to have people from 43 countries pouring into Cairo, not being able to even meet to discuss, "Alright, now what do we do?"

    JAY: So what did this reveal for you about the role Egypt plays in the blockade of Gaza?

    BENJAMIN: Well, first of all, I think it was a very strange decision. The Egyptians seriously miscalculated. They should have just let us in. We would have gone in, had a heartfelt time in Gaza, and left. Instead what they created was chaos on the streets of Cairo, and actually from Cairo all the way to the border, because most of us were Westerners, a lot of Europeans. They know how to protest. They don't say, "Thank you very much. We're going home now." In fact, what the French did—there were 300 French—they lied down in the middle of a main thoroughfare, literally put their bodies and lied down and blocked traffic for hours and hours, until the ambassador from the French Embassy had to come out and say, "Alright, I'll work and negotiate on your behalf." There were, every day, then explosions of demonstrations here and there that the Egyptians didn't know what to do with, because they didn't want to be seen beating up on foreigners. And yet—.

    JAY: Which they did.

    BENJAMIN: Which they did. And they were beating up on elderly women. I mean, we had a woman, 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, Hetty Epstein, who, when the Egyptian government wouldn't let her in, said, "Alright. I'm going on a hunger strike," and plopped herself down in front of the Journalists Union, which was illegal for a foreigner to do, and surrounded by all kinds of supporters and the riot police. And they were saying, "Well, what are we going to do with this 85-year-old woman here?" So it was a huge dilemma for them. But they did beat up on us. They did try to block us at every move. They even locked us in our hotels. They put up big blockades and wouldn't let people out of their hotels.

    JAY: So did you get a sense why the Egyptian government seemed to have changed their position on this? Some pressure came from somewhere.

    BENJAMIN: I think the pressure came from the Israeli side. The Israelis did not want us to go in. They did not want us delivering the humanitarian aid. They did not want us walking to the Israeli border and saying, "Lift the siege of Gaza." I think they put pressure on Egypt. I think the American government did not want us going. In fact, when we went to the US Embassy to try to get help, instead of getting help we got detained outside our own embassy for hours. And finally, when we got to see somebody from the embassy, they said, "We don't think you should go to Gaza, so we're not going to help you at all." Egypt gets $2 billion a year from the US government. The US government has a lot of influence. They certainly did not help us; in fact, I think the US government hurt us. And then the other excuses they gave: they said it was too dangerous, that there was fighting going on at the border. That's partially true, because Egypt started building a wall to block the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt.

    JAY: Yeah, so let's be clear: this is, like, big steel shafts, essentially, they're sticking into the ground to make it impossible to bring the tunnels from Gaza into Egypt.

    BENJAMIN: Yes. This is quite an advanced technology being used in the desert to drive these big, big, huge poles into the ground, and to create this underground wall. It's being done with the help of the US Army Corps of Engineers with US technology. And it is trying to stop the only commercial lifeline there is for the people of Gaza. And when we found out about the wall, that was even more reason to protest the Egyptian government. And in fact we joined in, then, with Egyptian activists to have protests against the building of the wall.

    JAY: And what did the Egyptians say to you about why they blocked you, why they're building the wall? What's their argument?

    BENJAMIN: They say it's about security issues, that there are weapons that are going in and out of those tunnels, and they have to secure their own borders. And we say, right, of course. You should and have to secure your borders. The best way to do it is to lift the siege, open the border between Gaza and Egypt, and do what every other country does: inspect every single thing that goes in there. And then close the tunnels. But you can't close the tunnels while you have the border sealed. That's like signing a death warrant for the people of Gaza.

    JAY: The objective of the Egyptians seems quite similar to the Israelis, which is somehow bring down Hamas is—that seems to be the objective.

    BENJAMIN: Exactly. Exactly. The Egyptian government hates Hamas. It's embarrassing Egypt, because Egypt is trying to negotiate a reconciliation between the two factions of Fatah and Hamas, and Hamas is not going along with it. Makes the Egyptian government very angry. Also, the Israelis are really pushing to have this prisoner exchange, and Hamas isn't going for it, and so Israel is pressuring the Egyptians. So all of this pressure is to be put on Hamas, and what it's doing is strangling the people inside Gaza. It's collective punishment.

    JAY: Where does this movement go now, the 1,400 people and all the international attention received? What's next?

    BENJAMIN: Well, I would say the best thing that we accomplished is that we brought together people from 43 different countries who are all passionate about this issue. And while only a small number of them could get into Gaza, they all want to continue working together and building a real international movement. So the Gaza Freedom March now will morph into an international network around Israel-Palestine. And in fact it was the South African delegation to the Gaza Freedom March that put out the initial call, called the "Cairo Declaration", that lays out the way forward for us to work together. So we are very excited about transitioning now to a broader global movement for justice for Palestine.

    JAY: A small delegation within Israel went down to the Gaza-Israeli border and sort of joined in the action. But it was a very small delegation, and in terms of generally Israeli public opinion, there seems to be mostly support for the blockade. Is there anything on your agenda, this international group, to do actions within Israel itself?

    BENJAMIN: We have done actions in Israel, in fact. We took a delegation and protested at the Israeli border. But the Israeli police are way worse than the Egyptian police. I mean, they really don't care what they do to foreigners. In fact, one person in our delegation had to be taken to the hospital 'cause he was hit by the Israeli police. The other thing is that a lot of the activists are already banned from Israel, so it's hard for us to do a gathering. But people did say that they wanted to try the same thing next year in Bethlehem, trying to start out there and doing a march to the Israeli border for those who can get inside. We recognize that the main focus should be on Israel. Egypt is, unfortunately, a main collaborator, but it's really the Israelis where we have to focus our attention. And then, for those of us in the United States, we realize our attention has to be focused back home. So we're already organizing, for March 7, 8 and 9, activities in Washington and asking people from around the US to come to do a massive lobbying and actions at the State Department and at the White House, calling for lifting the siege.

    JAY: Now, something like about 100 of your delegation did get into Gaza. What was their experience there, especially with Hamas?

    BENJAMIN: They only had a short time. They were there for three days. Unfortunately, Hamas is getting more and more controlling of the foreigners. One of the excuses they use is that there are al-Qaeda type groups inside Gaza now that would like to capture foreigners. That might be true, but it means that they were very controlling. It was hard for people to just go off on their own. They did, because it's hard to control 92 foreigners. But Hamas really wanted to take them on more of a PR tour of the devastated areas, have them do the meetings that Hamas wanted them to meet with, where our groups wanted to really focus on the NGOs and of course speak to a lot of individuals. So they managed to get around Hamas to some extent, but I think it does show us that Hamas is getting a tighter and tighter control. And it's ironic, because the US government and the Egyptian government says that our Gaza Freedom March was like a PR coup for Hamas, and we say just the opposite, that it's actually—we're trying to strengthen civil society in Gaza. It's the policies of blockade that strengthen Hamas. When you depend on Hamas for everything that gets into the territory except what the UN is able to do, you might not like Hamas, but you're forced to depend on them. So our argument to the US government and to everyone else is: lift the siege of Gaza, and then you'll see a flowering of democracy inside.

    JAY: Just finally, Hamas says to international delegations that "We're willing to talk with Israel." Jimmy Carter came back from a meeting saying that Hamas is essentially ready to recognize Israel. But then the Israelis say, "Well, they say that to foreigners, but then nothing actually really happens, and when we sit down with them, they actually never really put recognition and normalization on the table." What have they said to you about this?

    BENJAMIN: They have said the same thing to us. And I think one way to test them out is that some high-level representative from the US government ought to talk to them. We know that George Mitchell has not talked to Hamas, that Hillary Clinton has not visited Gaza, that in fact no US officials have been to Gaza since the invasion, except for congresspeople who've gone on their own. So we think it's quite easy to test the sincerity of Hamas, which is talk to them.

    JAY: Thanks for joining us.

    BENJAMIN: Thank you.

    JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


    Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee complete accuracy.


    Our automatic spam filter blocks comments with multiple links and multiple users using the same IP address. Please make thoughtful comments with minimal links using only one user name. If you think your comment has been mistakenly removed please email us at


    Latest Stories

    Ukraine Transitional Gov't Moves Militarily To Reclaim Seized Buildings
    IPCC Report Flawed By Narrow Focus on Carbon Emissions
    The Modern History of Venezuela: The Bolivarian Revolution - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (5/9)
    Obama Signs Directives to Reduce the Gender Wage Gap
    Eastern Ukraine Lacks Political Representation in Kiev
    Demystifying the Role of Mitigation in the Most Recent IPCC Report
    Hypersurveillance State Won't Prevent Another Boston Marathon Bombing
    The Modern History of Venezuela from 1973 to the Caracazo Massacre - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (3/9)
    Univ. of Maine Faculty Reinstated After Students Protest Against Cuts
    The Modern History of Venezuela from 1908 to 1973 - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (2/9)
    IMF Will Address Global Inequality, Says Managing Director Christine Lagarde
    Raising Big Banks' Leverage Ratio Good, But Not Nearly Enough
    TRNN Replay: Austerity Road to 19th Century
    Has Palestinian Maneuvering Revived Peace Talks?
    Late Jackson Mayor Lumumba's Son Wins Primary to Replace His Father, Runoff Election Ahead
    Quebecers Reject PQ and Elect a Liberal Government Representing Big Business
    TRNN Debate: Decriminalization vs. Legalization
    The Beginning of the Chavez Era - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (4/9)
    "Off With His Head": Court Upholds Obama's Power to Kill
    Workers at Nation's Top Hospital Strike For Fair Wages
    From Exile to Radicalization in Venezuela - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (1/9)
    Rwanda 20 Years Later: Genocide, Western Plunder of Congo, and President Kagame
    Ukrainian Protesters in the East Demand More Autonomy From Kiev Government
    Hunger Strikers Demand President Obama Halt His Record 2 Million Deportations
    Indian Parliamentary Elections - A Primer With Vijay Prashad
    West Looks to Carve Up Ukraine & Privatize Industries Held by Kleptocrats
    Where Are Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations Headed?
    The Multiple Kingdoms of Saudi Arabia (5/5)
    Do the Afghan Presidential Elections Signify Progress?
    Republican Presidential Hopefuls Pay Homage to Billionaire Casino Tycoon Sheldon Adelson
    Will Extremist Lieberman Become Israel's Next Prime Minister?
    Why do the Saudis Want the US to Attack Iran? (4/5)
    Immigrant Advocates and Families Tell President Obama 'Not One More'
    Elections, Pipelines, and Protests - The Canada Panel
    Chris Hedges on "Israel's War on American Universities"
    Baltimore Residents Decry Lack of Affordable Housing
    Yellen Talks the Talk But Will She Walk the Walk?
    Hopkins Hospital Workers Speak Out against "Poverty Wages"
    Will Venezuela's New Floating Exchange Rate Curb Inflation?
    The European Central Bank's War on Wages is Pushing Europe's Economy to the Brink
    Supreme Court Decision Opens Floodgates for More Campaign Cash
    Charles Keating, the Financier Behind the Savings and Loan Scandal, Dies at 90
    Saudi Arabia and the al-Qaeda Monster (3/5)
    Maryland Residents Voice Opposition to Natural Gas Fracking Export Facility
    Supreme Court Ruling Gives Wealthy Individuals More Influence Over Elections
    What are the Saudis Afraid Of? - Madawi Al-Rasheed (2/5)
    Baltimore's MICA Adjunct Professors Set to Vote on Unionization
    Boycott of Israel Moving to Next Level?
    Hypocrisy Dressed Up as "Realism" Justifies American Alliance with Saudi Dictatorship
    Immigration Reform in the Shadows of Cesar Chavez's Legacy
    Leaked Senate Report Shows Use of Torture As "Ineffective"
    UN Report Says Climate Change Will Threaten Food Production Worldwide
    The Hypocrisy of US Calling for Enforcement of International Law
    How the Ecuadorian Economy Grew in a Global Recession
    'Shadows of Liberty' Trailer
    Kristina Borjesson on Why CBS Shut Down Her investigation into Flight 800 (2/8)
    Glen Ford on Racism in the American Media (3/8)
    Paul Jay on What Drives Corporate Media and What Drive The Real News (4/8)
    Creating a New Media Paradigm After Citizens United (5/8)
    Should The Left Engage with the Mainstream Media? (6/8)
    What Is the Financial Backing For The Real News? (7/8)
    Standing up to Character Assassination (8/8)
    Oligarchs, Fascists and the People's Protest in Ukraine
    TRNN Debate: Is Obamacare In the Interest of Workers?
    Too-Big-To-Fail Advantage Remains Intact For Big Banks
    Obama and the Saudi Agenda
    TRNN Replay: Investigating the Saudi Government's 9/11 Connection and the Path to Disilliusionment - Sen. Graham on Reality Asserts Itself pt 1
    The Iraq War's Real Legacy
    Petitions with 100,000+ Signatures Call for Snowden's Passport to be Reinstated
    We Need to Harness People Power - Andy Shallal on Reality Asserts Itself (4/4)
    BC Pipeline Fight and Quebec Elections - The Canada Panel
    Jonathan Schell - 1943-2014: Board Member of TRNN on Why We Need The Real News
    Teachers on Strike from the UK to Argentina
    Connecticut Poised to Become First State with $10.10 Minimum Wage
    Oil Spill Threatens Wildlife and Local Economy
    DC School Test Scores Up, But Poor Black Kids Are Doing Worse - Andy Shallal on RAI (3/4)
    Obama's Proposal To End NSA Bulk Data Collection Won't Protect Privacy
    How Google, Apple & The Biggest Tech Companies Colluded to Fix Workers' Wages
    An American Should be One that Questions Their Government - Andy Shallal on RAI (2/4)
    What's Driving Putin & Obama's Posturing on Ukraine?
    Hundreds of Students & Faculty Occupy College Campus to Fight Cuts to Public Higher Ed
    Due Process 'Impossible' In Harsh Death Sentencing Of Over 500 Muslim Brotherhood Members
    Has Anglo-American Capitalism Run Out of Steam?
    Being the "Other" in America - Andy Shallal on Reality Asserts Itself (1/4)
    TRNN Debate: Should Baltimore 'Ban The Box'?
    How Fallujah Became the Iraqi Government's New Battleground
    Why I Decided to Blow the Whistle on the NSA
    NASA Climate Predictions Show Serious Threat To Humanity
    Professor Who Teaches Israel-Palestine Conflict Accuses College of Violating His Academic Freedom
    CIA and NSA Wrongdoing Requires Independent Investigation, Says Former Church Committee Staff
    Are Tuition Breaks Enough To Combat High Student Debt And Low Graduation Rates?
    Industries Across the U.S. Are Stealing Wages From Their Lowest Paid Workers
    Who In Ukraine Will Benefit From An IMF Bailout?
    NSA Recording All International Calls From U.S.
    Israel "Making Lives Miserable" for Africans, Hoping They 'Self-Deport' (2/2)
    BP Gets Green Light to Drill in Gulf, But Has Safety Improved?
    Residents Still Not Drinking Tap Water Two Months After West Virginia Spill (1/2)
    Libya's Descent Into Turmoil Three Years After NATO Intervention
    From Pipelines to Peladeau - Canadian Report
    Israel "Making Lives Miserable" for Africans, Hoping They 'Self-Deport' (1/2)
    Congressional Progressive Caucus Budget Strikes Back Against Austerity
    Libya Three Years Later - Chaos and Partition
    Why Was Gaddafi Overthrown?
    Should Ukraine and West Accept De Facto Crimea Joining Russia? (2/2)
    Tony Benn Saw Socialism as the Culmination of Democratization
    Why Didn't Bush/Cheney Attack Iran and Can Obama Make and Sell a Deal? - Gareth Porter on Reality Asserts Itself (3/3)
    After Late Mayor Lumumba is Laid to Rest, What's Next for Jackson, Mississippi? (2/2)
    Crimea Referendum: Self Determination or Big Power Manipulation? (1/2)
    Sen. Graham: President Must Side with Openness About CIA and 9/11
    Manufacturing a Narrative for War - Gareth Porter on Reality Asserts Itself (2/3)
    Protesters Hit the Streets of Brooklyn to Demand $15 Minimum Wage
    Hammer: 'Moral Bankruptcy' Behind Massive GM Recall
    White House Withholds Thousands of Documents from Senate CIA Probe
    I Grew Up Believing in Time Magazine's Version of America - Gareth Porter on RAI (1/3)
    Western European Banks Vulnerable to Ukrainian Sovereign Debt Crisis
    TRNN Debate: What's Driving Inflation in Venezuela? (2/2)
    CIA vs. Senate: Who Is Obama Protecting?
    Will Tipped Workers Get Excluded Again From Minimum Wage Hike?
    TRNN Debate: What's Driving Inflation in Venezuela? (1/2)
    After Late Mayor Lumumba is Laid to Rest, What's Next for Jackson, Mississippi?(1/2)
    TRNN Replay: A Look at Who's Poised to Become No.2 at the Fed
    How Right-Wing Nationalism Rose to Influence in Ukraine (2/2)
    Netanyahu Attacks Boycott As Campaign Enters New Phase
    Moving Towards a Police State - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (7/7)
    Fighting Reagan's Secret, Illegal Wars - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (6/7)
    Puerto Rican Independence Movement and Cuba Further Radicalized Me - Michael Ratner on RAI (5/7)
    The Butcher of Attica - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (4/7)
    MLK and a Radicalizing Moment in American History - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (3/7), Real News Network, Real News, Real News For Real People, IWT are trademarks and service marks of IWT.TV inc. "The Real News" is the flagship show of IWT and Real News Network.

    All original content on this site is copyright of The Real News Network.  Click here for more

    Problems with this site? Please let us know

    Linux VPS Hosting by Star Dot Hosting