After an amazing March trip to Gaza with CODEPINK, I agreed to organize a group from New York to join in a series of delegations under the umbrella of CODEPINK going to Gaza the last week in May and the beginning of June. Truthfully, organizing this trip has been a stressful, but extremely rewarding experience. I began worrying that I had very few contacts in Gaza and have ended up having far more opportunities for meetings than we have time. People who signed up for the trip heard about it through email chains so I really didn't know any of them (except for two Wespac Middle East Committee members who climbed aboard at the last minute). We met for dinner and planning last Friday, and I got to know a wonderful group of people who I will be excited to work with in the future.
I decided to come to Cairo early to make sure there were no loose ends. Not to worry -- there are plenty of them! I arrived late this morning, taxied into Cairo (ripped off by the cab driver but even then it was very little money), checked into the Pension Roma -- a clean and tidy old-style pensione, and went out to get an Egyptian SIM card for my cellphone.
Upon my return I learned that the bus company we are using told the Canadian delegation (which is scheduled to leave tomorrow morning for Al Arish) that the Egyptian police told them they were not allowed to transport foreigners to anywhere near the border. Then I learned that a delegation of British doctors, who were going to Gaza to establish a cardiac surgery unit at Al Shifa, the major hospital, were on a hunger strike at the border because they have not allowed to enter and have waited a month. I spoke to Dr. Sonia Robbins by phone who said, "We're not political activists, we're doctors ... but someone has to do something about this." She also told me the Egyptian police were turning people back at the checkpoints in the Sinai. There is also a group bringing a large amount of medical relief supplies (the Hope Fleet) whose arrival at Port Said (about five hours away from Al Arish)has been delayed. Twelve EU parliamentarians are waiting for the fleet at Port Said. On the other hand, Dr. Robbins also told me that some Irish doctors had been allowed to cross the border. She could not explain why they were permitted to go in and her group was not.
So, we have a lot of work to do. Much of this must be done in the U.S. because our embassy here in Cairo is closed until Monday morning, the day of our planned departure from Cairo to Al Arish. Here, I will stay in touch with the Canadian delegation to see what their experience is tomorrow when they leave Cairo, and I will work with the student delegation (about 45 people)to see what we can do here.