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Letter from Cairo: Prayers for the Palestinians

The following just arrived from Jean Athey, the Brookeville woman who traveled to Cairo to participate Thursday in an international demonstration in support of the inhabitants of blockaded Gaza, only to be stopped when the Egyptians limited the number allowed into the territory.

Over 1,300 people came to Cairo this week from all over the world, hoping to join Palestinians today in a nonviolent Gaza Freedom March to end the blockade. Since we were prohibited from going to Gaza, we decided to march in Cairo today instead. We hoped to step off at 10 a.m., the same time as the march in Gaza was to begin.

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Many people managed to make it to the location selected for the march—near the Egyptian Museum-- but they were quickly and forcibly removed from the street; a few were injured and some had their cameras destroyed. Once off the street and onto the sidewalk, protesters were surrounded by riot police, and there they remained all day.

I was one of those who didn't manage to get to the march. Egyptian police surrounded the Lotus Hotel early this morning, where many people are staying, including me, and they prevented us from leaving. The government also cut off Internet access to the hotel. We were able to go outside directly in front of the hotel, which is on a busy street, but we could not cross the police line. So, we set up a demonstration on the sidewalk, chanting, waving signs, singing, and talking to passers-by and to the police.

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We finally stopped the demonstration at about 3 p.m.

A lovely French woman named Delphine is my roommate, and tonight we went together to eat dinner. We saw a young couple going into the same restaurant as us and speaking American English. Assuming they were with the March, we invited them to join us, which they did. But it turned out that they were simply in Egypt on vacation. We began to tell them about the March, which they found interesting. Both were well-educated, but neither knew anything at all about Palestine, Gaza, or the issues we are trying to address. Nothing. Nada. Rien.

It was disheartening to see the level of education that is needed in the US if American policy is ever to change. They were a very nice couple and highly supportive of our actions, once they understood what they are about.

There is so much work to do in the US.

Tonight we will ring in the New Year in Tahrir Square, altogether. We hope, we pray, that 2010 will bring some relief and some hope for all Palestinians and, especially, that the siege of Gaza will end.


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