I traveled to Cairo with 1,361 other committed persons in order to voice my opposition to the blockade of the Gaza Strip, the illegal occupation of the West Bank, the terrible humanitarian crisis in Gaza, currently in it's third year, the stealing of land in the West Bank and Palestine, the harassment of the Palestinian population in Palestine, and so many other unfair and racist policies of Israel (with the help and complicity of Egypt and the United States). We traveled preaching Peace. We traveled preaching Freedom. After all, it is our very freedom that allowed us to travel to Cairo in the first place, something Palestinians in Palestine and abroad don't necessarily have. I, as an American citizen, have a golden ticket to the world, in the form of my US Passport. It enables me to travel anywhere I want, at any time, without having to pay unnecessary bribes and fees to "expedite" the process of obtaining a visa. This is a privilege that we often times take for granted. In Egypt, we got a small taste of what the marginalized Palestinian population has to endure on an almost daily basis. For me it was shocking, but miniscule in comparison. We were, after all was said and done, after we protested, after we were detained, after we were beaten, able to return to our country of origin to continue in our lives of privilege.
Immediately, the mood in Cairo was electric. Upon arriving at around 10 pm on December 27, we had a wonderful taxi ride from the airport with Phil Weiss, founder and editor and contributer to Mondoweiss, a great site on Middle-Eastern politics which I had coincidentally discovered just a few days earlier. We waxed Judaism and its involvement in my current activism and I left decidedly upbeat about the mission at hand and the continued fight after our time in Cairo and, hopefully, Gaza. The Egyptian government, after all, had said that we were not allowed to continue on to Gaza, that we would have to stay in Cairo, that we would have to yell, protest, and demonstrate in a city in which none of us really wanted to be. A city which, in honor of our visit, had invited hundreds of riot cops.
A quick stop at our hotel to drop bags and check-in with organizers and we were off to the French Embassy, where about 150-200 activists from the French delegation were literally camped out in protest of their not being allowed to enter Gaza. Within about 30 minutes of our arrival we were surrounded by approximately 100 riot police. It was clear that Egypt was uncomfortable with our presence and so they decided to shut us down. Control our movements. Smoke us out, so to speak. This was my first experience with riot cops and let me just say I was nervous. I didn't know what they were capable of and certainly didn't know what the people I was with (who I didn't know) were capable of either. Plus we had literally just arrived in Cairo. We hadn't even gotten our bearings and already we were confronted with opposition. Kelly and I, plus a French activist, tried to leave, only to be turned back with promises of a taxi if we stayed "just 10 more minutes". Turns out, shocker, he was lying. Negotiating with the Egyptian police was the French Ambassador, who no doubt was awoken on the word that hundreds of his fellow French men and women were being detained outside his office. He convinced the police to let us go since we were American, not French, and with a parting of the sea of cops we left in a police-hired taxi. As we drove away, I turned to look at the group of peaceful protesters, entirely overwhelmed and surrounded by riot police, and began to realize the journey that we had embarked on. The journey that was waiting to unfold for us in this place. It would be the last time I would see the French Embassy, though international activists would continue to go there in solidarity with the French delegation. They would bring food, water, cigarettes, journalists, support. They would do this for four or five more days, and the French would still be camped out, surrounded the entire time with two or three rows of riot cops, showing their displeasure for not being allowed into Gaza.
Finally returning to the hotel to sleep, I was excited at what awaited us and already overwhelmed at what we'd witnessed. At 5:30, morning call to prayer rang through the streets and into the window of our room. And so ended the first day of the Gaza Freedom March.