Thursday, December 31, 2009

Update on Yusif

The MPT team member in Gaza called late last night to tell us that his bus had arrived in Gaza. He should be marching with Gazans today and tonight will be attending a concert. Tomorrow he will be visiting with local families in Gaza. Telephone connections are difficult. Expect a more detailed update later upon his return.

Stuck on the 8th Floor -- December 31, 2009

A march was scheduled for the morning of December 31st here in Cairo for the Freedom Marchers who were left behind. It was planned to coincide with the march scheduled to take place at the same time inside Gaza. Since we have been here all communication, meetings, plans, etc. have been open and easy to access. Obviously security forces and police would know of the scheduled event. Late in the evening of the 30th we received an update from GFM organizers that there might be attempts to block marchers from leaving their hotels in time for the march.

Shortly after we awoke on Dec. 31st we received an urgent text message to get out of the hotel immediately because police were setting up guards and barricades. We ran to the window of our 8th floor hotel room to look down at the street. Sure enough, there they were: three police vehicles and a small contingent of officers. It was too late. We stood at the window watching as plain clothes took up posts on the surrounding street corners. Men in uniform stood guard on the sidewalk at the front entrance. When a waiter brought them cups of tea, we knew they would be there for the long haul and that we better just go ahead and get comfy.

Fortunately, two MPTers had left the hotel just before the police arrived. Doroth Ritter and Liz Walters were on their way to purchase bus tickets for the entire team to travel to the border of Egypt and Gaza.

Upon arrival of security at the hotel, we immediately tried to phone our two friends to be sure they were safe. The phones appeared to be blocked also because the calls would not go through. We made a call to the emergency phone to see if a U.S. phone might be able to make the necessary calls to check on our friends. That didn't work either. The time of no communication was worrisome, but thankfully short. Eventually, one of our friends phoned us to assure us they were safe and well.

Our time of confinement lasted about two to three hours. Around 10:30 a.m. we were all able to leave the hotel without interference.

We are currently at the Internet cafe gathering information to help us determine our next steps as a team. We will keep you updated. Look for another post concerning yesterday's events and photos soon.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dec. 29: American Embassy and Hunger Strike

Yesterday was an eventful day for MPT. The day started with an update of the ever-changing news and events here in Cairo. Following the meeting, MPT accompanied a couple of the Gaza Freedom March organizers to the American Embassy where they were to join other Americans in requesting a meeting with the embassy. Several other delegations have had successful meetings with their embassies, most notably the French. For several days, the French have camped out at their embassy and have been joined by their ambassador and embassy staff who have stood with them in solidarity. While not expecting the same reception, the team was not prepared for what it observed at the embassy.

After being turned away at two of the guarded entrances, team members arrived at the third entrance where they were joined by approximately 30 Americans. When access was denied, the Americans linked arms in groups of threes and marched to the gate where they held up their passports. Within a couple of minutes, one of the Americans was on the other side of the fence and on the ground. As she yelled for help, she was surrounded by a large group of Egyptian security personnel. MPT members decided that they would photograph and document the quickly-escalating situation. As a K-9 Unit arrived with leashed German Shepherds, MPT was able to document the situation although, at several points, they were warned not to photograph. A few minutes later, a large group of riot police arrived on the scene and barricaded those in front of the fence in a metal pen and then surrounded the Americans by forming a ring around the pen. The group then unfurled a colorful "Free Gaza" banner and began to sing.

Since this area is recessed and not too visible from the street, the team decided to continue observing from the sidewalk in front of the area where the Americans were being detained. Team members felt it was important both to see and be seen, and the sidewalk gave them a good vantage point. Almost immediately, they were ordered to move off the sidewalk by one of the security personnel who demanded that they reenter the recessed area and join the others who were being barricaded.

There were two other American women, including one who walks with a cane, who were seated on the sidewalk. Plainclothes security forces, led by a man named Mr. S., physically shoved one of the woman and shouted at her. As this occurred, MPT moved in between her and the men who were shoving her and, almost immediately, a police van arrived and two MPT members found themselves ringed and barricaded by a group of policemen.

Team members remained in this position for about two hours, and since their efforts to photograph the situation were physically thwarted, they decided to simply observed what was going on. It should be noted that while the woman with the cane was being treated roughly, a man in shirt and tie who appeared to be American or European simply looked on.

At one point, when his supervisor was not looking, one police officer hummed along when those in the large pen began singing "We Shall Overcome." The attitude of those in charge - both uniformed and plainclothes - was another matter, however. The team observed a young man who appeared to be of Arab ancestry shoved and screamed at by Mr. S. who then directed a group of security officers to pick the man up and hurl him to the ground. MPT members also saw a young woman of color dragging luggage behind her being shoved and pushed. When a group of people on the sidewalk positioned themselves between the woman and the authorities, they too were barricaded and encircled by police officers next to where MPT members were barricaded on the sidewalk.

After a couple of hours, people were still being penned, but the tenor of the earlier part of the morning was much calmer. When the other MPT members arrived, they were ordered away from the area where the others were being barricaded. Crossing the street, they were met by a group of plainclothes officials, including Mr. S., who screamed at the team and then roughly pushed one team member. Since it appeared that the situation was relatively calm outside the embassy, notwithstanding the number of law enforcement and government personnel milling around, the team negotiated a release, but left wondering why a desire to visit one's embassy would prompt such a response, especially when other internationals were graciously received by their embassies?

Later that afternoon, the entire team headed to the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate for a press conference announcing the GFM hunger strike, initiated by Holocaust survivor and human rights advocate, Hedy Epstein. Standing on the marble steps of the large building, Hedy gave a statement to the press and the world that people are fasting for an end to the siege of Gaza. There are over twenty people in Cairo fasting for an end to siege, including two members from the Michigan Peace Team. After the press conference, bright banners were unfurled and the chant "Let us go!" filled the air. Soon after that, the police set up barricades in front of the building, but the chanting continued. A reporter from the New York Times was present and an article about the hunger strike appeared in today's Times.

(left) among the fasters with our friend John Dear, SJ.

(below) Egyptian police at the press conference.

Three Things YOU can do NOW to Help!

MPT's Team and the Gaza Freedom March Need Your Support!

Three Things YOU Can Do NOW:

1. Use this easy form to contact the Egyptian Authorities to demand that the border be opened.

2.Consider joining the international Hunger Strike/Fast  Thursday, December 31st, 2009 (New Year's Eve).  For more information from one of the many cooperating fast organizers,Ta'anit Tzedek,  click here.

3. Follow MPT's Gaza Team Blog and leave comments of support on their reports from the field.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Breaking News: Please Stand by for More

Please keep checking for updates directly from the Gaza Team in the field in the coming hours.

They are preparing now for Team Member Yusif Barakat to travel from Cairo to the border with Gaza, with a group of only 100 international activists selected of the more than 1300 taking part in the Gaza Freedom March to be allowed to cross into Gaza. March organizers met with the wife of Egyptian President Mubarak today (Tuesday), who helped arrange for a delegation of 100 to receive permission to complete their journey and cross into Gaza on Wednesday, a day earlier than planned. For more information, please see the press release below.

The team will share more information as it is possible from the field, internet and phone access are limited.

MPT Member One of Only 100 Cleared to Enter Gaza

 Photo: Medea Benjamin, coordinator for Gaza Freedom March,
supporting Yusif Barakat as he cried out at the plight of Gaza and all Palestinians (December 28th, 2009).

Photo Credit: Al Quds Newspaper, 

Michigan Peace Team Member Cleared to Enter Gaza with Freedom March

For more information, click here!

Contact: Nicole L. Rohrkemper, International Team Deployment Coordinator, Michigan Peace Team
Ph: 586-419-1070
For more information on the Gaza Freedom March:
Medea Benjamin | |รข€¨ Egypt (18) 956-1919



Cairo, Egypt

Wednesday, December 30, 2009 at 00:25:00 GMT

Despite Egyptian official’s refusal to allow over 1300 internationals from 40 countries, members of the nonviolent Gaza Freedom March, to cross into Gaza this week, a member of Michigan Peace Team will be among the select group cleared by authorities to enter Gaza.

Michigan Peace Team member, Michigan resident, and Palestinian Refugee Yusif Barakat will be allowed to enter tightly controlled Gaza with a group of only 100 demonstrators on Wednesday, December 30th, 2009, according to Gaza Freedom March organizers and the Associated Foreign Press. Mr. Barakat is a member of Michigan Peace Team’s six person delegation to the Gaza Freedom March. The nonviolent Gaza Freedom March, in the tradition of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, is in protest against the siege of Gaza and to commemorate the deaths of 1400 Palestinians during Israeli offensive Operation Cast Lead one year ago this week. Mr. Barakat , 74 years of age, was born in the city of Haifa and came to the US in 1947 after Jewish immigrants were settled in Palestine following World War II.

According to the Gaza Freedom March (which is endorsed by international organization CODEPINK: Women for Peace), organizers met on Tuesday with the wife of Egyptian President Mubarak, Egyptian Chair of the International Red Crescent. Mrs. Mubarak has worked to assist CODEPINK organizers as recently as last March, when she assisted them in securing permission from the Egyptian government to deliver aid baskets to Gazan women for International Women’s Day. After their meeting with Ms. Mubarak today, the Freedom March organizers were given two hours to provide a list of 100 names of delegates who would be allowed to enter Gaza the following day. For the more than 1200 demonstrators who have not yet been allowed to march to Gaza nonviolent demonstrations will continue.

Many International activists, who had planned to march into Gaza en masse on Thursday have been stranded in Cairo and unable to make their way to the border. According to Michigan Peace Team President and Ann Arbor, Michigan resident Sheri Wander currently with MPT’s Team in Cairo, the team has spoken with “many activists who have been prevented from leaving their hotels or from traveling to the border by Egyptian authorities.” International news sources report activists have been put under house arrest by Egyptian authorities. Reports by those on the ground cite MPT's delegation for their work to diffuse potentially violent confrontations during demonstrations, in keeping with their training and experience. MPT Team Members Sheri Wander and Kim Redigan will continue their hunger strike in coordination with Freedom Marcher and holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, 85 years and others. The international community is invited to join in by fasting on Thursday, December 31st, 2009 in solidarity with Gazans and activists on the March. The other three members of MPT’s delegation, Liz Walters, Dorothy Ritter, and Bella Rowan, will continue their nonviolence work based out of Cairo.

The Egypt-Gaza border has been closed for all but a few days each month since 2007, and the resulting humanitarian crisis due to lack of food, medical supplies and clean water has been called bleak by the International Red Cross. According to the ICRC website, "There has been scarcely any improvement in the situation since the end of the war in Gaza, mainly because of the tight closure, which is preventing reconstruction," said Pierre Wettach, the ICRC's head of delegation in Israel and the occupied territories. "Many Gazans feel despair as they have no prospect of living a decent life in the near future."

Michigan Peace Team (MPT) trains volunteers from all walks of life in nonviolent action and communication, and deploys peace teams to areas of conflict worldwide. MPT controlled is one of few NGOs who have been able to place members in tightly controlled Gaza. MPT has sent peace teams to the Gaza Strip the summer and fall 2003, summer 2004, summer 2005, and short term teams in 2006, 2007, 2008. Also, in February 2009 a team was at the gates of Gaza. MPT currently maintains a year-round presence of rotating teams in the West Bank (Palestine).


Latest Team Video Coverage

Safe and Well

December 28 2009
The MPT team in Gaza had another full and active day. Starting out with an early morning meetings and followed by an intense protest at the US embassy and a spirit filled press conference/ rally to announce a hunger strike until all GFM delegates are allowed to enter Gaza. The team is all safe and well, but tired and have a lot to take in, process and think about. Please watch this blog for more news, including photos, in the daysto come

Team Members on Hunger Strike and Support Fast Organized

Two MPT Team Members have joined the hunger strike with others from the Gaza Freedom March.

Ta'anit Tzedek has posted to their website that they are working with GFM to organize an emergency support fast internationally, in solidarity with the people of Gaza and the Freedom Marchers. More information on the support fast is below.

December 28, 2009

Dear Ta'anit Tzedek Supporters,

As many of you may already know, the Gaza Freedom Marchers, a movement of over thirteen hundred people from 42 countries are now in Egypt and are waiting for permission to march into Gaza on December 31. They have traveled to the Rafah Crossing at the Egypt-Gaza border on the one year anniversary of Israel's military assault to express their solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza. Sadly, until now, Egypt has denied them access to cross the border.

Hedy Epstein, the 85 year old Holocaust survivor and peace activist, announced that she is beginning a hunger strike in Cairo today as a response to the Egyptian government's refusal to allow the Gaza Freedom March participants into Gaza. We are writing to you, as supporters of Ta'anit Tzedek, to let you know that we are calling for a one-day emergency fast this Thursday, December 31, to show our solidarity with the Gaza Freedom Marchers and to further our call for the lifting of this crippling blockade of essential goods and services into Gaza.

In addition to this sun-up to sun-down liquids only fast, we encourage you to contact the Egyptian authorities and ask them to allow the Gaza Freedom Marchers access to Gaza. Please do this even if you've already done so through another organization. Please feel free to contact Brant at for more information about the emergency fast and the unfolding situation with the Gaza Freedom March.

We are truly honored to be partnering with the Gaza Freedom Marchers as well as with Jewish Voice for Peace on this important action. Ta'anit Tzedek is fast becoming part of a growing and significant community of conscience on the crisis in Gaza and your participation in these efforts mean a great deal to us.

As always, may God bless us in all we do and may our actions help bring the blessings of peace and justice to Israel/Palestine.

In Friendship and Shalom,

Rabbis Brant Rosen and Brian Walt
Co-Founders, Ta'anit Tzedek - Jewish Fast for Gaza

Tuesday Dec 29, Check In from the Team

All members of the MPT team are safe and well, and working on more to share with you here in a report soon.

Monday, December 28, 2009

From Protesting to Peacemaking

Dorothy and Hedy Epstein sharing the hope
December 28, 2009 began with hope as the MPT team planned to meet with the GFM at the UN Embassy at the World Trade Center to peacefully protest in solidarity with the suffering of Palestinian people, in order to bring awareness to the humanitarian crisis and put an end to the blockade of Gaza. In the front square of the building people joined with beautiful artistic signs of peace, music and dance to bring a spirit of compassion and humanity to the injustice of the siege. Two hours into the protest, the Egyptian authorities formed a human military blockade totally encircling the group using physical force to push and herd the GFM back. MPT instinctively went from the role of creative protesters to non-violent peacemakers. They stood toe to toe and face to face with with the military police to assist others to hold the space and reduce the potential for violence as arms were visibly assessable for use by the authorities as they tried to intimidate marchers to disperse. One MPT member eloquently spoke truth to power, in an effort to speak to their conscience, as he verbally challenged and reminded the Egyptian authorities that the imprisoning of the GFM parallels to the Israeli military imprisoning the people of Gaza. During the next three hours, the tension remained but did not escalate to further violence. A contingent of GFM continued to hold the space through the night.

Additional tidbits from the team:
MPT members Sheri, Liz and Kim enjoyed re-connecting with previous connections/teams to the West Bank and Gaza. These joyful reunions were a reminder of MPT's long history of building relationships to work for justice in the region.

(below) Where's Waldo? Kim? Sheri? Liz?

Bella is willing to give a reward for anyone who can locate her lost luggage which is possibly enjoying the sites of Paris.

Dorothy sends love to her husband and family and friends as she carries them in her heart.
In the meantime the peace work continues. Please see the following photos and captions:

Liz and Starhawk sharing the hope.

On many occasions during our stay in Egypt our MPT peace team was able to join other peace teams in the work that we are so deeply committed to do ... that is, to reduce violence and to create the space that is needed in the work for the work of peace.

Here are some photos of MPT in action:

Left: After being pushed down to the cement, by Egyptian security Liz Walters and Dorothy Ritter and other partners move to form a peace line to protect the Italian delegation that security seems to be targeting.

Right:Kim Redigan, Sheri Wander, Dorothy Ritter, Liz Walters holding the peace line while Isabel Rowan coordinates support for the action and Yusif Barakat documents the violent tactics used by Egyptian security. As always team work is the key!

Peace team intervention (reducing violence and creating space) means that actions for peace, justice, and human rights have the needed space to continue doing their superb peace work! Here are two of 42 international delegations at the Gaza Freedom March that were able to continue their good work while MPT and other peace teams used the tools of nonviolence to create the space needed for that work.

MPT's Gaza Freedom March Team Blog reaches 5,000 hits!

Thank You to the thousands of readers following the story of MPT's team to the Gaza Freedom March on this blog. Please keep reading, and share this story with your friends, family and colleagues.

Thank you for all your support: spiritually, emotionally, financially and more.

Be sure to follow the LIVE steaming coverage of the March on New Year's Eve, December 31st, 2009 at

Detroit News Article: Two Metro women fly to Gaza for protest
December 28, 2009

Two Metro women fly to Gaza for protest

The Detroit News

Fraser -- After enjoying dinner with her family, Dorothy Ritter* hopped on a plane Christmas Day and flew halfway around the world to take part in a political cause close to her heart.

Ritter had hoped to travel to the Gaza Strip for a peaceful demonstration against the blockade of the territory, home to 1.5 million people. The blockade of people and goods, by Israel and Egypt, has been in place since 2007.

There, Ritter, 54, and more than 1,000 others from around the world were to join Palestinians in a march from northern Gaza to the Israeli border Thursday.

Fellow peace activist Kim Redigen of Dearborn Heights also planned to join Ritter.

But their good intentions were thwarted Sunday when Michigan peace activists were denied entry to Gaza by the Egyptian government. Negotiations with authorities continued.

"They've been held at bay," Joe Ritter, Dorothy's husband, said Sunday. "It's sad because they hoped to have this cleared up already."

It is Dorothy Ritter's second trip to Gaza in six years. She has been active in peaceful protests as part of the Michigan Peace Team.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade of Gaza since Hamas gained control of the region from the Fatah political party in the 2006 elections.

International aid groups say the blockade has created a humanitarian crisis because trucks containing essential supplies such as food and medicine are delayed as much as three months.

Redigan said the issue is not about being "pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli."

"It's simply about being pro-justice," she said.

Richard Nodel, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Bloomfield Hills, said his organization "is sympathetic to the plight and suffering of the people that live in Gaza."

But Nodel blames the Hamas government for tensions that led to the blockade. Israeli officials meet every day with a citizens committee from Gaza to discuss how to meet the humanitarian needs of Gaza residents.
Additional Facts
Supporting Gaza

On Tuesday, local groups will hold a vigil and rally called "Break the Siege" to support Gazans from 5:30-8 p.m. outside the Dearborn City Hall at Michigan Avenue and Schaefer.

© Copyright 2009 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.

*Dorothy Ritter and Kim Redigan are two of the six-member MPT Team to Gaza. They are joined by Yusif Barrakat, Isabella Rowan, Sheri Wander, and Elizabeth Walters.

Heddi Epstein, Holocaust Survivor, participates in Freedom March

See the Democracy Now interview with Ms. Epstein, starting @1:20min:

YouTube Videos

Watch the Gaza Freedom March YouTube Videos as they are posted:

Urgent ACTION ALERT- Quick and Easy Format

From the Gaza Freedom March Organizers and CodePink:
Contact the Egyptian government for the Gaza Freedom March

Using the pretext of escalating tensions on the Gaza-Egypt border, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry informed us December 20th that the Rafah border will be closed over the coming weeks, into January. We responded that there is always tension at the border because of the siege, that we do not feel threatened, and that if there are any risks, they are risks we are willing to take.

Please contact Egyptian embassies and missions all over the world with a clear message: Let the international delegation enter Gaza, let the Gaza Freedom March proceed!

Gaza Freedom March Egyptian Authority Contact Form

Follow this link to contact the Egyptian authorities using our easy form- just enter your info and press send!

**Additionally, you can call Hisham Seif-Eldin, Director Palestinian Affairs in Ministry of Foreign Affairs Cairo, Egypt (tel 25741344 fax 25749682) and/or the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, D.C. at 202-895-5400,

or find your local consulate here and appeal to them on behalf of the Gaza Freedom Marchers:

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Report from the Team in Gaza- December 27, 2009

Late this afternoon, the MPT peace team joined over 200 internationals at the "Garden City" boat launch on the Nile in the hope of boarding flotillas and placing lanterns on the Nile, one for each of the more than 1,400 Gazans killed in Operation Cast Lead, which was launched by Israel one year ago today. When the team arrived we were immediately surrounded by Egyptian security forces and police officers who barred us from boarding the flotillas. One of our team members was warned by plainclothes security agents not to photograph and another was told that she could not take notes and an officer tried to obtain her
notebook. Despite this, we were able to take several pictures that we will post to this site.

At various points, the authorities tried to disperse the Gaza Freedom Marchers, but as the group got larger and the media presence increased, the crowd coalesced. Speaking on behalf of the marchers, Media Benjamin, one of the GFM planners stood aloft a concrete planter and proclaimed, with the crowd repeating: "We are part of the Gaza Freedom March. We would like to take a boat on the Nile and place candles on the water in memory of the dead in Gaza. Unfortunately, the government of Egypt finds this action a threat. We are people of peace. We are not here to cause trouble for Egypt. We don't event want to be in Egypt, " she continued. "We would be happy to leave now for Gaza. We ask the government of Egypt to change its position."

Candles were then distributed and a candlelight ceremony accompanied by chants of "Free, free Gaza" and "Gaza, Gaza, we are coming" as afternoon turned to evening and paddy wagons continued to circle around the block in front of the march. One of our team members, Yusif, was interviewed by several media outlets in both Arabic and English.

MPT has placed teams in Gaza since 2003 and is committed to continue its presence there. One team member, who has served on several teams in Gaza says, "We've got to keep the issue of Gaza in the forefront."

This is a very short update; tomorrow we will post a longer report as well as links to some of our personal blogs. Please continue to check this site as well as the GFM site for updates:

From :Medea Benjamin
please get out to press... thanks, medea

Medea Benjamin Egypt (18) 956-1919
Ann Wright Egypt (19) 508-1493
Ziyaad Lunat Roaming +351938349206

Egyptian Security Forces Detain Gaza Freedom Marchers in
el-Arish and shut down Gaza Memorial in Cairo
What: Egyptian security forces detain internationals in el-Arish, break up memorial actions in Cairo.
When: Sunday, December 27, noon: the Egyptian security forces detained a group of 30 internationals in their hotel in el-Arish and another group of 8 at the bus station.
They also broke up a memorial action commemorating the Cast Lead massacre at the Kasr al Nil Bridge
At noon on 27 December, Egyptian security forces detained a group of 30 activists in their hotel in el-Arish as they prepared to leave for Gaza, placing them under house arrest.
The delegates, all part of the Gaza Freedom March of 1,300 people, were Spanish, French, British, American, and Japanese. The Egyptian security forces eventually yielded, letting most of the marchers leave the hotel, but did not permit them to leave the town.
When two younger delegates, a French and Japanese woman, attempted to leave el-Arish, the Egyptian authorities stopped their taxi and unloaded their luggage.
Another group of eight people, including citizens from American, British, Spanish, Japanese and Greece, were detained at the bus station of Al Arish in the afternoon of December 27. As of 3:30 PM, they were still being held.
Simultaneously, Egyptian security police broke up a commemoration of the Israeli invasion of Gaza organized by the Gaza Freedom March at Kasr al Nil Bridge, one of the main bridges connecting Zamalek Island, in the middle of the Nile, to Cairo.
As a nonviolent way of commemorating the more than 1300 Palestinians killed in the Israeli assault on Gaza that began a year ago on December 27, 2008, Gaza Freedom Marchers tied hundreds of strings with notes, poems, art and the names of those killed to the bridge.
“We’re saddened that the Egyptian authorities have blocked our participants’ freedom of movement and interfered with a peaceful commemoration of the dead,” said Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK, one of the March’s organizers.
Benjamin added that the Gaza Freedom March participants are continuing to urge the Egyptian government to allow them to proceed to Gaza.
They visited the Arab League asking for support, various foreign embassies and the Presidential Palance to deliver an appeal to President Mubarak.
They are calling their supporters around the world to contact Egyptian embassies and urge them to free the marchers and allow them to proceed to Gaza.

Please circulate. Looking forward to seeing you all in Cairo. It’s very exciting to be here.
LOTS going on.Best,Medea

December 26, 2009

Dear President Mubarak;
We, representing 1,362 individuals from 43 countries arriving in Cairo to participate in the Gaza Freedom March, are pleading to the Egyptians and your reputation for hospitality.

We are peacemakers. We have not come to Egypt to create trouble or cause conflict. On the contrary. We have come because we believe that all people -- including the Palestinians of Gaza -- should have access to the resources they need to live in dignity. We have gathered in Egypt because we believed that you would welcome and support our noble goal and help us reach Gaza through your land.

As individuals who believe in justice and human rights, we have spent our hard-earned, and sometimes scarce, resources to buy plane tickets, book hotel rooms and secure transportation only to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians of Gaza living under a crushing Israeli blockade.

We are doctors, lawyers, students, academics, poets and musicians. We are young and old. We are Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and secular. We represent civil society groups in many countries who came together and coordinated this large project with the civil society in Gaza.

We have raised tens of thousands of dollars for medical aid, school supplies and winter clothing for the children of Gaza. But we realize that in addition to material aid, the Palestinians of Gaza need moral support. We came to offer that support on the difficult anniversary of an invasion that brought them so much suffering.

The idea of the Gaza Freedom March—a nonviolent march to the Israeli Erez crossing-- emerged during one of our trips to Gaza in May, a trip that was kindly facilitated by the Egyptian government. Ever since the idea emerged, we have been talking to your government through your embassies overseas and directly with your Foreign Ministries. Your representatives have been kind and supportive. We were asked to furnish information about all the participants—passports, dates of birth, occupations—which we have done in good faith. We have answered every question, met every request. For months we have been working under the assumption that your government would facilitate our passage, as it has done on so many other occasions. We waited and waited for an answer.

Meanwhile, time was getting short and we had to start organizing. Travel over the Christmas season is not easy in the countries where many of us live. Tickets have to be purchased weeks, if not months, in advance. This is what all 1,362 individuals did. They spent their own funds or raised money from their communities to pay their way. Add to this the priceless time, effort and sacrifice by all these people to be away from their homes and loved ones during their festive season.

In Gaza, civil society groups—students, unions, women, farmers, refugee groups—have been working nonstop for months to organize the march. They have organized workshops, concerts, press conferences, endless meetings—all of this with their own scarce resources. They have been buoyed by the anticipated presence of so many global citizens coming to support their just cause.

If the Egyptian government decides to prevent the Gaza Freedom March, all this work and cost is lost. And that's not all. It is practically impossible, this late in the game, to stop all these people from travelling to Egypt, even if we wanted to. Moreover, most have no plans in Egypt other than to arrive at a predetermined meeting point to head together to the Gaza border. If these plans are cancelled there will be a lot of unjustified suffering for the Palestinians of Gaza and over a thousand internationals who had nothing in mind but noble intentions.

We plead to you to let the Gaza Freedom March continue so that we can join the Palestinians of Gaza to march together on December 31, 2009.

We are truly hopeful that we will receive a positive response from you. We thank you for your kind assistance and understanding.

Tighe Barry, Gaza Freedom March coordinator
Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK, USA
Olivia Zemor, Euro-Palestine, France
David Torres, ECCP, Belgium
Germano Monti, Forum Palestine, Italy
Ziyaad Lunat, Gaza Freedom March, Europe
Ehab Lotayef, Gaza Freedom March, Canada
Alessandra Mecozzi, Action for Peace-Italy
Ann Wright, Gaza Freedom March coordinator
Kawthar Guediri, Collectif National pour une Paix Juste et Durable entre Palestinens et Israeliens, France
Mark Johnson, Fellowship of Reconciliation
Thomas Sommer, Focus on The Global South, India
Vangelis Pissias , Gaza Freedom March, Greek delegation

Saturday, December 26, 2009

[GFM] Urgent updates for the Gaza freedom march

From: Medea Benjamin Date: Sat, Dec 26, 2009 at 4:37 PMSubject: [GFM] Urgent updates for the Gaza freedom marchTo: GFM delegation ,

Dear Delegates,
As we are poised to commemorate the December 27 invasion of Gaza, our delegates from around the world are gathering in Cairo. As you can imagine, the situation is changing moment by moment and there are lots of rumors.

Tonight, the Ma’am News Agency put out a release saying, “Despite earlier announcements that the crossing would be closed until January, Egyptian officials will open the Rafah crossing for four days next week, three for general traffic and a fourth for Egyptian citizens. Head of the Administration of crossings in the de facto government Ghazi Hamad announced Saturday that the crossings would be open starting Tuesday 29 December.

On Friday Egyptian nationals only will be permitted to cross. Each day 10-12 buses loaded with 60-70 passengers each will leave Gaza” The Foreign Ministry, however, has told us they knew nothing about this and that our situation, i.e. being denied entry, had not changed. For us, however, this represents a major change because it means there might be an opening since the government can no longer say that the border is too unsafe.

In light of this, we are re-adjusting plans to try to leave Cairo on the morning of December 28, as planned. Below are the latest plans for Sunday and Monday….

Sunday, December 27

8:30 am briefing: For those of you already in Cairo, we will be having meetings in the morning at
8:30am in 3 hotels: Lotus Hotel - 12 Talaat Harb Street, Sun Hotel - 2 Talaat Harb Street (at Tahrir Square), and the Select Hotel - 19 Adly Street. If you cannot make these meetings, don’t worry. We’ll be going over the same issues in the evening.

11 am-1pm Bridge memorial at the Kasr al Nil Bridge: Notice: The 6 October Bridge will no longer be the location of the action tomorrow as we were concerned with how easy pedestrian traffic could access the bridge. The Kasr Al Nil Bridge will be used instead. The bridge runs between Tahrir Square and Zamalek and has large statues of lions on the end of it. When in Tahrir Square, if you face the Nile, you will see the Semiramis Hotel on the left side and the Nile Hilton on the right. The Kasr al Nil Bridge is right in between. If you ask anyone, they'll be able to direct you to the bridge.

4:30 pm Boat memorial: Gather at Cairo's Garden City Nile Cornice (next to the Grand Hyatt and opposite the Four Seasons.) to take feluccas (river boats) at sunset. We are going to take tens of them onto the Nile and place 1400 lighted candles to mark those who died in the December 2008 invasion. This will be a beautiful action, with lots of press interest—so be sure to join if you can.

6 pm Lawyers Sindicat (union)—optional: A group of Egyptians will be holding a commemoration for Gaza and a call to lift the siege and we are invited. The address is Abd Al Khaliq Sarwat and Ramsis Street, near the High Court.

8 pm MeetingThe government took away our permit for the church we had reserved. We will have people at the church to greet those who have not heard this. We are still trying to secure a place to meet (not easy for foreigners without permits). So we will have to tell you about this tomorrow….So sorry.

Monday, December 28
Given that the border is supposed to be open, we will attempt to leave Cairo for Al-Arish as planned.; we will begin to gather at 7am at "The Garage," located where Ramsis Street meets the October 6th Bridge (across the street from the Isis Hotel, 33 Ramsis St. It’s actually just a walled-in parking lot, but this is how it is referred to by the Egyptians. If you get into a taxi and say "the garage in Maarouf” or “the garage at the beginning of Ramsis Street,” or “the garage at the October 6th Bridge," the driver will get you there.

An important word of caution: We might very well be stopped by the Egyptians and not allowed to board the busses to Arish. But we think it is well worth a try. We’ll talk about this all tomorrow.Despite all the changes, this is an experience you and the people of Gaza will never forget!!! Thank you for your patience.

Friday, December 25, 2009

25 December - A brief "travel day" update

With Yusif having arrived in Cairo, Bella in the air and the rest of the team getting ready to head out to the airport we have gotten the following update from Code Pink organizers, who are working on the ground in Cairo: "the Egyptian government has denied our request to go into Gaza and has cancelled our permits for our orientation at the College Holy Family for December 27 at 7pm. "

Protests are planned and we have come too far and this is too imporatntat to "be tourists" as the Egyptian Government has suggested. Recognizing that our creativity and flexibility are one of our most powerful tools we are exploring new and exciting ways to get our message out and keep the pressure on! You can help! Please keep up the calls, email, and faxes! Let the Egyptian government know that around the world people are watching and are taking action demanding that Egypt open the border. (see earlier blog entry for contact info.)

Thanks for your continued support!
Sheri (for the Gaza team)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ready, Set, Go!

What a wonderful time of the year to be preparing to go on a peace team! Our MPT peace team is making final preparations for the journey. Throughout the week we have been talking to local media sources, packing, and taking care of last minute details.

Actually Yusif Barakat left on December 23; Kim Redigan, Isabella Rowan, Dorothy Ritter, Sheri Wander, and I depart on December 25. We will land in Cairo and participate in an orientation there, travel the Sinai Pennisula by land, stay in Al Arish, Egypt and then go to Rafah Entrance to Gaza.

We are joining over 1,350 internationals for the march. The neat thing is that Gaza Freedom March will draw world wide public attention to the suffering people in Gaza, whether internationals are allowed entry into Gaza or standing outside at the gates of Gaza. I say this because over 60,000 Gazans will march in Gaza, thousands of Palestinian and Jewish groups are planning marches in Israel and the West Bank, and over a thousand solidarity events are scheduled to happen around the planet!

The Gaza Freedom March that will take place in Gaza on December 31 and January 1 is an historic initiative to break the siege that has imprisoned the 1.5 million people who live there. Conceived in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and nonviolent resistance to injustice worldwide, the march is gathering people from all over the world to march—hand in hand—with the people of Gaza to demand that the Israelis open the borders.

Here are some ways to stay involved in this important Earth Community effort:
  1. Follow our MPT Gaza team by clicking on the address you have open right now: Our team would be MOST grateful if you would check the blog often!

  2. Follow the Gaza Freedom March by clicking on:

  3. Click on the MPT web page

  4. Join the Detroit area solidarity event on December 29 and the Lansing area solidarity event on January 1. See MPT web page for details.

  5. Contact your US Congress person and US Senators during the Christmas break. Urge each to support efforts to open the borders and end the siege on Gaza.

Your grateful sister,
Liz Walters, Member of the MPT Special Team to Gaza

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Press Release about Yusif to GFM

For Immediate Release
Yusif Barakat  at 734-878-0160

Palestinian Refugee Yusif Barakat Returns to Palestine
with 1,000 International Delegates for
Gaza Freedom March to Palestine Border Set for December 31
The Gaza Freedom March, to take place in Gaza on December 31, is an historic initiative to break the siege that has imprisoned the 1.5 million Palestinians who live there. Conceived in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and nonviolent resistance to injustice worldwide, the march will gather people from all over the world to demand that the Israeli government open the borders.
One of the participating marchers is 74-year-old Yusif Barakat, who was born in Haifa, Palestine. Barakat’s family left their home when Jewish immigrants were settled in Palestine after World War II. In August 1947, this 12-year-old shepherd boy landed at Ellis Island with his family, not speaking a word of English. Four years later, his father died, leaving Barakat to take care of his mother and three sisters.
He has been taking care of the needy every since. Now a retired psychotherapist, Barakat has devoted himself to working with boys in the juvenile justice system, helping them develop trust and relationships through his treatment and rehabilitation program.
He also has deep emotional ties to his native Palestine and is deeply saddened that the U.S. government is facilitating the suffering of Palestinians. As Barakat has stated, “I am appalled at the billions of U.S. tax dollars that have gone to the Israeli government, which continues a 60-year-long occupation of Palestinian homelands. And when I saw all the death and destruction from the invasion of Gaza, I knew I had to do something. That’s why I’m joining the Gaza Freedom March.”
Departing for Egypt, Barakat and 1,000 other international activists will caravan into Gaza to witness the still remaining devastation of last year's attacks. On December 31, they will be joining local Palestinians in a non-violent march from Northern Gaza to the Erez/Israeli border. On the Israeli side of the Erez border, Palestinians and Israelis will call on the Israeli government to open the border.

The Gaza Freedom March has global support from thousands of people including Alice Walker, Naomi Klein, Caryl Churchill, Christopher Hedges, George Galloway, Gore Vidal, Alexandre Trudeau, Howard Zinn, Mairead Maguire, Noam Chomsky, and Oliver Stone.
Other participants include: Pulitzer Prize winning author, Alice Walker; leading Syrian comedian, Duraid Lahham; South African anti-apartheid leader, Ronnie Kasrils; French Senator, Alima Boumediene–Thiery; author and Filipino Parliament member, Walden Bello; former European Parliamentarian, Luisa Morgantini, from Italy; President of the U.S. Center for Constitutional Rights Attorney, Michael Ratner; Japanese former Ambassador to Lebanon, Naoto Amaki; French hip-hop artists, Ministere des Affaires Populaires. There will be families of three generations, doctors, lawyers, diplomats, 70 students, an interfaith group that includes rabbis, priests and imams, a women's delegation, a Jewish contingent, a veterans group and Palestinians born overseas who have never seen their families in Gaza.
Inside Gaza, excitement is growing. Representatives of all aspects of civil society, including students, professors, refugee groups, unions, women's organizations, NGOs, have been busy organizing. It is estimated that at least 50,000 Palestinians will participate. People from the different sectors will march in their uniforms--fishermen, doctors, students, farmers, teachers, etc. Local Palestinian rappers, hip-hop bands and Dabkeh dancers will perform on mobile stages.

To contact Gaza Freedom March Organizers in country:
Ann Wright in Egypt (19) 508-1493, Gaza (599) 501-517Tighe Barry, in Egypt (19) 481-2932, Gaza (598) 289-860Medea Benjamin in Egypt (18) 956-1919, Gaza (599) 501-519Haider Eid in Gaza (599) 441 766
Ziyaad Lunat (roaming) 351938349206

Dialing region from US:
011 to get out of the US
202 for Cairo, Egypt / dial 972 for Gaza
phone number

In U.S. contact after departure:
Emily Siegel 202-441-6716
For more information see

Monday, December 21, 2009

Action Request!

Thanks to all of you who have offered your support (emotionally, spiritually, financially...) and well wishes for our trip to Gaza. We must again ask for your help.

Can you send a fax, an email or make a phone call to help break the blockade of Gaza?

Using the pretext of escalating tensions on the Gaza-Egypt border, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry yesterday informed those traveling to Gaza for the freedom march that the Rafah border will be closed over the coming weeks, into January.

We responded that there is always tension at the border because of the siege, that we do not feel threatened, and that if there are any risks, they are risks we are willing to take. We also said that it was too late for over 1,300 delegates coming from over 42 countries to change their plans now.

This is frustrating, but not entirely unexpected: no delegation, large or small, that entered Gaza over the past 12 months has ever received a final OK before arriving at the Rafah border. Most delegations were discouraged from even heading out of Cairo to Rafah. Some had their buses stopped on the way. Some have been told outright that they could not go into Gaza. But after public and political pressure, the Egyptian government changed its position and let them pass.

The efforts and plans of the Michigan Peace Team will not be altered at this point. But we need your help! Public Pressure does work!

We have set out to break the siege of Gaza and march on December 31 against the blockade. We are continuing in the same direction.

Egyptian embassies and missions all over the world must hear from us and our supporters (by phone, fax and email)** over the coming crucial days, with a clear message: Let the international delegation enter Gaza and let the Gaza Freedom March proceed.

Contact your local consulate here:

Contact the Palestine Division in Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cairo
Ahmed Azzam, tel +202-25749682 Email:

In the U.S., contact the Egyptian Embassy, 202-895-5400 and ask for Omar Youssef or email

Thanks friends! (sample letter below)

In Peace and Solidarity
Sheri (for the MPT Gaza Team)

* * Sample text **

I am writing/calling to express my full support for the December 31, 2009 Gaza Freedom March. I urge the Egyptian government to allow the 1,300 international delegates to enter the Gaza Strip through Egypt.

The aim of the march is to call on Israel to lift the siege. The delegates will also take in badly needed medical aid, as well as school supplies and winter jackets for the children of Gaza.

Please, let this historic March proceed.
Thank you.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Another Mother Joins the March

How can a mother remain silent when the children of other mothers suffer as they do in Gaza? A year after Operation Cast Lead, the children of Gaza face another winter of terrible suffering as a result of the siege. I am joining the nonviolent Gaza Freedom March in order to stand beside the mothers of Gaza and mothers from around the world who insist on human rights, international law, and a future for all our children. As a high school theology teacher, I also look forward to joining many marchers whose work for peace and justice is grounded in their various faith traditions. Gandhi said that the purpose of nonviolent action is to "quicken" the conscience of humanity. May the Gaza Freedom March be a step in that direction.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Michigan Residents to Participate in Gaza Freedom March


For more information, click here!
Michigan Residents to Participate in Gaza Freedom March
Contact: Mary L. Hanna, MPT Operations Manager
Ph: 517-484-3178; 517-214-9490

Six Michigan residents who are members of Michigan Peace Team are preparing to travel to Gaza and take part in the nonviolent, international Gaza Freedom March. Over 1,000 participants from countries around the world, and more than 50,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are expected to join the December 31, 2009 march inside Gaza.
This march is a historic initiative to demand that the borders of Gaza are opened, ending the siege that has imprisoned the 1.5 million people who live in Gaza. It is inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s Great Salt March, Martin Luther King’s civil rights actions in the United States, and the nonviolent efforts of Palestinians over the years.
Statements from three members of the Michigan Peace Team contingency:
Dorothy Ritter says “I believe in the power of non-violent resistance in the face of inhumanity. I stand in loving solidarity with the people of Gaza and the international community to join the demand for justice and human rights. This unified voice of the people is so powerful no military might is able to silence it, because even after death, the cries from the grave and songs of hope can be heard from the rubble.”
Kim Redigan says, “I want to be part of the Gaza Freedom March to walk with mothers from Gaza and around the world who want a world of freedom, justice, and peace for their children.”
Sheri Wander says, “I believe nonviolent people power is the only thing strong enough to stop what I honestly believe amounts to genocide in Gaza, With the leadership of Palestinians in Gaza and the solidarity of ordinary citizens from around the world we can do what the governments can/will not.
In the Michigan Peace Team contingency are:
  1. Yusif Barakat, 74, Psychotherapist/peace activist, born in Haifa, Palestinian by birth, resident of Pinckney, MI
  2. Kim Redigan, 52, mother of four, theology teacher, resident of Dearborn Heights, MI, has been to the West Bank twice with the Michigan Peace Team.
  3. Dorothy Ritter, 54, grandmother of four, Registered Nurse, resident of Fraser, MI, member of a peace team to Gaza the summer of 2003.
  4. Isabella Rowan, 44, single mother of two teenagers, just completed a Master's Degree in Library and Information Science (MLIS) from Wayne State University, resident of Lansing, MI.
  5. Liz Walters, 66, Catholic Sister, member of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, retired school teacher and high school principal, presently a staff member at Michigan Peace Team,, member of peace teams to Gaza the summers of 2003, 2004, 2005 and at the gates of Gaza February – March 2009, resident of Mason, M
  6. Sheri Wander, 4O, originally from Cleveland, now living in Ypsilanti, nonviolence trainer, curriculum developer, president of Michigan Peace Team.
Michigan Peace Team:
Michigan Peace Team was founded in 1993. It provides trainings in active nonviolence designed for the specific needs of the participants, and deploys peace teams into places of conflict (both domestically and internationally) to reduce violence. MPT convenes, supports, and participates with local peace action groups and gatherings, and mentors individuals seeking experience with international tams in places of conflict. It also educates the public to the vision and practice of active nonviolence. MPT has deployed peace teams into areas of potential violence around the world.
Michigan Peace Team in Gaza:
Michigan Peace Team has sent peace teams to the Gaza Strip the summer and fall 2003, summer 2004, summer 2005, and short term teams in 2006, 2007, 2008. Also, in February – March 2009 a team was at the gates of Gaza. Michigan Peace Team’s long term commitment to sending peace teams to Gaza can attest to the following: The Israeli military controls Gaza’s six land crossings by means of gun towers, electrified fences and blockade. It exercises complete control of Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters. It controls Gazans through incursions, rocket attacks, sonic booms, military operations and invasions. The result in Gaza is malnutrition, collapse of the economy, massive unemployment, and lack of basic human needs for living.
See, especially FAQ section, and

Friday, December 4, 2009

Introduction - Bella Rowan

Marhaba!  My name is Bella Rowan.

A single mother of two teenagers, I just completed my Master's Degree in Library and Information Science (MLIS) from Wayne State University and am looking forward to a new career as a professional librarian (hopefully in some far-flung corner of the globe).

I am honored to be part of the Michigan Peace Team delegation to the Gaza Freedom March and to be joining a contingent of like-minded individuals from around the world to take a stand for peace and justice.

Introduction - Sheri Wander

I sit here with the task of introducing myself to you all. After some typing I ask a friend “how does this sound?” It does a nice job of saying why you want to go to Gaza she says (ever the diplomat) “but it doesn’t really introduce you. It doesn’t tell me who you are" Who am I ? Now there is a question…one that would likely have a different answer from day to day.

I am a nonviolence trainer, an activist, an organizer, and a curriculum writer. I work in a pediatric office part time in order to afford to work for justice and peace full time. I am a friend, a daughter, a care giver of children, and a coffee addict. I am blessed and lucky and surrounded by the most amazing people. I am an adrenaline junky. I am an animal lover. (The above photo is of my 2 well loved children)

I am also a passionate advocate for justice and peace, a struggling to be pacifist, a believer in acting “as if ” the world is as I know it can be. I am a spiritual person who tries (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) to honor the sacred connection between all living things by the life I lead.

I am a sometimes cook, a traveler, a vegetarian, a learner, a rule breaker, a lover, a mistake maker, someone who runs to rather than away from the crisis and commotion, a reader, an organizer, a wannabe gardener, and a peace team member.
I am someone who is thrilled to be going to Gaza with MPT. And thrilled with the members of my team.
I have been volunteering with Michigan Peace Team (MPT) since the spring of 1998. The idea of peace teams speaks to me. I believe that if we want to have real justice and peace we need to build alternatives while we dismantle the systems and structures of violence and injustice. I think training people in nonviolence and sending unarmed civilian peace teams instead of armed militaries does this. I have been lucky to have had the opportunity to serve on many domestic peace teams here in the US and to serve in Palestine. This work in Palestine changed my life.

Through my work with MPT I was also able to get involved with Nonviolent Peaceforce. These two organizations give me hope for the world, and I never stop being amazed at how lucky I am to be a part of the work we do!
A quote from writer and activist June Jordan comes to mind as I close "I mean to resist the hatred of these times any way I can." That is who I want to be - someone who resists the hatred of these times, and works to model a different way forward. Some days, I am less than successful. But somedays....

Introduction - Liz Walters

Hello! My name is Liz Walters. I am one of the six members of MPT’s Special Peace Team to Gaza during the Gaza Freedom March. I’m delighted to be on this team and I am delighted to participate in the Gaza Freedom March. We will be joining 50,000 Palestinians and people from all over the world on this march!

Over the years I have worked in Gaza on other MPT peace teams, so I am an eyewitness to the devastating grip of the Israeli occupation on Gaza and to the resulting misery that this occupation brings to Gazans. One of the many elements of the occupation is the Israeli closure of Gaza from June 2007 to the present day. The Gaza Freedom March will focus worldwide attention on the humanitarian crisis resulting from this closure. OPEN THE BORDERS OF GAZA!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Introduction- Dorothy Ritter

Dorothy Ritter
54 yr. old grandmother of 4
Registered Nurse

I have joined the Michigan Peace Team/Gaza Freedom March because I believe the power of truth in the face of injustice, the power of solidarity in the face of oppression and the power of love in the face of inhumanity speaks so loud that no military power can silence it. We do not live in isolation and no one can be free and secure as long as the violence of poverty and denial of human rights and dignity exist. (Dorothy was a member of the second MPT Peace Team to Gaza, the summer of 2203)