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Thousands protesting the Siege of Gaza face repression from local authorities

31 December 2009

Hundreds of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah rally in solidarity with the Gaza Freedom March on New Year's Eve Day

Thousands of people in Egypt, the besieged Gaza Strip, Israel, and the occupied West Bank rallied on New Year’s Eve Day to call for an end to the international blockade and siege of Gaza, but the protests were marred by police brutality in Cairo and the cancellation of a solidarity action in the occupied West Bank town of Tulkarm at the behest of the Palestinian Authority.

In Cairo, Egyptian riot police brutally beat Gaza Freedom March demonstrators who were unable to enter the Gaza Strip after the Egyptian government permitted less than 100 of the 1,350 participants from crossing the Rafah border into Gaza.

“Members of the Gaza Freedom March are being forcibly detained in hotels around town, in Lotus and Liala, as well as violently forced into pens in Tahrir Square by Egyptian police and additional security forces,” Codepink said in a released statement.

“Reports of police brutality are flooding a delegate legal hotline faster than the legal support team can answer the calls. The reports span from women being kicked, beaten to the ground and dragged into pens, at least one confirmed account of broken ribs, and many left bloody.”

Lara Elborno, a Palestinian-American, University of Iowa alumni, and law student at Loyola University in Chicago confirmed the reports.

“They broke a guy’s rib,” Elborno said from Cairo. “They beat people with walkie talkies. My sister Dana got her camera taken and they stole the card with her pictures on it. Five security forces surrounded her and threw her to the ground. They pulled her hair and punched and kicked her. This is only one of many stories.”

US citizen punched with police walkie talkie during protests in Cairo

US citizen punched with police walkie talkie during protests in Cairo

In the Gaza Strip, about 100 international solidarity activists joined 500 Palestinians living in Gaza for a rally and march denouncing the blockade. About 1,000 Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and Israeli Jews demonstrated on the Israeli side of the Erez border crossing, according to Haaretz.

In the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, more than 250 Palestinians rallied in solidarity with the Free Gaza March during an event organized by the Palestinian Popular Committees of the West Bank.

“We are calling on the people of Palestine to work together to end the occupation,” said Iyad Burnat, a community organizer with the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements. “Only by uniting the resistance can we succeed.”

But the demonstration in Ramallah was curtailed after the Palestinian Authority prohibited the rally from marching through the city. And a similar solidarity action in the West Bank city of Turkarem, near the Northwest border with Israel, was cancelled after the Palestinian Authority prohibited the demonstration from taking place.

“As you know, this rally and march was supposed to be held today in solidarity with other demonstrations to protest the siege in Gaza,” said Abdelkarim Dalbah, a community organizer with the Turkarem Popular Committee. “Unfortunately the Palestinian Authority has forbidden this demonstration.”

“The P.A. has their own point of view and it is wrong,” Dalbah continued. “They say this demonstration is supporting Hamas, and they say they don’t want to add more tension with Israel after the attacks in Nablus last week. They support Gaza in behind closed-door meetings and in public speeches, but they will not support Gaza on the streets.”

Some organizers say that the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority is actually attempting to co-opt the Gaza Freedom March movement by holding celebrations marking the 45th anniversary of its founding on the same day as the solidarity demonstrations. Although the Free Gaza protest in Ramallah was attended by most of Palestine’s largest political parties, Fatah banners were noticeably absent. Fatah held a seperate rally at a different time and location.

About 100 Palestinian Christians also attended a candle-light vigil for Gaza in Manger Square in Bethlehem.

The Gaza Freedom March and the Palestinian Popular Committees of the West Bank are demanding an immediate end to the blockade of Gaza, a form of collective punishment which has essentially turned the Gaza Strip into an open-air prison for its 1.5 million inhabitants.

The New Year’s Eve Day protests were scheduled to mark the one-year anniversary of Israel’s Operation: Cast Lead massacre in Gaza that killed more than 1,300 people and wounded more than 5,000.

This post has been originally published on From Pork to Palestine: Protective Accompaniment in the Holy Land blog.