De voormalige terroristen van de Weather Underground (USA) mochten het Heilige Beloofde Gazaland niet binnen gaan. Hedy Epstein presteerde het voor de derde achtereenvolgende keer om op het laatste moment toch niet naar Gaza te gaan. Ook het Wijblijvenhier-meisje bleef in Cairo achter. Waarschijnlijk moeten zij net als Mozes nog 40 jaar door de woestijn dolen voor zij een hernieuwde poging tot betreden van Gaza mogen wagen.
De protesten van de Free-Gaza-Activisten werden steeds luider, toen de bus met 100 uitgekozen activisten richting Gaza grens vertrok. De achterblijvers beschuldigden de uitverkorenen van verraad. Gelukkig werd de pijn enigzins verzacht door de plastic rozen en de bittere chocolade die mevrouw Mubarak vriendelijkerwijze aan de helden van de Free Gaza Movement heeft uitgereikt.
Wie mochten er uiteindelijk naar Gaza reizen? Een Israelische journaliste met de Nomen est Omen naam van Amira Hass. Wat vreemd is, want in 2008 moest ze nog halsoverkop naar Israel terugvluchten vanwege de doodbedreigingen van de kant van Hamas. Bovendien drie Amerikaanse rabbies, die tot een anti-Israelische sekte (Naturei Karta) behoren en zich graag door Hamas voor propaganda-doeleinden laten gebruiken. Ook de Deense Jezus-Lookalike Poya Pakzad , van Iraanse kommaf, was van de partij en schildert op zijn Deense weblog ongewild een ontluisterend beeld van de Hamas-propaganda tijdens de reis.
Ondergebracht in een luxe hotel aan de Middellandse zee, verbaast Poya zich over de schrille tegenstelling tussen de gebombardeerde huizen in Gaza en het hotel. Hij realiseert zich dat de reis door Hamas propagandistisch wordt uitgebuit. Amira Hass mag haar vrienden niet bezoeken en de activisten mogen alleen met Hamas bodyguards naar buiten. "Om veiligheidsredenen".
Tijdens de obligate demonstratie lopen alleen mannen mee. De vrouwen worden in een bus achterin de tocht meegereden. De Amerikaanse feministes protesteren en uiteindelijk mogen een paar Palestijnse vrouwen een spandoek met de tekst "Women say Free Gaza" vasthouden.
De rondleiding met de bus, de volgende dag is een complete mislukking. Ze mogen maar één keer uitstappen om foto's te maken. Ze krijgen geen normale mensen te spreken. De begeleiders zijn volkomen onwetend. Zelfs in hun poging de aantallen slachtoffers en daklozen door de oorlog te overdrijven, maken ze nog fouten. Ze spreken van 18.000 daklozen, terwijl het er volgens de Hamas 50.000 moeten zijn.
Na protesten mogen ze toch nog met de bewoners van Gaza spreken. Poya bezoekt een getroffen familie en een weeshuis. Hij is ontroerd door de verhalen en het aanzicht van de ellende die de oorlog heeft veroorzaakt. Maar Hamas roept ze weer terug voor een voetbalwedstrijd. Meisjes mogen vanzelfsprekend niet meespelen. Regeringspropaganda is overal gelijk zegt Poya.
Veel activisten willen in Gaza blijven. Maar Hamas vertelt ze dat het niet mogelijk is. Alleen de rabbis mochten blijven omdat ze vanwege de sabat niet mochten reizen....
Sitting next to Amira Hass on our way to Gaza was a great relief for my initial concerns about the trip. She spoke elegantly as always and I felt blessed to be on a convoy with a journalist from whom I learn a great deal on a regular basis in Ha'aretz. Talking to her made me realize why I came in the first place: to break the siege!
On our way to the crossing we stopped at the Egyptian Red Crescent. Young Egyptian volunteers entered our bus with roses and chocolate. It was a gift from the First Lady. The chocolate was bitter and the rose was pure plastic.
When we finally arrived after many hours completely exhausted and hungry we were greeted by Hamas officials and the Minister of Higher Education. He welcomed us all including the three rabbis from Naturei Karta, explaining that this conflict had nothing to do with religion.
Apparently we were "guests of honor" as we were lodged into the nicest hotel which I have ever stayed in, in my life. The 5 star Commodore hotel in Gaza city with a view of the Mediterranean Sea. Not what you expect to see after having read report after report about the misery inflicted on the civil society. The contradiction between bombed buildings and this hotel made me uneasy. I didn’t come to be a tourist. Our visist had been hijacked. Amira wasn't allowed to visit her friend in Gaza and other delegates too were denied to leave the premises without Hamas bodyguards. The reason was that of security because of "bad elements" inside Gaza.
We were instantly told that the march would be led by Hamas. The next day many decided not to participate watching from the sideline. Again a tough decision was on my shoulders. We wanted to march with civil society but we were surprised to see that only somewhere around 200-600 people had showed up. Only men were there – mostly around 15-40 years of age. Without thinking much about it I participated in the march. It was peaceful, no militant slogans were chanted and I was interviewed by several self-declared journalists without press cards (including Press TV in my native Farsi language).
In the very back of the march a bus full of women were following us. The female internationals heatedly negotiated with Hamas to let them join. Finally they were allowed to march with us. We gave them Code Pink banners saying: "Women say Free Gaza." It was beautiful. I tried to convince people on the side line to join. My argument was, that if our very own movement consisted of communists, liberals, conservatives and so on, why should we then be hypocritical about joining Hamas in the very narrow common denominator that had brought us all together: breaking the siege. To me, everything else at this point was extraneous to our mission.
After the march our tightly planned schedule involved a so-called "devastation tour." We went on the bus with Hamas tour-guides who drove us around the city where US-made bombs and shells had been fired including the American School. It was, true to its name, a view of complete devastation. No explanation is really needed even the smell was horrible; dead fish on the shore line and empty shells everywhere. The tour however was a complete farce. We were only allowed to go out and take pictures once and we met no one to speak to at all. The guides were so ignorant about the facts that even though they tried to exaggerate them, they sometimes ended up understating them. For example "18.000" had been left homeless after the massacre contrary to Human Rights reports stating 50.000 and more based on extensive field work.
The day ended with a candle-light vigil in commemoration of the 1400 victims and a small hip hop concert at the "Gallery" to celebrate New Years Eve. I was so tired and disappointed with the handling of our presence and precious 48 hour limit that I went home to the comfortable hotel instead.
Complaining vigorously to Hamas about this they finally let some people go out at their own risk. Some went to visit family members and friends and others went on more daring missions to see the tunnels into Egypt. One group went to the Shifa Hospital and on fishing boats to test the Israeli naval ships. Our group went to the refugee camp of the Sammone family which lost 19 members including three babies. This was a sight that will haunt me for the rest of my life. Small beautiful children everywhere approached us in numbers desperate for some contact. I held them, I spoke to them and I played with them never wanting to let them go. Small tents constituted the homes of large families. They had absolutely nothing, yet they smiled at our arrival and invited us to come inside. I couldn't help myself from crying as one father told us about the loss of children and family members in such a strong and collected manner. Not once did they ask for money or desperately needed goods. They wanted us to take pictures and videotape their misery so we could report it. I sensed the insufficiency of our mission to the point that I felt guilty of my privileges in my adopted state of Denmark. Leaving them was devastating.
The joyous mood on our way to see people was replaced by silence on our way to an orphanage. This was our next stop. Here we had lunch with the children, we played basketball with them and shared stories. The staff showed a short video they had made in memory of a child lost during the war. The brother of this child was watching the video with us. It was a horrifying and macabre show. All the bloody images were displayed in front of us and the children were watching this without the flicker of an eyebrow. They had become used to these terrible facts of life that are so hard for us to see. Again, holding back my tears was an impossible task.
All of a sudden after one short hour at the orphanage, Hamas called us to the bus. We had to leave instantly as the Al Jazeera (not the TV Station) football team was awaiting us for a friendly game. We went there and the whole thing was packed with journalists and Hamas officials who wanted to take pictures with us. Government propaganda is equally revolting in all societies – we spent three hours playing soccer with these guys. One hour spent at the orphanage and three hours in a disgusting self serving display of us playing football at the stadium alongside Hamas officials. The girls weren't allow to play.
On the last day a great many decided to stay in Gaza even though Egypt had only allowed a 48 hour visit. Hamas didn't let us stay, saying that it was too dangerous. The rabbis were the only ones who were allowed to stay till sunset because it was Sabbath. Some stayed anyway but were forced on buses when they were apprehended.
We broke the siege shortly only to do it again as soon as possible!