It is safe to assume that at about the time the Gaza Freedom March and Viva Palestina announced its plans to enter Gaza, Egypt also made plans, in consultation with their Israeli, American and occasionally Jordanian counterparts. They probably looked something like this:
1. Let the organizers think from the beginning that there is a good chance that you will allow the march to proceed. Provide assurances, but don’t make a real commitment. When you refuse, you can always say that the march developed into something different from what you were led to believe, or that current circumstances require you to adjust your policy. In the meantime, you are channeling the efforts of the organizers and participants into fruitless activity and away from something that might actually be effective.
2. Delay announcing your decision until it is too late for the marchers to make alternate plans. This will dissipate the energy and resources of the marchers and avoid the necessity of thwarting new tactics. You can always justify your decision on the grounds that circumstances have changed, that the organizers failed to provide full information, or that proper procedure was not followed. Always stress that you are acting in the interest of the people of Gaza, and that “political” actions do not benefit them.
3. Make sure that the participants are kept in conditions that you totally control. Prevent them from making any significant protests and minimize the news that gets out. Be minimally confrontational, so as to make the actions of the movement as uninteresting as possible, or to force a few of the participants into taking drastic and possibly violent action. Either way, you win and appear reasonable.
4. Keep up the hopes of the participants and organizers by continuing to negotiate. This reduces the amount of criticism that they are willing to direct at you. Insist that confrontation will be counterproductive and that both parties should act in good faith.
5. At the last possible moment, accede to an ineffectual portion of the demands of the movement. This is the gift that keeps on giving. It projects the image that you are reasonable, and it means that even after the event is long over, the organizers and many of the participants will be reluctant to criticize you too much for fear of jeopardizing possible future projects. (See 4, above.)
This recipe is not just constructed from hindsight, except in a historic sense. Egypt has already used this formula multiple times with previous efforts by Viva Palestina and Code Pink. It is the reason that the Free Gaza Movement chose to travel by sea and to avoid asking permission from Israeli or Egyptian authorities.
The initial decision to accept Egypt’s offer for 100 marchers to enter Gaza very nearly sent the wrong message: that Egyptian, Jordanian, Israeli or other authorities have the right to decide which Palestinian human rights may be honored and to what extent. Compare that with the valiant efforts of Palestinians and their supporters in the villages of Bil’in, Ni’lin, Budrus, Jayyous, Beit Ommar and other locations throughout Palestine, who risk and sometimes give their lives to exercise their rights, in defiance of tear gas, bullets and arrests.
Egypt should not be allowed to derive any legitimacy from its actions. Palestinian solidarity movements must be totally uncompromising in insisting upon Palestinian human rights, including the right for all people to receive whomever they want as visitors, as well as to freely receive and send goods, both within Palestine and internationally. They have the right not to be forced to live a concentration camp existence. The GFM ultimately made the right decision to reject Egypt’s offer.
For the future, however, let us consider what kinds of actions are most likely to yield results. The FGM has been a great expense of time, energy and resources. Even if its goals had been fully met, there would have been no direct challenge to Israeli policies and authorities. At most, the plan challenges Egypt, which is merely the puppet and not the puppeteer, and diverts attention from the real source of the problem.
If we wish to be effective in opening Gaza, I suggest that we direct our future efforts toward its border with international territory in the Mediterranean, so that we do not have to deal with the quisling government of Egypt. If, for example, the funds and effort expended upon the Gaza Freedom March were devoted to the boats of the Free Gaza Movement or the proposed ship and airplane of the Free Palestine Movement, they might result in a big enough sea and air movement that any outcome would be favorable, and a direct challenge to Israeli authority.
The Gaza Freedom March should be congratulated for making the right decision and for mobilizing a popular movement to do what our governments will not. Let us now be strategic in directing this movement to more effective action.
Paul Larudee is a co-founder of the Free Gaza and Free Palestine Movements.