Between the Lines Q&A

A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Jan. 28, 2010

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Gaza Protests in Egypt Training Ground
for Young Activists


 RealAudio  MP3

Excerpt of a talk by Jenna Bitar,
student at Hunter High School in New York City,
recorded and produced by Melinda Tuhus


bitar

On Jan. 21, activists in New York City organized an event where they heard a report from participants in the Gaza Freedom March. New Yorkers were among the more than 1,300 participants from 43 countries who met in Cairo in preparation for a Dec. 31 march to Gaza in solidarity with Palestinians inside the territory that had been invaded by Israel exactly one year before. At first, the Egyptian government refused to allow any of the activists into Gaza through the Egyptian-controlled border. The government finally agreed to permit 100 people to deliver humanitarian supplies, but this generated a great deal of controversy, and ultimately, less than 100 took buses into Gaza while the rest of the marchers stayed in Cairo and carried out street protests to draw attention to the collusion of Egypt, Israel and the U.S. in the oppression and economic blockade of Palestinians living in Gaza.

One of the youngest participants in the freedom march was Jenna Bitar, a senior at Hunter High School in Manhattan. She was one of four speakers at the New York event, and began by identifying herself as half-Palestinian, but noted that no one in her family had been politically active around the issue until the Israeli invasion of Gaza. After hearing about the December march, she and her mother and older brother all decided to go.

In the following excerpt of her remarks, Bitar explains what a training ground the trip was for her as a young activist, and how she gained the courage to defy the Egyptian authorities, through solidarity with others who shared the same vision of justice for Palestinians.


JENNA BITAR: I wanted to share some experiences being on the march. I'm a new activist and a young student, and I think one of the most powerful outcomes for all, or most, of the students there was just learning the ins and outs of activism, and that's really what we were able to do and what we were able to experience.

We landed in Cairo and we had known that the Egyptian government had said, officially for the first time -- as opposed to the last delegations that went to Gaza -- they made an announcement that the Gaza Freedom March was not getting in to Gaza. But in my mind, this meant that we were going to drive to the border and they'd say, "no" and we were going to protest outside of the border, and 1,400 of us would put enough pressure on them to let us in. Naively, I hadn't thought about being stuck in Cairo. So, at that point I made the realization that we had a political goal -- we wanted to be with the Gazan people and we wanted to stand with them -- but we were really there for political reasons and that was to bring attention to the siege of Gaza. Being in Cairo, what we had was our power in numbers, and not just representation of one country, but I think it was 43 countries that we represented. We were all in one location, so our job was to make some noise.

We had been told it was illegal to meet in groups of more than six, so we were in what felt like these underground meetings, and brainstorm with these activists that had been doing this for so long, and had been involved in other huge movements, and we got to share ideas and hear about their experiences. It helped a lot with the courage going into this. We were going to be demonstrating, and it was going to be scary -- which it was. But there was a lot of preparation and talking that just helped a lot in terms of being young and being there.

It wasn't the student delegation as much that was really powerful; it was the fact that we were able to see clearly how a movement works, and be part of it. As I mentioned, I wanted to mention a few examples of where I got to push the limits of the Egyptian government. I don't know if that's something to be proud of -- I think it is.

First, something I learned was the Egyptian police were really easy to convince of things. It was a combination of the language barrier and being an international -- I had this immunity. But I really thought this was a powerful experience. I was with my good friend and she was doing the hunger strike. It was a few days into the hunger strike; there were 30 activists on the hunger strike. And they were going to do a press release in front of the journalists' syndicate. And her and I left early from the hotel and we were walking over, and the police were dispersing everybody. And she grabbed my arms, pushed me through all the police, and said, "Listen, Jenna, we're taking this space!" So we sat down on the stairs -- I was terrified, because the police were really intimidating. We sat down on the stairs, and she said, "Don't move." So they're coming over to us, and they're yelling and screaming at us. And she just looks past them and says, "Come everybody! Come! Come sit down!" And the police completely backed off, and she nudged me and said, "This is how you do it -- you want this space, you take it." (Applause.)

And this is just a note on the solidarity of the marchers -- all these people, sharing one passion -- what it looked like. We were all linked arms, and we were all standing together. I was with a bunch of women, and they were just dragging people out. They were trying to get us onto the sidewalk, because we were in the street, and they were just dragging everyone, and pulling everyone and hitting everyone. I kind of made my way -- I tried to avoid the beating as much as possible -- but I was seeing, they were just pulling women's hair, and they were hitting everyone, kicking this woman on the ground. And I got up on the sidewalk and I just started sobbing, because it was awful. And then I remember a man, I'd never spoken to him before or after that -- I think he was from the Italian delegation -- he just took me and held me. And it was that type of unity that was something I never expected to experience as a high schooler. And it was beautiful, and it empowered me. I feel great to be here and enthusiastic about being part of what I think is really a movement on the rise -- just that we were all there with one passion, and that was to bring Gaza. So, thank you. (Applause)

For more information, visit the www.gazafreedom.org website. This segment was recorded and produced by Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus.

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Melinda Tuhus is a producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 45 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at www.btlonline.org. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine,Between The Lines for the week ending Feb. 5, 2010. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.

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