Protesters at the Rafah Gate. IMORB. June 2009

Protestors at the Rafah Gate. IMORB. June 2009

When governments restrict freedoms with undue censorship and surveillance – people use social media to get their message across – YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, a mobile phone. We’ve seen this in Iran.

But sometimes even these tools are not enough to get the real news out. A journalist like me finds themselves piecing a story (and a blog post) together from fragments of information. It’s more difficult to check sources. And you always seem to be left with more questions than answers.

 The International Movement to Open the Rafah border (IMORB) said yesterday on Facebook:

 “This is the 17th. day of our unique sit-in at the Rafah border. The police want to get rid of us asap as we’re giving them a headache indeed. The internationals are the ones that keep them away from us Egyptians so please come to this unique event. We need your help urgently.

 The Rafah group at the sit-in asked me to send you this message. Please, send a strong message to the Egyptian embassies all over the world to show your support for what we’re doing. Ask them to let the Egyptian authorities facilitate things for us, stop trying to send people away and threaten them to deport them by force, whether Egyptians or Internationals. Please, we need that the foreign press know about us. I’ll be back soon with more videos and photos”.

Before I acquired a press card – I took part in protests myself and didn’t confine myself to documenting them. I’ve got at least twenty years experience of protests and campaigns. At eighteen – I spent time at Greenham Common. Later I joined the North Sea Campaign at Greenpeace Germany (part of the Toxics Unit). In the past ten years I’ve also worked together with colleagues at the Stop the War Coalition to organise hundreds of local campaigns and national  demonstrations.
So you see, the fact that many of our governments show no respect for certain aspects of international law is not news to me. Those who understand enough about the illegality of nuclear weapons are too familiar with this sad scenario.
My understanding of how protests bring about change tells me the Rafah border protest is strategically hugely important. Perhaps as important as Greenham Common was – if not more so. So why is the Rafah situation being ignored by the British Government? And why is it being ignored by much of the mainstream media? 
There’s no such thing as a stupid question. In the first instance governments might ignore protests in the hope they’ll fade out and go away – one reason why the ‘media’ remains part of the dream called  ‘true democracy’. Shine a light on the situation – to uphold the dream we need to document the news. And in doing so, protect the human right to protest.
According to IMORB – journalists and activists alike have suffered intimidation and censorship from the Egyptian government – attempts to stop them doing the jobs we need them to do. The International Federation of Journalists has also condemned a renewed media crackdown in Palestine (statement June 26th.)
The report called: ‘Who holds the keys to the Rafah border?’ by  ‘Physicians for Human Rights’  (Israel) gives some background to the Rafah question:
Physicians for Human Rights describe the report as: 
“a detailed description of the positions of the various parties regarding Rafah Crossing, the extent to which the various parties control the crossing, the merging of interests behind its closure and the political conflicts that are undermining attempts to re-open it. The report is based on field research, information from Israeli authorities, including information presented to the Israeli Supreme Court, information from Palestinian and international organizations, and meetings and correspondence with relevant officials in Israel, Egypt, Gaza and the West Bank”.

To complete the picture of how and why the situation at the Rafah border has often been trivialised and ignored by much of the ‘media’ and the British government – watch the following videos which were filmed in 2008.
 The first is a short analysis of how media outlets in different countries portrayed the border situation. 
 The second video shows something of the history of protests at the border – how demonstrators were intimidated, injured and shot at in a previous protest in 2008.


'Industry'. Bumblebee on Rosemary. By Frances Laing. March, 2009

'Industry'. Bumblebee on Rosemary. By Frances Laing. March, 2009

More and more journalists, writers, editors, film-makers and photographers are turning freelance – out of necessity –  or because we enjoy being owner/managers. But as we know – a freelance life brings challenges too. The media ‘scene’ is changing fast and we all need our job skills and our ‘digital tool-kit’ to stay sharp.

Union learning programmes are all about the positive gain of a highly skilled and flexible work  force. Union Learning Representatives (ULR’s) have had statutory rights in conventional workplaces for quite some time – things like time off work to consult with colleagues about training needs.

But now freelancers have their own, specialised Learning Reps. A few weeks ago I joined eight members of BECTU (the media and entertainment union) and the NUJ (all hard-working colleagues who had given up their bank holiday weekend) to train up as a ‘Freelance Union Learning Representative’ at the Trade Union Learning Centre in Manchester.

What do we do? We’re a first point of contact for freelance colleagues in the North West of England – providing information about opportunities in further and higher education and training. 

Our unions want to help us meet our training needs – help us stay in work and keep thriving. So if you’re a member of the NUJ in the North West of England – and would like to update your skills – give me a buzz (by email) and/or check out the new ‘Freelance Union Learning Page’ on this site.

 If I can’t find you the training opportunity that meets your needs straight away I’ll try to locate someone in our union who can.

 If you’ve just started up as a freelance, or you’re a student – you may be able to access temporary membership of the NUJ (fees start from around £50 a year). This gives you access to subsidised training and development opportunities, together with essential briefs on freelance working, pay and conditions. If you join you’re also entitled to list yourself in the NUJ Freelance Directory. And that’s a really good way of pitching for work! Feel free to ask me what it’s like to be a member, or join up at this link.

As freelancers we’re all ‘busy bees’ and may think we can’t afford to spend time out attending training courses. But we’re investing in our own future – and one of the extra benefits of spending time with a group is the useful contacts you make.

You sometimes learn more from your fellow students than you do from the trainers! At NUJ training courses (for example the one on ‘Copyright Law’ I attended) – I’ve often found myself sitting round a table with expert editors, film makers and the odd member of the Institute of Broadcast sound.

Here’s the link to my new ‘Freelance Union Learning Page’ again. It’s a voluntary role and my contribution to the future of our union so I’ll update it as often as I can.

Finally, if you’re a learning organisation and think you can offer something that would be of benefit to NUJ members specifically, drop me a line too – I can’t promise a reply to every organisation (there are so many of them) but I do read most of my emails and I’ll certainly consider putting a link on my Union Learning Programme page so that members will see it.

Tent at the Rafah Border Peace Camp. Picture IMORB, June 2009

A family and their tent at the Rafah Border Peace Camp. Picture IMORB, June 2009

Recent events at the Rafah border tell us why our world press needs to document these peace camp protests.

On the eleventh day of the peace camp at the Rafah-Egypt border, International Movement to Open the Rafah Border(IMORB) activists have sustained their sit-in protest against the prolonged siege of Gaza. 

The International Movement to Open the Rafah Border (IMORB) says: ” The group of three US citizens and two Egyptian journalists awaits more participants but is concerned that border police are turning people back. An Australian delegation has been unable to get to the border area for four days. A second international delegation is expected to join the sit-in camp soon”.

According to IMORB a number of journalists were prohibited from joining a press conference at the Rafah camp on June 22. One news reporter did come to report on the camp. Mohammad Alhur documented the protest. Alhour writes for and told IMORB that  journalists had been threatened with losing their primary government ministry jobs if they attended the IMORB conference. 

 An earlier press conference welcoming the ambassador to Japan, a government sanctioned event, had brought a large media contingent to the Rafah border area, says IMORB. The Japanese ambassador  had come to announce that Japan would join the US government in a high tech border surveillance project. 

Pressure to remove Egyptian homes and Bedouin farms from the Rafah border area has increased. IMORB say the Egyptian government attempted such evictions in 1996, sparking an uprising, Intifada Masura. To quell the uprising, some deaths occurred and the leader was jailed. 

Separately, IMORB plans a March for the Martyrs (shohadeh) on Wednesday, June 24, noon, to commemorate the deaths of Gazans in the Israeli winter invasion.

The border is expected to be open for the sick and injured on this day. 

A second Martyrs March is planned for Saturday, June 27, to recognize the fatality victims of the Siege of Gaza. Border authorities have said that the border will be open June 27, 28 and 29.

” They have promised this many times before, only proving to be untrue, disappointing many Palestinian families and individuals,” said Ellen Graves of Western Mass. USA.

I received a Father’s day mailing from Mrs. Michelle Obama at the White House which was genuinely appreciated. It’s possible that Mrs. Obama thinks I’m a bloke – still we all agree fathers have a crucial role to play in creating and maintaining peace in society, don’t we?

 With my journalist’s hat on, and conscious of needing to examine both sides of the story – I took the opportunity to send a reply back with a link to this blog – asking the White House for a position statement on the Rafah border protests. 

Picture June 20th, 2009. International Movement to Open the Rafah Border.

Picture June 20th, 2009. International Movement to Open the Rafah Border.

I know the President and his family have a great deal of expertise in blogging and social networking, so I hope that some sort of useful dialogue emerges. Sometimes ‘no response’ is a response in itself, but you never know…I enclosed a news update from the International Movement to Open the Rafah Border. Here’s IMORB’s latest message and photos:

“In the ninth day of a sit-in camp at the Rafah, Egypt border gate, the International Movement to Open the Rafah Border (IMORB) rejects President Obama’s rationale for the siege of Gaza and the limited access through the Rafah gate. In his address to the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) last month, US President Obama said that arms shipments to Hamas must stop.”

 “The Rafah gate is not a point of transfer for weapons, but a through-way for Palestinians and commerce,” said Paki Wieland of Northhampton, Mass, USA. “Through our extensive interviews we have heard again and again, from aging parents, families, and students, that they want to visit with family in Gaza, attend weddings or return home; this is so normal,” continued Ms. Wieland, ” and when they are denied, the emotional stress and economic strain brings sadness, anger, and devastating despair.

 “The technology is available to monitor for potential weapons shipments through Rafah,” said Don Bryant of Cleveland, Ohio, USA. “This siege is just an excuse to strangle Gaza to death,” he said.

 The IMORB will continue the sit-in and fasting at the Rafah gate indefinitely. On a daily basis, IMORB challenges the closed border and escorts people seeking entry to Gaza.. 

One Palestinian-American family from Texas USA has been waiting over two weeks, like hundreds of others, to enter Gaza. “This is so humiliating,” said the Texan mother of four.

Picture by International Movement to Open the Rafah Border. June 20th, 2009

Picture by International Movement to Open the Rafah Border. June 20th, 2009

Picture by International Movement to Open the Rafah Border June 20th. 2009

Picture by International Movement to Open the Rafah Border June 20th. 2009

The International Movement to Open the Rafah Border is still holding out in Rafah. Conditions are tough. The following message came in last night and appears to refer to events on Tuesday. I haven’t changed the text as it is obviously translated.

At the Rafah Border - Tuesday 16th. May, International Movement to Open the Rafah Border

At the Rafah Border - Tuesday 16th. May, International Movement to Open the Rafah Border

“Yesterday was a really hard day with all the sick and wounded Palestinians waiting hours under the sun (held up by?) the egyptian authorities agreement on entering into Gaza. All the other people have been denied to exit Egypt. 

Our friends, Paki Wieland, Ellen Graves, and Don Bryant, USA pursue their hunger strikes. 

After talking with our embassies, we have understood that the siege at the Rafah border is an Egypt’s exclusive decision. Israel has nothing to do in this closure. Please send emails, fax to your Egyptian embassy and tell them how shameful this situation is. 

We managed to convince Elona to go to an hotel in al Arish with her children; Hope Egypt will allow them to enter soon but as many Egyptians know , the Moubarak government don’t care about people”.

A spokesperson from the International Movement to Open the Rafah border said:

“We learned that the Rafah Gate will be opened Tuesday 16 and Wednesday 17 June. We will take care that all the people stuck here will be allowed to get in or out of Gaza.”

IMORB is appealing for support and publicity for the camp established at the border: “Please come and join us to keep this border opened for good”.

100609 Rafah Gate 007Under pressure from the Egyptian army and the police, the International Movement to Open the Rafah Border ( IMORB), is maintaining their camp at the Rafah Border. A spokesperson commented: ‘The group is growing; now 26 people from France, USA, Germany, Egypt, Belgium, and Sweden’.

This picture was taken a few days before the camp was set up.

Under pressure from the Egyptian army and the police, the International Movement to Open the Rafah Border ( IMORB), is maintaining their camp at the Rafah Border.

The group is growing; now 26 people from France, USA, Germany, Egypt, Belgium, and Sweden.

An IMORB spokesperson said:

“Yesterday, our Italian friend left us for his job in Italy, but a German woman, Alona, married to a Palestinian from Rafah, joined us with her six children, aged 2 to 12. She wants to return to live with her husband and other three children in Gaza. After Egyptian authorities denied her entrance, she said, ‘I am coming from Germany and I don’t wish to go back to sleep in El Arish. I come here and I only want one thing: to go to Gaza.’

 By phone, her husband asked his family to join the IMORB camp. This morning IMORB were joined by a Palestinian refugee, Mohammad, a PFLP (Palestinian Front for Liberation of Palestine) activist who spent 24 years in Israeli prison and has been living in Belgium.

Mohammad’s daughter, a diabetic student in Gaza, is now in need of insulin. “Since June 8, the Egyptian authority has denied my exodus from Egypt. I heard about your camp and I decided to come and stay with you. The rumor says the border will be open Wednesday [6/17] so I will stay and wait.”

Nine Swedish Palestinians, including four children, have also joined the border camp. Since the camp was set up camp two days ago (6/13) Egyptian police and intelligence agents have been visiting camp members periodically. A spokesperson commented:

“Each night Colonel Mohammad speaks to us, but allows us to stay, after first threatening to expel us by force. When he came to us last night he showed more tolerance and ordered the toilets, adjoining the cafeteria, opened, which had been closed by General Khalil Harb to pressure us to leave. This morning policemen came and asked us to put down the tents. We explained that we need the tents for the children to take their naps later. They pressured us no more on this issue”.

” After yesterday morning’s visit, General Harb, came after midnight and said, ‘this is a closed military zone, and your presence here is unacceptable. We will use any means necessary to remove you.’In spite of all this pressure, IMORB persists. They stated, “we will leave only when the border will be opened.” Our presence is reinforced by support from the Egyptian population, some of whom have brought us blankets, mattresses and other supplies. This morning an unknown man brought us fresh bread.

Then a child brought some fooul, a traditional breakfast meal, that was most delicious. Yesterday evening a policeman came to us wearing a Palestinian kifeyeh around his neck and offered us some chai. All these demonstrations of support help us to persist in spite of the precarious situation, what Alona calls a “five star hotel.”

News from the Rafah Gate. Sunday:

“All were tired and weakened after a night at the Rafah gate. Their internet connection, which was working till yesterday, has been cut. The bar as well as the toilets have been closed. They have decided to dig a hole, protected by their banderole, improvising toilets. David, the italian, left today. But in the afternoon, a german woman arrived with her 6 children to join her palestinian husband in Gaza. As she was refused to cross the border, she joined the group. The presence of this family has boosted the enthusiasm of the group who pitched the tents in one instant! This has generated a positive atmosphere to the point they were offered blankets and cigarettes for the night. The children are now resting, they are from 2 to 13-year olds, and the adults prepare themselves for a new night at the Rafah gate”.

Members of the IMORB are still camping to Open the Rafah Gate and they call anyone who wants to support this action to join them there.

International Community Activists established a peace and protest Camp at the Rafah Border today.

The International Movement to Open the Rafah Border has established the long foreseen encampment at the Rafah gate. The group consists of David Mattacchioni, Italy; Christian Chantegrel, Portugal; Micheline Garreau, Jacque Denko, Laila Mami France; Paki Wieland, Ellen Graves, and Don Bryant,USA and two Egyptian journalists, man Badawi and Nada Kassass.

These international activists have attempted to enter Gaza since the morning of June 9, but have been denied. Tonight they have proved their determination by refusing, through a day-long “strong and tender” negotiation to leave the Rafah Gate, when Border Security kept telling them they MUST leave the area.

The goal of the International Movement to Open the Rafah Border (INTMORB) is not only to enter Gaza, and maintain a presence at the border, but to demand to lift the extended siege. A spokesperson said:

“Since our June 9 demonstration at the Rafah Gate, we have been deterred at every turn by Egyptian security, but we have not lost courage.” explained IMORB spokesperson, Paki Wieland.

 “We were told that if we leave tonight we could return tomorrow. But our mission is to lift the siege and there is no turning back. We represent hundreds of thousands of people from around the world that support the Palestinian resistance and demand an end to the siege and justice for all of Palestine.

“To retreat now is to accept the inhumane, illegal siege of Gaza,” said Christian Chantegrel.

Text and phone messages of support have been coming in from around the world, including from Palestine. The border security has relented for now, at 10 p.m. Paki said, “we are winning the day, but the struggle is far from over to end the siege so join us at the Rafah Border and pressure your governments.”

The INTMORB insists on the urgency of their actions to open the border because the Israeli Defense Minister has called for ” a new, large-scale war on the Gaza Strip.”

Here is a reaction to some current events in Egypt from the International Movement to Open the Rafah Border:

“Tell the intelligence to go to hell ! We have learned, in the past few days of being stymied by Egyptian Intelligence, that they are very interested in our email communications. We also now know to what great length Egyptian Intelligence will go to protect the Zionist Entity’s Siege of the Gaza Strip; and to what extent they will go to stop seven international peace activists from completing their mission of staging demonstrations against the Siege, at the Rafah border.

Egyptian news sources have announced that the border will be closed for the next two days, June 12th and 13th. Our delegation of the International Movement to Open the Rafah Border (IMORB) will dedicate this time to the development of ideas for creative actions at the border.

Please send us your ideas to consider for implementation, but remember, you are being watched, intently! In effect your message may go direct to Egyptian Intelligence. Tell them just what you think about their unscrupulous complicity with Israeli war crimes; crimes against humanity. So have at it; we know they are reading this email and will certainly read your reply.

What do you think about Egyptian Intelligence arresting Egyptian Peace Activists for speaking out? What do you think about their protection of the crimes of the Israeli government? What do you think of them making Palestinians wait at the border, weeks on end, to enter Gaza to see their families or return home? How do you feel about them intimidating Palestinian and Egyptian mothers and fathers from speaking out against the injustice because they fear their families will be endangered? What do you think of them making Gazan people, badly wounded, with appropriate medical authorization, isolated from their families, wandering about the border, like mice in a maze, for hours on end…?”

Readers may be interested in the video posted on the Guardian website today:

“Gaza: No right to life”. This film shows the grave situation at the only border crossing which remains open for those with special travel permits at Erez. The Guardian article confirms:

 “With the lack of medical services in Gaza, critically ill patients must travel into Israel for treatment. Many are asked to collaborate with Israeli intelligence services before they receive aid. It has been alleged that if they refuse to become informers they are refused medical treatment”. Inigo Gilmore reports.

To see the video click on this link:

Copy Follows (INTMORB):

The International Movement to Open the Rafah Border continues the campaign at the Rafah gate. The group consists of David Mattacchioni, Italy; Christian Chantegrel, Micheline Garreau, Jacque Denko, France; Paki Wieland, Ellen Graves, and Don Bryant, USA.

These international activists have attempted to enter Gaza since the morning of June 9, but have been denied. The goal of the International Movement to Open the Rafah Border (IMORB) is not only to enter Gaza, but to demand to lift the extended siege. “A humanitarian crisis has been created in Gaza by the siege and the Israeli massacre in December and January.” explained Don Bryant of Cleveland, Ohio.

“We were in Gaza three months ago and saw the extreme destruction in every village, refugee camp, and business district. Over 1400 people were killed, 85% were civilians.”

The INTMORB has witnessed the plight of numerous families trying to enter Gaza, some of whom some have been waiting for weeks. A Palestinian man who has been waiting waiting over 22 days, said, “I am an engineer and could be earning a decent living, but they make me live like a beggar.” For all these people, it is overwhelmingly costly to stay for an undetermined time, waiting for an arbitrary political decision. The group has decided that they will try to pass through the border today, with, and only with all of the people who are waiting to enter Gaza, Palestine. If by 4:00 p.m, they are still denied, they will set up camp, and besiege the siege. The media is invited to come and report this international action.

 Any one who wants to support this action is urged to participate in a massive lobbying campaign by contacting their own government or foreign minister, the Egyptian Embassy in their own country, and their own embassy in Egypt. Send emails and faxes, and make phone calls demanding the opening of the border and the end of the siege

The following an update from the Rafah border, (from the International Movement to Open the Rafah Border) copy follows:

Dear ones,

6/9 I am writing at the end of our first day of protest at the Rafah, Egypt border with Gaza. With assistance from our friends here, we departed our house at 7 a.m. taking a route which avoided every checkpoint between al Arish and the border (about 25 miles), arriving at the border before _ and catching all the authorities off guard.

We subsequently lived our first day supporting the myriad Palestinians who so desperately wanted to enter Gaza. There was Sami, a young pharmacist who éé days ago accompanied his sister-in-law into Egypt. He has come to the border for the past 21 days at the border, trying but unable to cross,A mother and her three daughters who are now Swedish citizens, waited patiently, but in the end were, as we all, turned away. Everyone was called at about 1:30 p.m. to turn in our passports. This was something new and hopes were raised that we would be allowed to enter Gaza.

 Earlier in the day we encountered a Palestinian American family who live near Dallas Texas. The couple went to the University in Texas, deciding to settle in the U.S. years ago in part because of the violence escellating in Gaza at the time. This family of parents, and four children have generations of history in Gaza. They were prompted, the father explained to me, to return this summer at considerable expense because 2 young nephews had been accidently killed during the recent war. He went on to say that this trip was to visit family whom they deeply love and want to see before more violence takes more lives.

At about 3 p.m. we were called back to the border where rather than being allowed to cross, we were told, “No one will cross today, come back tomorrow.” Everyone was shocked, Dismay gave way to the palpable pain in the faces of the Palestinians. I looked for the family from Texas. The father had taken a taxi to pick up the family’s belongings encouraged by the taking of the passports. He had rushed hoping to get back before his family crossed the border. After calling to tell him of the changes his wife in tears said to me, “This is so humiliating.” It has gotten very late. We returned to al Arish committed to return to continue our work, to support, to witness, to speak out for justice.

 My quote for the day, ” We are here to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.” love to each and all, Paki

Copy Ends

Gaza the destitute and the forgotten. Guardian Film at this link: