What I Learned While Trying to Get to the Rafah Border Crossing

By Gerry Condon

Representing Veterans For Peace in Cairo

Israel’s genocidal assault on the civilian population of Gaza is not being carried out by carpet bombing alone. Electricity and water have been cut off. Desperately needed food, water, and medical supplies are not being allowed in. Israel has deployed starvation as a weapon of war. Hundreds of big-rig trucks are lined up at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, waiting to deliver their cargoes of food, water, medicine, and necessities.

This is the southern Gaza border, which is supposed to be controlled by Egypt. Israel has bombed the Gaza side of the border, however, and Egypt, a military dictatorship that relies heavily on U.S. military aid, has been slow to open its border.

Israel has demanded multiple inspections by Israeli authorities on both sides of the border, deliberately slowing down a process that allows only a trickle of trucks to pass. Healthcare workers in Gaza and concerned people throughout the world believe that only an international outcry will open the borders to desperately needed humanitarian aid.

I represented Veterans For Peace on the first international delegation to Cairo to answer this urgent call. The hastily assembled delegation was composed of progressive lawyers and writers; activists from Samidoun, an organization that supports Palestinian political prisoners, and representatives of the International Action Center, the United Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), the U.S. Peace Council, Black Alliance for Peace and Veterans For Peace, among others. Prominent media activists Chris Hedges, Dan Kovalik, Margaret Kimberley (Black Agenda Report) and Max Blumenthal (the Greyzone) also joined the delegation, along with journalists and activists from the UK and Brazil.

We hoped that we would be able to travel to the Rafah border to see the situation with our own eyes, to report our findings to the world, and to add our voices to the international outcry for a permanent ceasefire and urgent humanitarian aid for Gaza.

We quickly arrived in Egypt and connected with Egyptian activists who were organizing humanitarian aid caravans to the Rafah border. We also met with the Red Crescent (Red Cross in the Muslim world), where we made a substantial donation and helped to pack boxes of humanitarian aid bound for Gaza.

Our attempts to reach the Rafah border ourselves were frustrated and blocked. After initially giving us the go-ahead, Egyptian military authorities stated that nobody with foreign passports would be allowed to travel to the Rafah border.

Getting Arrested Outside U.S. Embassy in Cairo

Our delegation then sought a meeting with the U.S. Embassy, where we intended to deliver a letter expressing our deep concerns. When our request for a meeting fell on deaf ears, we decided to hold a press conference across the street from the U.S. Embassy. Freedom of speech and assembly not really being a thing in today’s Egypt, we were harassed incessantly by U.S. Embassy guards, and most of us were then arrested by aggressive Egyptian police. We were detained for several hours before being released. No deportation orders were issued–we were just told to stay away from the U.S. Embassy.

The U.S. and Egypt have been complicit with Israel in maintaining the siege of Gaza for many years. The U.S. has maintained economic sanctions on Gaza for the past 16 years, as Israeli authorities boasted about putting Gaza “on a diet.” The military dictatorship in Egypt has subordinated itself to the U.S.-backed Israeli policies of starvation and bombardment.

Palestinians Are Not “Collateral Damage” or “Human Shields”

What Israel is doing in Gaza is genocide—writ large—by even the strictest of definitions. Palestinian civilians are not “collateral damage” or “caught in the crossfire.” Nor are they being used by Hamas as “human shields,” the cynical Israeli/U.S. rationalization for the continuing slaughter. No, Palestinian civilians are the target. The intention—articulated by Netanyahu and other Israeli government extremists—is to terrorize and to eliminate Palestinian communities. Life-supporting institutions such as hospitals have been systematically destroyed and entire neighborhoods reduced to rubble. The Israeli government intends to make Gaza unlivable and to drive the Palestinian population into permanent exile.

A man drives a damaged car through a street ravaged by Israeli bombing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 2, 2023.

The U.S. Is Complicit in This Genocide

Israel is dropping high-explosive bombs made in the U.S. from F-16 and F-35 fighter jets also made and provided by the U.S. The Biden Administration green-lighted Israel’s no-holds-barred slaughter of innocents. The U.S. has responded to the universal outcry by making a few tiny noises about protecting civilians in Gaza, even while sending additional billions of dollars of military aid to Israel. U.S. drones and satellites are said to be providing targeting information to the Israeli military. On Monday, Dec. 4, a State Department spokesperson claimed that Hamas is using civilians as human shields and therefore Hamas is responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians.

Israeli F-35I with four 2000 pound GBU-31s in the foreground.

Before the current war, the minimum basic needs of people in the Gaza strip were being provided by an average of 500 trucks per day. Once Israel’s bombardment began, no trucks at all were allowed in. After weeks of international pressure, a handful of trucks were allowed to enter Gaza, gradually up to around 50—or one-tenth of the normal. During the recent truces, Israel agreed to allow 200 trucks a day, and failed to do so. Now once again, hardly any food, water, medical supplies, or much-needed fuel are being allowed into Gaza. Starvation and disease will soon be taking their toll—once again, genocide.

Watching this genocide being perpetrated in real-time before the eyes of the entire world is shocking and depressing. It can understandably lead to feelings of powerlessness and despair. One can take encouragement, however, from the huge outpouring of outrage and compassion throughout the U.S. and worldwide.

From Despair to Action – a Necessary Journey

Almost overnight, an energetic international movement has sprung up. Notably in the U.S., Jewish Voice for Peace has played a leading role in organizing protests and direct action against Israel’s genocidal assault on Palestinian civilians, including in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinian Americans and student activists are playing a leading role in organizing mass protests. Many members of Veterans For Peace, have joined in. Hundreds of thousands of concerned people have mobilized nationally, locally, and repeatedly. We are looking at a mass antiwar/anti-colonial/pro-Palestine movement that is largely young and very diverse. Therein lies the hope. We are not alone—far from it.

There are many opportunities to join in actions, including mass marches, direct action, and pressuring our political leaders. We must continue to call for an end to genocide, an end to the bombing, an end to the siege of Gaza, for massive medical and humanitarian aid, and self-determination for the Palestinian people.

Veterans For Peace at a 300,000-person rally and march for Gaza in Washington, DC. Photo: Ellen Davidson

By supporting Palestine, we could be working to save the world. We are finding new traction for vital movements for peace and justice—for the abolition of nuclear weapons (which Israel possesses and has threatened to use), for Indigenous struggles worldwide and an end to settler colonialism and imperialist wars—whether military or economic. “Things are not getting worse,” I saw on a social media meme the other day, but rather “they are being uncovered.” This is a teachable moment. It is a movement-building moment. Don’t linger in depression. Get fired up and find your voice. Find your place in this movement and be part of the solution.

Another world is possible! Let Gaza live! Free Palestine!

Gerry Condon is a Vietnam-era veteran and war resister, a former president and current national board member of Veterans For Peace (VFP), president of the Golden Rule Committee, and a member of the crew that sailed the Golden Rule to Cuba. He represents VFP on the steering committee of the Peace In Ukraine Coalition. He can be reached by email at gerrycondon@veteransforpeace.org.

The original article can be found here