Even with its political repression, media tirade against it, and continuous bombings and chemical warfare, the Gaza Strip was a much better place to be in than Cairo. It was cleaner, more beautiful and the food was much better, trust me!
We were escorted through the town in what seemed like a parade even though we made it through the border at about 9 o’clock p.m.! The procession was led to a beautiful hotel in which they had prepared a feast which wasn’t very vegan friendly but nonetheless a more-than-warm welcome.
As our famished coalition took in the nourishment, Commandante [and New York City Councilman] Charles Barron took the reins and began to relay the much delayed itinerary to our eager but sleepy convoy. Barron wore leadership like a pair of comfortable house shoes, reminding us all that we had only been granted 24 hours and that the next day would begin early.
His voice brought back the fact that British Parliamentarian and chief organizer of the Viva Palestina caravan, George Galloway, had jumped ship no less than an hour before. I wondered what unseen agenda was afoot, but my racing mind jumped from that thought to how fantastic the hotel was. It totally contradicted the vision I had of Gaza before crossing the border. As we retired to our assigned rooms, I found them to be more than adequate. It was something like a slightly run down Marriott, but without water pressure (and, in our case, no water at all!)
But before I could even put my bag down, my good comrade Nancy had a better idea. Being that she was Palestinian, we were afforded a special treat: a tour through the hood! Her long-time friend Ayman from the rap group P.R. (Palestinian Rappers), who had welcomed us at the border, invited us to his home. Under cover of night, approximately 4 a.m., we took a cab through the streets of Gaza to meet his family. Nancy, Alejandro, Ayman (U.S.), Mazzi and I enjoyed the most beautiful pre-dawn feast freshly prepared by Ayman (P.R.)’s mother and aunt.
Even before entering Ayman’s humble abode, Nancy (obviously a rider) informed me that his father had been murdered very recently by the Israeli government. As if it were a prerequisite, we moved silently along the broken Gaza sidewalk past throw-up murals of Yasser Arafat until we reached a curious apartment building.
From the outside, my eyes were led upward toward the blackened concrete that surrounded a broken-windowed dark apartment about seven floors up. This would be the place where the infamous assassination of his father had taken place. I had no idea what I was about to bear witness to as we climbed the stairwell of this New Jersey-like building.
As we reached the floor of the place he used to call home, we encountered a huge “shrine” surrounding a chained-shut entrance. The charred door was the tip of the iceberg of a murder scene that brought the type of chills to my skin reminiscent of pictures of the murder of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton Sr. on the West Side of Chicago.
As we were led from room to room in a museum of terror, we were told the story of a family who was ambushed in the middle of their lives. A flashlight revealed the entry and exit of four missiles that were blasted from across water leaving huge 4-foot diameter holes in concrete that used to be walls. One of the missile casings was still left in what used to be the kitchen.
And as Ayman narrated a story of his family, all who were at home when the attack ensued, witnessing a direct hit on his father, my mouth and heart dropped. On the soot-covered walls we found that someone had written hate-filled anti-Israel slogans. It began to sink in now more than ever before what life was like in this war zone.
As we retreated, re-chained and walked toward his new home, which was a half a block away, I learned more about the senselessness of the attack. You see, from my understanding, the Israeli government contended that the provisional government of Gaza, Hamas, was who they blamed for this present conflagration. However, Ayman’s father was an official who represented Fattah, who from my understanding has a different relationship to the present threat of danger facing this area. Basically, they murdered the wrong man!
I thought to myself, “Wow, this doesn’t look to me like a government who loves freedom, rather one that employs fear as a basis for political unity.” I cringed and turned my head away as the complexity of this situation mangled itself in my head. Ayman’s beautiful family seemed so peaceful as we talked until the morning broke and the first call of the Adan or morning prayer crept through the window. Palestine was beautiful and still. Exhausted, I decided to rest as my comrades made plans to attend the morning prayer. Looking back now, I wish I had gone too.
As we hustled back to the hotel to greet the awakening caravan, I was finally able to get a good look at Gaza. The morning bustle was surprising, it was business as usual. The sun shone bright on the fantastic Arab architecture of the beige stone buildings. Although there was evidence of some destruction, more than that, I saw resilience in the eyes of the people.
When we arrived at the Hamas-guarded hotel, we found chaos. Because of my close relationship with NYC Councilman Barron, he confided in me that the Viva Palestina mission had been harangued into a media event designed to benefit the Hamas organization, which was altogether different from the “humanitarian aid” mission that was to bring aid specifically and directly to the people of Gaza.
The buses that were slowly filling up with the 200-plus kind-hearted individuals who dedicated their time, money and resources would be paraded around town to meet with the prime minister and visit “hotspots” that would serve as great photo opportunities for a Hamas public relations campaign. This not only concerned Barron but alarmed former Green Party presidential nominee Cynthia McKinney and people like me who knew what time it was (which there were very few of).
In a last minute decision, Barron said he would not abandon the people but would inform them and if they decided to move forward with them as a guide, which I thought was honorable seeing as how this whole thing had been thrown into his lap. I raised concerns about how people who had pledged support to non-governmental organizations would be affected by these actions when they returned to their respective homes. Would their government say that they were supporting “terrorist” operations in the Middle East? I’m sure the Preachers for Peace, the Jewish Rabbis and the bright-futured college students in those buses wanted no part of that.
So our small contingent gathered in the hotel lobby and decided not to board those buses, but yet to venture out and see the “real” Gaza. Oh, but that wasn’t going to happen without a huge struggle. After Councilman Barron and the buses pulled off, we arranged some taxis to carry us but as we jumped in we were met with stiff resistance from the S.W.A.T.-like Hamas soldiers. They declared that we could not leave the hotel since we hadn’t left with the Viva Palestina caravan!
The picture kept becoming clearer and clearer. As our Arabic-speaking guides negotiated with the guards, we finally were able to “kick up enough dust” to convince them to let us go free. Under the bluest of skies, we drove up the Gaza coast, which was more awesome than Malibu on our left, but on our right we saw the danger of such coastal accessibility.
We visited the forbidden sides of Gaza where the people and masjids had been brutalized and battered, leaving them barely holding on to their lives. And we finally ended up at the hospital where we were to donate the medical supplies that we managed to get through the border against the will of the Egyptian government. Since we had arrived earlier than the caravan, which was held up because of their meeting with government officials, we were able to have an informative one-on-one meeting with doctors who curiously wondered how a motley crue of freedom-fighters and rappers ended up there.
Once the blue-shirted caravan of Viva Palestina comrades swarmed into the parking lot of the medical center, the media circus ensued. As presstv.com conducted an interview with Cynthia McKinney, Mazzi and I made our way through the ever-swelling crowd to hear the press conference that had been prepared to thank everyone for their diligence and determination which brought the boxes of medical supplies for the awaiting patients who desperately needed them.
And even though my small “renegade” group had made other plans, we were now forced to board the buses with the Viva Palestina group and endure the rest of the day’s itinerary, which would mean having us on display at the Department of Justice and an arm-twisting to be a part of a panel discussion … which we ultimately refused.
Cynthia McKinney, who was clearer than ever about her role in this trip to Gaza, became more and more someone I depended on to clarify our position to the rest of the group. She maintained a very principled stance in “rider” fashion and even fought for our right to break away and go to the studio to record the song “24 Hours in G.A.Z.A.” that we had written in honor of this occasion.
Nonetheless, we never made it to the studio but we did manage to get in a performance at the concluding conference at the hotel ballroom. The performance was historic, even though the sound system was awful, because it would be the first time that artists from the U.S. (M1 and S.O.U.L. Purpose) would appear live in Gaza with the dopest hip hop artists from that area (P.R.).
As our 24-hour curfew counted down, everyone scurried to gather their belongings and say goodbye to acquaintances we had made. All that kept playing in my head was the song “Falastini” that Ayman and Ishmael had rocked a few moments earlier for a crowd that had no idea what had just hit them.
I was proud that I had “dared to struggle” and been a part of making history. I had much to report back to the African community in the ghettos of the U.S. I could not wait to tell everyone that the war on this side reeked of the same odor as in our hood.
The buses filled with weary strugglers made their way down the beautiful Gaza coast to the border just in time for us to fulfill our commitment. I could tell everyone had memories that would last a lifetime. I knew that revolutionaries had been born in the last 24 hours. I also recognized self-serving agendas had been exposed as well.
The cherry on top was one last struggle. There was a Palestinian man who had reunited with his wife and kids during our mission and had boarded the bus to exit Gaza hoping to bring his family with him. They did not have the proper paperwork and/or passports to convince the drones at the border to keep the family united.
Everyone on the bus geared up for a struggle to keep the Palestinian family together and even planned a midnight protest inside the immigration office. To no avail: The wife and kids were not allowed out of Gaza because of the imposing embargo, which was a heart-wrenching moment for all of us. The six hour late night trip back to Cairo airport would give us much to consider but, even more, how we could return … next time Victorious!
Learn more about M1 and dead prez and their latest album, “Pulse of the People,” at www.deadprez.com and www.myspace.com/m1rbg. Join M-1 on his historic speaking tour Sept. 23-29, “From the Ghetto to Gaza” – seven events in seven days in East and West Oakland, San Francisco, Sonoma, San Jose and Santa Cruz to benefit BlockReportRadio.com and SFBayView.com. Contact Minister of Information JR at firstname.lastname@example.org or the SF Bay View at (415) 671-0789 for more information.