CAIRO — To increase international pressure for Pres. Obama to call on Israel to end its blockade of war-torn Gaza, just days before Obama delivers his first speech from the Arab world here, TOMORROW a 66-person, largely American delegation will attempt to cross through the heavily policed, blockaded Egyptian city of Rafah into Gaza.
The delegation, which will bring toys and playground building materials for Gazan children, will also collect signatures for an international petition calling on Obama to visit Gaza during his upcoming Middle East tour so he can witness the damage himself. The delegation will deliver to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo by June 4 in time for his historic speech.
“We think if President Obama is serious about being even-handed and reversing our country’s past favoritism towards Israel then he should visit Gaza himself,” said Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK and co-organizer of the delegation. “We’re sure that if he saw and heard about the suffering personally, he would put the required pressure on the governments of both Israel and Egypt to open the borders now.”
The international delegation, which will enter Gaza at the invitation of the United Nations Relief & Works Agency (UNRWA), will visit with social service agencies that care for children, deliver sports equipment and toys to schools, and build three playgrounds.
CODEPINK, a women-led peace group, has led several delegations to Gaza to witness, firsthand, the devastation caused by the 22-day Israeli military attack on the Gaza Strip that began last December. The group is particularly concerned about the children of Gaza, who make up more than half of the population. Approximately 400 children were killed during the 22 day attack and an estimated 1,346 Gazan children were left without one or both of their parents as a result of the recent Israeli assault. The majority of the children in Gaza were traumatized by the attack and invasion.
“If President Obama can, at the last minute, add a visit to Saudi Arabia to have a private dinner with the King, then he certainly can go to Gaza,” said Col. Ann Wright, co-leader of the delegation and a retired U.S. Army colonel and a former U.S. diplomat who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq war.