Egyptians lay siege to Israeli embassy in commemoration of Nakba

Salma Shukrallah, Sunday 15 May 2011

With efforts to demonstrate at the Rafah border crossing thwarted by the army, the Israeli embassy in Cairo becomes the focus of protests in solidarity with Palestinians on Nakba Day


Hundreds had been gathering before the Israeli embassy in Cairo since 9am carrying Palestinian flags and chanting “the people want to dismantle Israel.” By 4pm, the number of protesters had reached a couple of thousand, as more protesters joined the demonstration held to mark the Palestinian Nakba Day.

Answering an Arab wide call to besiege Israel at its borders, hundreds in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan demonstrated calling for Palestinian refugees' right of return. While Egyptians were prevented from reaching their border after the country’s ruling military council gave orders to seal off Sinai two days before 15 May, hundreds besieged Israel’s Cairo embassy instead.

Calls to demonstrate at the embassy began spreading more than a month ago. University Bridge in front of the embassy was packed with protesters standing on either side while young participants organised traffic to make way for cars to pass through the demonstration. A huge banner held at the opposite side of the street from where the embassy is located read: “I am an Egyptian with the Intifada” and beside it tens carried a large Palestinian flag.

People of all ages and political affiliations took part in the demonstration. Several demonstrators wore t-shirts bearing the late Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al-Ali’s iconic figure Hanzala, who symbolises for many Palestinian resistance. Others wore the “Third Palestinian Intifada” t-shirts sold all over downtown Cairo. The demonstration was also attended by the Jewish American political scientist Norman Finkelstein, in town to give a talk tomorrow at the American University in Cairo.

Awatef Mansour, a 42-year old woman who came with her two daughters, said: “I am not part of any political group or party. I came here in solidarity with the Palestinians. I knew about the demonstration from following the news. I am here because I want the Israeli embassy out of Cairo and I want a Palestinian embassy instead.”

On top of a security booth beside the embassy, several young men set up speakers from which pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli chants echoed. Beside the speakers, two young men, one of whom wore a “Mohamed’s army” bandana, carried a banner that read: “Crescent and cross against the Zionists of Tel Aviv.” The symbol of the crescent and cross, which emphasises national unity, has become increasingly prevalent since Egypt’s sectarian tensions have risen ever more to the surface.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrations held to coincide with today’s Nakba Day have come under criticism. With Egypt facing sectarian tensions, some argue that it is not a suitable time to demonstrate over the Palestinian cause and that focus should be directed at domestic politics. Obviously disagreeing, protesters at the Israeli embassy chanted “Egyptians will liberate Palestine.”

Fatma Mohamed, 17 years old, said: “I found out about the demonstration from Facebook. The first time for me to ever join a demonstration was in Tahrir during the revolution. I chanted against Israel every time I got the chance while I was in Tahrir.”

One of the main accusations directed at ousted president Mubarak during the 18 day sit-in in Tahrir Square was his complicity with Israel to the detriment of the Palestinians’ and Egypt’s interests. Several banners in Tahrir read: “Mubarak is an Israeli collaborator.”

The demonstrators at the Israeli embassy continued to chant “the people’s first demand is to shut down the embassy and send back the ambassador.”

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