CAIRO: “Feeling that only a few steps separate you from death, witnessing innocent people being randomly shot and dropping dead right in front of you, is very painful, but I believe these people were chosen to be martyrs,” Muslim Brotherhood MP Mohamed El-Beltagy told Daily News Egypt, recalling his experience during the Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla.
El-Beltagy was a passenger on the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship which was raided by Israeli commandos on May 31, killing 9 activists.
The activists on the Gaza bound flotilla, known as the “freedom flotilla” were carrying aid to Gaza in an attempt to break the Israeli blockade imposed after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007.
El-Beltagy just arrived last week from another visit to Gaza, in an attempt to deliver construction material to the impoverished Gazans and express his support and solidarity following the tragic incident of the freedom flotilla.
Egyptian authorities prevented the construction material from entering Gaza, but allowed El-Beltagy, who was accompanied by eight other MPs, into Gaza for the first time.
“We saw Gazans exerting all their effort trying to break down the walls left from the already demolished buildings, in an attempt to strip these walls to their preliminary materials [cement, iron, rubble] and try to reuse them in building homes.” El-Beltagy said.
According to a 2009 UN report, 60,000 homes were either damaged or completely destroyed during the 22-day Israeli offensive on Gaza in December 2008.
The UN report states that building materials necessary to repair the damage could not enter Gaza, and the Israeli blockade is responsible for continued breakdowns of the electricity and sanitation systems due to the Israeli refusal to let spare parts needed for repair get through the borders.
Ever since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, Israel has imposed a severe blockade on Gaza’s 1.5 million people, claiming that the siege is a legitimate tool to prevent Hamas from firing rockets on Israel.
Israel only allows a few dozen types of foods and medicines into Gaza, while barring raw materials and other products as banal as toilet paper and ginger, describing them as a “security risk.”
More than 80 percent of Gaza’s population is now impoverished; 43 percent unemployed; and 75 per cent lack food security, a UN report states.
President Hosni Mubarak ordered the indefinite opening of Egypt’s Rafah border crossing, the only gateway to Gaza that bypasses Israel, after the Israeli raid on the freedom flotilla.
This decision has allowed some additional aid into Gaza, but construction material is still barred from entering.
During El-Beltagy’s 30-hour stay in Gaza, he visited a number of institutions that care for the wounded and disabled.
“I noticed that there are so many Gazans with lost limbs, some of them have lost their hands, others have lost their legs, as a result of the barbaric Israeli war on Gaza. They are in dire need of prosthetic limbs to be able to resume normal lives.”
According to Amnesty International, trucks of medical aid provided by the World Health Organization have been repeatedly barred from entering Gaza without explanation by Israeli officials.
Israel approved a plan to ease its blockade on the Gaza Strip on Thursday, as a response to international calls, following the deadly Israeli raid on the Gaza flotilla.
The plan is to allow desperately needed construction materials for internationally sponsored construction products.
Israel didn’t release many details about the changes in its blockade, and it was not clear whether any firm decisions had been made.
Hamas rejected the Israeli plan and called it an attempt to ease the international pressure on Israel. So it can continue its blockade on Gaza.
“We have been waiting in vain for years for the issue of binding international resolutions against Israel,” El-Beltagy said.
“But I expected that after what happened on the freedom flotilla, there would be a stronger Arab stance, represented in Egypt really opening the Rafah border, the halt of indirect negotiations between Palestine and Israel, severing all ties with this criminal entity [Israel] and recreating the state of isolation that Israel suffered from in the 60s,” he added.
Israel said that its commandos acted in self-defense after they were attacked with sticks and stabbed as soon as they landed on the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship.
Campaign organizers insist that Israeli commandos attacked first.
“There were absolutely no weapons whatsoever on the ship.” El-Beltagy said.
“We were being shot at with live bullets by the Israelis, the activists tried to find anything they could to defend themselves, like wooden rods from tables that were on the ships,” he added.
El-Beltagi said that after the Israelis took control of Mavi Marmara, they tied up all the passengers on the ship and deprived them of food and water for nearly 12 hours, before reaching Ashdod Port.”
When the ship arrived to Ashdod Port, the Israelis quickly released El-Beltagy and Hazem Farouk, the other Muslim Brotherhood MP accompanying him, to the Egyptian consulate.
“When the Israeli commando called our names as the two Egyptian MPs, I knew that Egyptian officials had intervened to release us as soon as possible,” El-Beltagy said.
El-Beltagy was touched by how activists from different nationalities, races, cultures and religions had come together in a humanitarian mission to help the besieged people of Gaza, when their governments have failed to do so.
He especially lauded the European female activists who traveled thousand of miles to deliver aid to Gaza and endured the tragic events on the freedom flotilla.
“I will never forget Sarah Colborne, a British activist from Manchester, who agreed with me that what happened on the Gaza flotilla was a grave price to pay [for breaking the Gaza siege], but the cause was even greater and it was worth it.”
He added “I have religious and national motives that drive me to believe this, but for Sarah, the non-Arab, non-Muslim to believe the same shows that she values human rights and justice and is willing to fight for them and I deeply respect that.”