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Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK co-founder, 415-235-6517
Jean Stevens, national media coordinator, 508-769-2138
50 International Delegates to Arrive in Gaza With Gift Baskets for Gazan Women
Vow to camp on border if blocked, demand its opening
WASHINGTON - February 23 - A 50-member international delegation will attempt to cross the Egyptian border into war-torn Gaza early next month, carrying 2,000 gift baskets to pay tribute to the incredibly resilient, beleaguered Gazan women on International Women's Day, March 8.
Set to depart Cairo March 6, the impressive delegation -- which includes acclaimed author Alice Walker, former state department official Ann Wright, CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin and 47 others from around the world -- expects Egyptian authorities will allow them to cross into Gaza March 7. The delegation, organized by the U.S. women's peace group CODEPINK and coming at the invitation of the Gaza Gender Initiative of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), it the first delegation of its size and kind to attempt to enter Gaza since July 2007, when Israel imposed the blockade.
If Egyptian authorities deny the group's entrance, the group will camp out at the border until they get in, said delegation organizer Benjamin. Hundreds of aid workers, lawyers, and convoys carrying humanitarian aid have been denied entrance by Egyptian authorities at the Rafah border.
Once inside Gaza, the delegation will spend several days meeting with Palestinian women's groups, delivering aid to relief groups and witnessing the devastation from the 22-day Israeli invasion.
"We have not, as a planet, been seeking to change the world so that this insanity cannot continue," said delegate Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and poet. "Going to Gaza is our opportunity to express solidarity with the people there, to demonstrate the concern we feel each day for the suffering endured. To remind the people of Gaza and ourselves that we belong to the same world. We can bring our witness, one of life's strongest gifts."
The delegation will pay tribute to the women of Gaza on the United Nations' International Women's Day, which calls on the world to focus on the needs and contributions of women. CODEPINK felt inspired to dedicate the day to Gaza women just two months following the devastating Israeli assault on the occupied land that killed more than 1,300, including 437 children, and injured more than 5,000. On February 20, CODEPINK put out a call to its members to help fund $10 gift baskets for the women of Gaza. In two days, the group collected enough donations to take gift baskets to 2,000 women.
"We have been overwhelmed by response toward our initiative," Benjamin said. "We thought we'd take 15 people on the delegation to Gaza and we have 50. We thought we'd take 200 gift baskets, and we're taking 2,000! American women feel tremendous compassion toward the women of Gaza and are ready for a U.S. policy based on respect for the human rights of all people in the region."
Benjamin and Wright returned from a trip to Gaza earlier this month where they witnessed the terrible devastation (read Wright's piece on her trip on Air America here. They found Gazans anxious to have foreign delegations visit, witness and learn about their plight and push for an end to the blockade.
"The Israeli attack came after 18 months of a crippling blockade that had already left the Palestinian population hungry, sick, weak, and suffering from a catastrophic situation," Wright said. "We must not only provide massive humanitarian aid, but lift the blockade that is keeping the people of Gaza under siege."
WHEN: March 6 to March 12, 2009
WHERE: March 6, leaving Cairo; March 7, Rafah, Egypt border crossing into Rafah, Gaza
For more information and interviews, please call Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK co-founder, at 415-235-6517 or Jean Stevens, CODEPINK media coordinator, at 508-769-2138.