On Tuesday, the Egyptian foreign ministry warned activists planning to march across its border into Gaza to mark the anniversary of last year's conflict that they'll be "dealt with by the law." But that isn't stopping Roger Kallenberg and five other North Texans from making the trip.
The hardship facing Gazan civilians because of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade is "a human rights crisis," says Kallenberg, a retired teacher and Dallas Peace Center board member who plans to record his visit to Gaza and show the footage upon his return. "My goal is to have the world and particularly the Israeli government see the impact of last year's war. We need to know what's happening and how the arms makers of North Texas are contributing to that."
The activists -- approximately 1,000 from 42 different countries -- plan to fly into Cairo and march to the border (the only one not controlled by Israel) to join tens of thousands of demonstrating Palestinians, hoping the Egyptian government will reverse course. One of the event organizers said in a press release that she told the Egyptians that they're aware of the dangers but are committed to going forward.
"We responded that we do not feel threatened, and that if there are any risks, they are risks we are willing to take," retired U.S. Army Col. Ann Wright said in the statement. "We also said that it was too late for over 1,300 delegates coming from over 42 countries to change their plans now. We both agreed to continue our exchanges." She also said that no delegation that entered Gaza in the past 12 months has received permission before arriving at the Rafah border, and that in many cases the Egyptian government changed its position.
Kallenberg plans to leave Dallas tomorrow and arrive in Cairo on the 27th, he says, and the group will set out the next day for the border. As the sole Jewish member of the North Texas group opposing the blockade and the conflict last year that killed more than 1,000 Palestinians, he claims he's been criticized by members of the local Jewish community.
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"It's hard for them to even say Gaza. They say, 'So you're going to Israel?'" he says. "It's something they don't want to see, even though it's in front of them."
One reason he's making the trip is to "help the Dallas Jewish community understand what collective punishment looks like," he says, arguing that Israel's bombing was a disproportionately brutal response to Palestinian militants firing rockets into Israel. "How does dropping bombs and bulldozing houses reflect Jewish values?"
Diane Baker, a hospice chaplain and Dallas Peace Center board member who's also making the trip, steered clear of condemning Israel, saying she has held a lifelong hope that the two countries could create a lasting peace. "I hope to come back with stories of love and hope," she says.
Lon Burnam, a state representative and director of the Dallas Peace Center, emphasizes that during the holiday season, Palestinian children in Gaza are struggling to eat, and that he aims to hold local events in the coming weeks to raise awareness. "People are more concerned about what's stuffing their own stockings than about what's happening in the Holy Land," he says.