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“Help. They Broke My Arm. Egypt Police”: Peace Activist Medea Benjamin Detained en Route to Gaza

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U.S. peace activist Medea Benjamin was detained Monday at Cairo’s airport by Egyptian police without explanation. She says she was questioned, held overnight in an airport prison cell and then violently handcuffed by Egyptian officials, who dislocated her shoulder and broke her arm. She was then put on a plane and deported to Turkey, where she is now seeking medical treatment. We speak to her by telephone from the airport medical facility. Benjamin had intended to meet up with international delegates before traveling to Gaza for a women’s conference.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to U.S. peace activist Medea Benjamin, who was just detained at Cairo’s airport by Egyptian police. She was in Cairo to meet up with an international delegation before traveling to Gaza for a women’s conference, but she said she was detained upon arrival and held overnight before being deported to Turkey, where she’s now seeking medical treatment. Medea Benjamin joins us on the phone from Turkey.

Medea, how are you?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, I’m in a lot of pain. I’ve gotten two shots of painkiller, but it’s not enough. They fractured my arm, dislocated my shoulder, tore the ligaments. They jumped on top of me. And this was all never telling me what was the problem. And so, it was a very brutal attack, and I’m in a lot of pain.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happened. You arrived at Cairo’s airport, and you were attacked there?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: No, I arrived at the airport. When I gave in my passport, I was taken aside, brought into a separate room, where I was held for seven hours without anybody ever telling me what was wrong. Then I was put into a jail cell in the airport, held overnight. And in the morning, five very scary-looking men came in and wanted to take me away. And I said, “The embassy is coming. The embassy is coming.” They were supposed to have arrived. Instead, they dragged me out, tackled me to the ground, jumped on me, handcuffed my wrists so tight that they started bleeding, and then dislocated my shoulder, and then kept me like that, grabbing my arm. The whole way, I was shouting through the airport, screaming in pain. Then the—I demanded to get medical attention. The Egyptian doctors came and said, “This woman cannot travel. She’s in too much pain. She needs to go to the hospital.” The Egyptian security refused to take me to a hospital and threw me on the plane. Thank God there was an orthopedic surgeon on the plane who gave me another shot and put the arm back in its shoulder. But they were so brutal, and, as I said, Amy, never saying why.

AMY GOODMAN: Did the U.S. Embassy representative ever come to see you at the airport?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: No. Some of the delegates, including Ann Wright, who had already arrived for the Gaza delegation, had been calling the embassy non-stop. The CodePink people in D.C. were calling the embassy non-stop. They were always saying, “They’re supposed to show up. They’re supposed to show up.” They never showed up. I was on the tarmac. The Turkish airline was forced to take me, but we delayed an hour while they were debating what to do. There were about 20 men there. And the embassy never showed up the entire time.

AMY GOODMAN: And how long were you held, that the U.S. Embassy, that’s supposed to protect U.S. citizens, never showed up?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, I was held from 8:30 in the evening until the next day at about 11:00 a.m. They—as I said, we put in so many calls. And they even knew then, when I was attacked and I was in excruciating pain and wanted their help to get to a hospital. They still didn’t show up then. And so, they were missing in action the entire time.

AMY GOODMAN: Medea, talk about what your intention was. Talk about why you were going to Gaza.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: We had plans for March 8th, International Women’s Day, to go on a 100-woman delegation to Gaza to show our support for women who feel really abandoned. Since the upheavals in Egypt, the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza has been closed much of the time, and people are feeling very desperate in Gaza. So this was to highlight their situation. We had Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire coming with us; a heroine from the anti-colonial struggle in Algeria, very well known in the Arab world; and many other very well-known women. And I was one of the main organizers of the delegation.

AMY GOODMAN: And this meeting is taking place as Benjamin Netanyahu is in Washington, D.C., the Israeli prime minister, meeting with President Obama. What were you calling for? What is CodePink calling for?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, we have been calling for the lifting of the siege on Gaza. We’ve been calling, of course, for the stop of the settlements. We’ve been calling for basic human rights for Palestinians. In fact, we were out in front of AIPAC protesting during their policy conference on Sunday. And we’ve been very vocal in our support for the Palestinians and our call for Israel and now Egypt to open up those borders and, especially for Gaza, allow goods to come in and out, so people can have more electricity and more of the goods that they need just to survive.

AMY GOODMAN: And now what is your intention, now that you are—where are you in Turkey?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: I’m in a hospital in the airport right now. The doctors just gave me another shot. They’re going to do an MRI on my shoulder. And they are going to continue with the deportation. There’s not a plane until tomorrow, so I will be here overnight, and then I will be leaving tomorrow back to the U.S.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, all the best to you, Medea. I also want to let people know, of course, about the four Al Jazeera reporters who are currently being held in Egypt, three of whom have been charged with belonging to a terrorist group and spreading false news. Many thousands of activists are being held in Egypt right now. Medea, thanks so much for joining us.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Thanks for having me on, Amy. Bye-bye.

AMY GOODMAN: Medea Benjamin is founder of CodePink, the peace group based here in the United States. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report.

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