News and reports

Protesting the siege of Gaza

HUNDREDS OF activists in cities across the U.S. gathered last week to protest the Israeli government's continued siege of Palestinians living in Gaza. The protests came as sections of the border wall separating Gaza from Egypt came down, allowing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to pour across the border in an inspiring display of action against Israel's apartheid policies.

-- In New York City, protesters gathered at the Israeli Consulate for two separate demonstrations on January 25 and 26. The Friday protest--which had as many as 400 at its height--was called by groups including Al-Awda, the Arab Muslim American Federation, the National Council of Arab Americans, the Palestinian American Congress and Jews Against the Occupation, among others, while the Saturday protest was sponsored by ANSWER and others.

Protesters chanted "Free, free Palestine" and "Stop the killing in the West Bank now," and carried banners in support of ending the Israeli occupation.

-- In Seattle, more than 50 people gathered downtown, carrying Palestinian flags and banners demanding "Justice for Palestine" and an end to Israeli terror.

"My brothers are both in jail in the West Bank because they are deemed dangerous by the Israeli government, but they have done nothing wrong," a co-founder of Voices for Palestine, the organization that called for the demonstration, explained to the crowd.

-- In San Francisco, more than 100 activists gathered. One banner carried by protesters read "Send Israel to the World Court for Gaza war crimes."

-- In Boston, more than 100 activists, including members of the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights, gathered in Harvard Square. The protest stretched for a block.

-- In Washington, D.C., approximately 75 protesters gathered at the Israeli Embassy following an interfaith service at St. Alban's Episcopal Church that featured Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders.

-- In San Diego, approximately 50 people protested at the Federal Building. The demonstration was organized by Al-Awda San Diego, the Free Palestine Alliance and other groups.

"The situation in Gaza is horrible--a total siege," Ahlam Muhtaseb, an al-Awda spokesperson, said in an interview. Comparing Gaza to "a prison," and labeling the Israeli blockade as "ethnic cleansing," she called on people to support boycotts of Israeli goods, and to travel to Gaza to see the situation first hand.

Rick Greenblatt and Erik Wallenberg contributed to this report.

Support war resisters

By Hannah Wolfe

SUPPORTERS OF U.S. war resisters rallied across the U.S. and Canada on January 25 to call for passage of Canadian legislation that would allow Iraq war resisters to stay in Canada.

Members of the New York chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), Courage to Resist, the War Resisters League and others gathered at the Canadian Consulate in New York City to hand-deliver a petition with 1,500 signatures. Similar actions were held in Washington, D.C., Seattle, San Francisco, and cities and towns across Canada.

Establishing Canada as a secure refuge is an important part of organizing resistance among U.S. troops, who face courts martial, dishonorable discharge and imprisonment if they refuse to serve.

New York IVAW member Jen Hogg, speaking at the consulate event, explained that the passage of this law would give U.S. troops confidence in "knowing they can refuse to fight in this illegal and immoral war without facing prison, that they have some legal protection when they speak the truth."

During the U.S. war on Vietnam, about 50,000 U.S. war resisters found safe haven in Canada.

"Our government is pretty clear that it is pro-Bush and [wants to] reassure Americans that the Canadian border is very secure," said Leigh Zaslofsky, who fled the United States in 1970 and now coordinates Canada's War Resister Support Campaign. "When I deserted...I was readily admitted to Canada as a permanent resident and didn't have to worry about being sent back to the United States."

The legislation in question passed Canada's Citizenship and Immigration Committee by a vote of 7 to 4 on December 6, 2007, and is up for a vote in the full House of Commons next month. So far, the courts have refused to hear cases of war resisters seeking refugee status. Several hundred war resisters live in Canada in legal limbo, fearful of deportation and imprisonment.

Defending immigrant workers

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.--Approximately 50 immigrant rights activists from the Midwest, representing groups and organizations from four states in the region, held a conference here January 19 to develop a common plan of action in defense of undocumented and immigrant workers' rights.

The meeting was called by the Association of Immigrants of Indiana (Asociación de Inmigrantes de Indiana). Among those attending the conference were representatives from the Association of Immigrants of Indiana, Asociación Cívica Mexicana de Indiana, Chicago Workers Collaborative, Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) of Ohio, Illinois Migrant Council, International Socialist Organization, Labor Notes, Organización 10 de April of Madison, South East Chicago Community for Immigrant Rights (SECCIR), TAP San Adalberto of South Bend, Indiana, UNITE HERE 39-C and others.

Activists dedicated themselves to convene on a more permanent basis, committing themselves "to seek allies to organize a regional mobilization in Chicago on May 1 this year, to fight for legal status and labor rights for all undocumented workers, and to protest racism and the creation of unjust laws."

In the morning sessions, activists discussed issues related to the politics of immigration, including: the growing state repression against undocumented workers; the racist anti-immigrant hysteria of the right; the elections; the tragedy of deportations and more.

In the afternoon, participants sat down to the task of preparing a common course of action, and voted to get out information about the conference decisions to as many activists and groups as possible. One of the first tasks was to look for allies in organizing a regional mobilization in Chicago for May 1 in order to take up the issue of amnesty for undocumented workers.

To evaluate success in these tasks and continue planning, the assembly is organizing a second meeting in Chicago on March 8 and 9. The meeting will be open to all groups and individuals in the Midwest interested in fighting for immigrant rights.