Protesting Israel's bombs

Elizabeth Schulte rounds up reports from activists in cities across the country about emergency response actions to demand an end to Israel's assault on Gaza.

Chicagoans march against Israel's barbaric assault on Gaza (Carole Ramsden | SW)Chicagoans march against Israel's barbaric assault on Gaza (Carole Ramsden | SW)

AS ISRAELI air strikes began pounding Gaza on November 14, activists around the U.S.--Israel's main international supporter--organized emergency responses in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Palestinian rights organizations called many of the protests, and a range of activists took to the streets together on short notice to show their outrage.

-- In New York City, about 1,000 people gathered in front of the Israeli consulate on November 15 for a protest called just the day before. It was vibrant, defiant, militant and bold, with a large number of students and young American Muslims and Palestinians.

Protesters chanted in Arabic, "Be-ruh, be-dam, mafdik ya Falastin," which translates to "With soul, with blood, we sacrifice for Palestine." Most of all, they chanted for justice and freedom in Palestine.

Dima Abi Saab, of Al-Awda: the Palestine Right to Return Coalition NY, reminded protesters of the previous devastation caused by Operation Cast Lead, Israel's three-week assault that began in December 2008.

"It was only four years ago that we stood in this spot protesting yet another Israeli massacre in Gaza," Abi Saab told protesters, "when 1,400 Palestinians were killed, two-thirds of whom were women and children...and 22,000 buildings and homes were destroyed because of the bombardment. And yet here we stand again four years later and nothing has changed in Gaza. The siege still stands."

Abi Saab pointed out the vast support the U.S. government provides Israel, often at the expense of working people in the U.S. "While the people in Rockaway Beach and Long Beach are still without power or any assistance after Hurricane Sandy, our government is still sending weapons and money for weapons to Israel, to continue its atrocities against the Palestinian people," she said.

Some 30 Zionists gathered across the street in a counterprotest, though they were significantly outnumbered by pro-Palestinian protesters.

As Jason Farbman of the Internationalist Socialist Organization (ISO) said:

If this conflict was only to be judged in terms of property stolen, of lives stolen, of land stolen, it would be easy for us to determine which side we're on. It doesn't take very much to come out and stand in support of one of the most powerful militaries in the world, as you devastate a helpless population. There can never be an equivalence between the struggle of the oppressed for their freedom, and the violence of the oppressor to keep them in chains, to keep them locked up. Resistance is justified when people are occupied.

A spokesperson for the Muslim American Society said, "We say to everyone, especially the non-Muslims, that what unites us is not our color, is not our religion, is not our language. It is indeed our humanity. Anyone with an ounce of feeling will sympathize with those who are dying, with those who are struggling, regardless of where he comes from or where she comes from."

A call was made to meet again the following day, and every day thereafter, until the assault is ended. Speakers asked that protesters bring more people out in the coming days to make their voices heard.

-- In San Francisco, 500 rallied in support of the Palestinian people and against Israel's bombarding of Gaza outside the Israeli consulate on November 16.

The crowd's energy was high throughout, chanting, "Free, Free Palestine, Long Live Palestine, Long Live the Intifada." Cars honked in support, and some waved Palestinian flags out of their windows. There was a strong conviction that it was critical to show solidarity with the Palestinian people because of the U.S. government's support of the oppressive Israeli government.

Students from area colleges and universities turned out to protest. Michelle Dallalah, a Stanford student, said that she came because of U.S. complicity with Israel's assault. "Students cannot isolate themselves to Stanford if they are going to challenge one of the most destructive regimes in the world--the U.S.," she said.

Ziad Abbas, associate director of the Middle East Children's Alliance, argued that demonstrations are crucial to building long-term pressure on Israel and delegitimizing its apartheid state.

When the protest began at 4 p.m., the demonstration easily outnumbered the handful of Zionists who showed up to counterprotest. But the crowd continued to swell, as people rushed from work to show support for Palestine.

Protest pens set up by police to confine the demonstration to the sidewalk couldn't hold people back. As protesters filled the road, the supporters of Israel packed up. The crowd yelled louder, the energy soared higher, and a group beneath a massive Palestinian flag led the demonstrators through the streets in a joyous march through downtown.

-- In Boston, some 400 people protested against Israel's invasion on November 15. Students for Justice in Palestine chapters from universities throughout Boston mobilized students to the protest, which was called by the Northeastern University SJP.

Protesters rallied in Copley Square and then marched to the Israeli consulate, chanting "Brick by brick, wall by wall, we will make apartheid fall." While a small number of pro-Israel protesters showed up to counter protest, their pro-war singing was drowned out by the loud, young, multiracial Palestine solidarity protest.

-- In Washington, D.C., hundreds turned out for multiple demonstrations against Israel's brutal bombing campaign of Gaza beginning November 15 and continuing through the weekend.

On Thursday evening, more 150 students, activists and community members marched from the U.S. State Department to the White House. Lead by a group of Arab student activists, protesters lead chants like "Not another nickle, not another dime, no more money for Israel's crimes!"

Jack, a member of the George Washington University SJP said he got involved in the campaign for Palestine four years. He said that, since that invasion, Israel's campaign of assassinations of innocent bystanders has lead to continual growth of the pro-Palestine movement, including recent acts of solidarity by Jewish students.

Also, participating was Occupy DC activist Matt Kirkland, who said, "Everyone who wants freedom should be against occupation."

The next evening, demonstrators gathered at the White House, and on Sunday scores of activists and community members gathered outside the Israeli embassy to demonstrate they anger at the bombings.

-- In Portland, Ore., as many as 200 people came out despite the rain and cold on November 17 to show solidarity with Palestinians and call on the U.S. to stop funding Israel's war crimes.

The protest was organized by Students United for Palestinians Rights, the Portland Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Coalition, Americans United for Palestinians Equal Rights and Portland Jewish Voice for Peace.

Protesters chanted "Free, Free Gaza!" and "Rain or shine! Free Palestine!" as they marched through downtown Portland following a lively rally. Local activist and singer-songwriter David Rovics warmed up the crowd with several songs dedicated to Gaza and the struggle for Palestinian liberation. Palestinian poet Remi Kanazi performed.

Speakers exposed the misleading and inaccurate reporting in the U.S. media about the current assault on Gaza, denounced American military, political and economic support for the continued oppression and dispossession of the Palestinian people, and encouraged protesters to join the ongoing campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

-- In Seattle, about 100 demonstrators came to an emergency protest on November 15 at the federal building downtown. Protesters chanted, "Gaza, Gaza, don't you cry! Palestine will never die!" The Henry M. Jackson Federal Building is named after the former Washington senator who was an early supporter of aid for Israel's wars.

A smaller number returned downtown November 17 to take part in an ongoing series of vigils in solidarity with Palestine.

-- In Detroit, 80 people turned out for a passionate demonstration against Israel's latest U.S.-backed assault against the people of Gaza. As chanting protesters rallied near the tunnel that connects Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, many drivers honked and waved in support.

"Every time a home is demolished, every time a farmer is uprooted, every time a family has to move out so theirs can move in, it's consistent aggression," Tuba Hasan, one of the protest organizers, told reporters. "That's why we're here; we're trying to stand against it for the Palestinian people."

-- In Philadelphia, as many as 70 people turned out for an afternoon protest at the Israeli consulate on November 16. Protesters, many of them young Muslim women, chanted "Resistance is justified, when people are occupied" and "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free."

Seth Eisenstein, a high school student who attended the protest, said he was there to defend human rights. "Real change will only come from the people," he said, "It won't come from some person sitting in a comfortable office signing something. It'll come from us standing up for our rights and the rights of others."

-- In San Diego, an emergency protest in solidarity with Gaza brought together 50 people at the Federal Building on November 15 and 16. Protesters gathered at the corner of a busy intersection with signs and banners that read "Justice for Palestine, Support the Right to Return" "End the Israeli Blockade of Gaza" and "Let Gaza Live."

Chants, in English and Spanish, included "Free, Free Palestine, Long Live Palestine" and "Viva viva viva, la lucha Palestina."

The emergency protest was called by Al-Awda San Diego, and sponsored by SJP, Muslim Student Association and a number of other groups, including the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice.

-- In Rochester, N.Y., members of the Palestine solidarity movement were quick to mobilize, organizing an emergency protest at the Rochester Federal Building, which turned out 40 people on less than a day's notice. Members of Rochester Against War, the University of Rochester's Students for a Democratic Society, as well people from the Palestinian and Muslim communities attended.

The next day, as many as 70 people gathered for another rally organized by members of the Palestinian community. During the rally, protesters took part in an impromptu march. A number of people stepped forward to share personal experiences and solidarity with the people of Gaza.

One protester read a poem by the late Palestinian writer Mahmoud Darwish, another talked about the growing global against Israeli apartheid, and a university student spoke out on the importance of building the resistance on college campuses through the BDS campaign.

A local resident with family in Gaza drew the connections between the current situation and Operation Cast Lead, but explained that such instances of brutality have only made his family and the people of Gaza more determined.

-- In Oklahoma City, about 70 activists from various organizations protested on November 17, a larger-than-expected turnout. Many of the people there had participated in a march calling on humanitarian aid to Syria earlier in the day.

-- In Baltimore, Md., 35 activists rallied on November 17 in opposition of the Israeli bombings of Gaza, forming a picket line and chanting, "Occupation is a crime, from Iraq to Palestine" and " No justice, No peace, U.S. out of the Middle East."

-- In Madison, Wis., an emergency rally and speak-out organized by the SJP at the University of Wisconsin, turned out about 100 people to Library Mall.

About a dozen pro-Israel counterprotesters also showed up, some of them wearing Israel Defense Forces T-shirts, others draped in Israel's flag. Several anti-Zionist Jews spoke powerfully against Israel's illegal occupation. Protesters marched to the Capitol, as many bystanders watched and applauded. The counterprotesters left.

-- In Dallas, about 25 people gathered near the JFK memorial on November 17, in a protest organized by several supporters of local BDS campaigns.

-- In Olympia, Wash., 30 people gathered on November 16 in a protest organized by the Rachel Corrie Foundation. Rachel Corrie was an Olympia resident who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 while trying to defend a home in Rafah, Gaza, from being destroyed.

Protesters held signs that read "We Have Blood On Our Hands" and dipped their hands in red paint to symbolize U.S. funding of Israel's atrocities. Afterward, protesters moved on to local newspaper offices to protest the bias of articles written about Israel's attacks.

-- In Burlington, Vt., about 30 people participated in an emergency picket on November 17 outside the office of Sen. Patrick Leahy, one of the Senate's biggest supporters of Israel. The picket was called in a joint effort by Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel, the ISO and the University of Vermont chapter of SJP.

-- In Amherst, Mass., UMass student Emma Roberts organized a protest on November 16 to call out Israel's war crimes against the Palestinian people. About 20 joined the pro-Palestinian rally, and 30 showed up in support of Israel to counterprotest.

Following the action, similar protests are being called by the Western Massachusetts Coalition for Palestine and the UMass Arab Student Club.

-- In Denton, Texas, as many as 40 people protested at the University of North Texas in a protest called by the Denton Anti-War Network and the ISO. Protesters chanted and talked to passerby about the attack on Gaza, passed out leaflets and articles. Afterward, they chanted, "UNT, don't you know? Sabra Hummus has got to go!" encouraging others to join the boycott campaign.

-- In West Lafayette, Ind., 20 people gathered on November 16 for a demonstration at Purdue University called by the SJP and supported by the Purdue Muslim Students Association.

Suad Abdul Khabeer, assistant professor of Anthropology and African American Studies, said that it was the "U.S. government's unexplained loyalty, that made Israel act with such impunity." As the death count mounts in Gaza and the U.S. government continues to shield Israel, Khabeer said "the onus is upon ordinary folks like us to speak the truth about Israel's crimes through demonstrations and protests such as this one."

Most protesters talked about the change in the political landscape since the last Israeli attack on Gaza in 2008--the growth of the global opposition to Israel's crimes. Protest organizer Lamise Shawahin said that she felt "there was a shift in consciousness and more people today were organizing on the ground and in their communities" against Zionist policies.

Andrew Bennett, Tithi Bhattacharya, Miguel Angel Castaneda, Alden Eagle, Basma Eid, Wael Elasady, Marcello Frederico, Brian Huseby, Natalie Johnson, Heather Kangas, Sarah Levy, Griff Mitchusson, Greg Morin, Khury Petersen-Smith, Aaron Petkov, Jim Ramey, Michael Sanchez, Mike Stark, Daphna Thier, Jeremy Tully, Lilian Wehbe and Katie Zaman contributed to this article.