Standing up to Israel's intensifying violence

Ryan Nanni, Biff Anderson and Ben Silverman report on emergency protests in several U.S. cities against Israel's escalation of violence against Palestinians.

More than 1,000 demonstrated in Chicago to show their opposition to Israel's war (Todd St. Hill | SW)More than 1,000 demonstrated in Chicago to show their opposition to Israel's war (Todd St. Hill | SW)

AROUND THE U.S., antiwar activists, student organizations, people of conscience and Palestinian communities are organizing protests in solidarity with Palestinians facing Israel's brutal collective punishment.

-- In Chicago, roughly 1,000 protesters took to the streets on July 5 to protest Israel's latest assault on the Palestinian people. Chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) based at several different campuses spearheaded the effort, and a number of organizations quickly joined them, including American Friends Service Committee, American Muslims for Palestine, Jews for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, Palestine Solidarity Group, the U.S.-Palestine Community Network, the International Socialist Organization and the Anti-War Committee.

"The disappearance of the three settlers must be understood in the context of a brutal military occupation of the Palestinian people," said Palestinian activist Ahlam Jbara, addressing the rally. "The media has made it well known the names and faces of the Israeli settlers, but they have not made known the names and faces of the Palestinian people. Our job right now is to make them known."

The march proceeded down Chicago's busy Michigan Avenue while thousands of shoppers, tourists and residents took in the spectacle. Some joined in the chants or raised their fists in solidarity.

Protesters carried signs bearing the names of Palestinian victims, all in their teens, and chanted, "Hey Israel, what do you say, how many kids did you kill today?"

Dina Abdalla, a student organizer at DePaul with Students for Justice in Palestine, spoke about 15-year-old Tarek Abu Khdeir, a U.S. citizen from Florida who was beaten by Israeli police and is currently under house arrest.

"Even though Tarek is a U.S. citizen, the U.S. State Department has not released any info on him nor have they condemned what the Israeli undercover police have done," said Abdalla. "Tarek was born and raised in the United States, speaks very little Arabic, and was just visiting his family in Palestine. This demonstrates the extent of the U.S.'s complicity with Israel's crimes."

The protest follows on a wave of student mobilizations nationally in support of the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. In recent months, SJP chapters have won divestment resolutions and staged protests across the country, shining a light on Israel's crimes in a way the mainstream media has refused for decades.

SJP chapters at Loyola, DePaul and Columbia College were instrumental in organizing the protests. "Palestine does not need our tears," said Nadine Darwish, an 18-year-old student at Loyola University. "It needs our action."

Many Jews also participated in the rally to express their solidarity with Palestinians. Ben Lorber, a member of Jews for Justice in Palestine, addressed the crowd before the march began. "Our people, the Jewish people, did not suffer our own oppression and exile for centuries so that we could turn around and oppress another people," said Lorber. "Israeli apartheid is a shame on the whole world, and it's a shame on my Jewish ancestors. We stand with the Palestinian people suffering from Israeli occupation and with victims of American imperialism all the world over."

Fadi Zanayed, an attorney and a longtime Palestinian activist in the Chicagoland area, drew the parallel between the Palestinian struggle for liberation and the Fourth of July holiday:

This weekend, we celebrate the Fourth of July. Some 238 years ago, America fought for its independence against a brutal British king who allowed his soldiers to go in American homes and quarter there--just like Israel is doing right now. They have gone into 1,000 Palestinian homes in the last three weeks, ransacked them, and arrested male occupants. Some of the soldiers were even looking for a TV to watch the World Cup...America fought in a revolution, and we [the Palestinians] need to fight in our revolution. The king taxed the people without representation...Israel does not allow us any justice in Palestine, and we need to rise up.

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-- In Washington, D.C., nearly 250 Palestinians and their allies gathered for an emergency rally outside the White House on July 5 in response to the Israel's ongoing collective punishment of Palestinians.

The Washington D.C./Maryland/Virginia (DMV) network of SJP and Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) mobilized on just three days' notice. SJP/SAIA chapters in the area have been organizing independently for years, but more recently have formed a DMV network to coordinate their efforts. This has allowed the groups to build up an infrastructure that made it possible to pull off such a large and successful demonstration so quickly. The demonstration was called by, organized by, and largely attended by students.

"They're like SNCC on this campus," said a professor at George Mason University, referring to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that was instrumental in mobilizing college students to be active in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s. "That is how powerful an effect they have had and how visible it is."

The highlight of the event was the participation of the family members of Mohammad Abu Khdeir, the 16-year-old Palestinian boy burned to death by Israeli vigilantes. Mohammad's cousin Tarek was beaten nearly to death by Israeli police and temporarily imprisoned before being placed under house arrest. The presence of the Abu Khdeir family, their strength and courage in addressing the rally, were a potent reminder of the very human cost of imperial violence.

One of the first speakers was Rev. Graylan Hagler, who is the senior minister of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, in Washington, D.C., and the immediate past national president of Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic Justice. His impassioned plea was cheered loudly by the crowd:

I was in Palestine in January with an all-Black delegation, and they immediately recognized what was going on. It was just like Jim Crow in the '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s. It's the same old paradigm of race and racism. Uproot our trees and impose curfews. Anybody in the world comes and thinks they have more rights than indigenous people. Three Jewish people killed and everyone is surprised. I am not justifying murder, but how long can you crush people and expect people not to fight back? America practiced terrorism and enables terrorism by aiding Israel. We must support BDS!

Marlee, a student from Louisiana, explained Israel's sense of impunity very succinctly: "The reason Israel can exist is because the U.S. is supporting them. It's important for student groups here to work on this." The U.S. government sends at least $3 billion per year to the Israeli occupation government.

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-- In New York City, more than 150 people, primarily youth and young families from the in Bay Ridge community, attended a July 5 rally in solidarity with Palestinians. Most of the groundwork for the event was carried out by local high school students.

Activists are preparing for an even larger mobilization on July 9 at 5:30 p.m. to protest the Israeli Mission to the United Nations at East 42nd St. and 2nd Ave. followed by a march to the News Corp Building to demand fair media coverage of events in the Middle East (more details available at the Facebook event page).