A flood of solidarity with Palestine

July 24, 2014

From demonstrations in the street to statements from Nobel laureates and Jewish critics of Zionism, opponents of Israel's war have a common message, reports Eric Ruder.

ACROSS THE U.S. and around the world, expressions of sympathy with the people of Gaza are taking the form of statements of solidarity, social media comments and campaigns--and, of course, protests in the streets. Under the weight of the steady accumulation of horrific images coming from Israel's killing fields in Gaza, it's clear that minds are beginning to change.

Globally in the last week alone, actions in solidarity with Palestine have taken place in Glasgow, Scotland; Vienna; Ahmadabad, India; Madrid; Seoul, South Korea; Jakarta, Indonesia; Beijing; Sydney; Tokyo; Paris; Valparaiso, Chile; Ankara, Turkey; and many, many more.

Below are reports from just a few of the demonstrations that have taken place in the U.S.--stretching from Boston to San Diego, and Chicago to Fort Worth, Texas.

Today--July 24--is a national day of action to demand an end to the bombing and blockade of Gaza, and an end to U.S. aid to Israel (click here for details and how to add your event to the list of actions).

As many as 10,000 people took to the Chicago streets to show solidarity with Palestine
As many as 10,000 people took to the Chicago streets to show solidarity with Palestine

Even the U.S. corporate media has had to cover events in Gaza with unusual attention to the humanity of Palestinians, who have been subjected to Israel's targeting of Gaza's densely populated neighborhoods, hospitals and water treatment facilities. An artillery attack from an Israeli navy gunboat on a group of boys playing soccer on a Gaza beach, killing four and wounding several more, is now an iconic instance among many more examples of Israel's willful killing of civilians.

As a result, a CNN/ORC International poll released on July 21 showed that while a majority of people in the U.S.--57 percent--thinks Israel's military actions in Gaza are justified, the number of people with "an unfavorable opinion of Israel" is now 38 percent, up 14 percentage points from February. Sixty percent said they have a favorable opinion of Israel, which is down from 72 percent in February. And given that the polling concluded just as Israel's massacre in Shejaiya began, the shift in public opinion away from Israel has almost certainly grown.

A number of celebrities have come forward to express their support for the people of Gaza--another development likely to further the shift in public opinion. "We can passionately protest Israel's assault upon Gaza without descending, even remotely, into the hideousness of anti-Semitism," said Mia Farrow. "I have been to Israel and Palestine & bombing civilians is not self-defense," tweeted John Cusack. Mark Ruffalo: "Sorry, I thought blowing up hospitals was something that all human beings could agree was off limits."

Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth, wrote this particularly powerful statement:

I am mourning genocide in Gaza. I mourn genocide in Gaza because I am the granddaughter of a family half wiped out in a holocaust and I know genocide when I see it. People are asking why I am taking this "side." There are no sides. I mourn all victims. But every law of war and international law is being broken in the targeting of civilians in Gaza. I stand with the people of Gaza exactly because things might have turned out differently if more people had stood with the Jews in Germany.

WOLF WASN'T alone in speaking as a Jew horrified by what is happening in Gaza. Across the world, Jewish voices of opposition to Israel's war are getting organized.

When 100,000 people took to the streets of London on July 19, a small contingent of Jews had gathered. "I come from a Jewish tradition that has always fought for the underdog," Sam Weinstein of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network told a reporter who was also part of the contingent. "One that has fought for social justice because historically we were the ones getting killed by the state."

A group of 200 prominent Jewish critics of Israel issued a petition calling for a ban of arms sales to Israel and support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. The statement had already gathered nearly 1,000 signatories by the evening of July 23, one day after it was issued. It states:

Today, we cannot be silent as the "Jewish state"--armed to the teeth by the U.S. and its allies--wages yet another brutal war on the Palestinian people. Apartheid Israel does not speak for us, and we stand with Gaza as we stand with all of Palestine.

A group of six Nobel peace laureates--Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Adolfo Peres Esquivel, Jody Williams, Mairead Maguire, Rigoberta Menchú and Betty Williams--also issued a statement calling for a military embargo of Israel. Other signatories to the statement include Noam Chomsky, Roger Waters from Pink Floyd, playwright Caryl Churchill, U.S. rapper Boots Riley, João Antonio Felicio, president of the International Trade Union Confederation, and Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the Confederation of South African Trade Unions. The statement reads:

Israel has once again unleashed the full force of its military against the captive Palestinian population, particularly in the besieged Gaza Strip, in an inhumane and illegal act of military aggression. Israel's ongoing assault on Gaza has so far killed scores of Palestinian civilians, injured hundreds and devastated the civilian infrastructure, including the health sector, which is facing severe shortages.

Israel's ability to launch such devastating attacks with impunity largely stems from the vast international military cooperation and trade that it maintains with complicit governments across the world.

IN THE past week, there were actions in solidarity with Palestine across the U.S. Here are reports from a number of cities:

In Chicago, a massive crowd of more than 10,000 gathered for a march through the streets to the studios of two television news networks, and finally to the Israeli consulate. Organizing for the march was spearheaded by Coalition for Justice in Palestine.

More than 60 buses brought protesters from mosques throughout the suburbs, while Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters from across the city mobilized. The mood was defiant and proud. The crowd was predominantly Palestinian and Arab, with whole families and clusters of friends marching together.

The event began as hundreds made their way to the assembly point with a "die-in" organized by SJP chapters in Chicago. Police and security guards at Tribune Tower, headquarters of the Chicago Tribune and WGN News, told the crowd that we weren't allowed in the plaza in front of the building, but the sheer numbers meant that these orders were openly defied--and without any problems from the police.

About 70 people participated in the die-in, and the names and ages of more than 400 people killed by Israel's rampage in Gaza were read aloud. The moment was so powerful that three speakers were needed to get through the list as tears forced one after another to pass the list.

Popular chants included, "Gaza, Gaza, don't you cry, Palestine will never die," "Stop the killing, stop the hate, Israel's a racist state" and "How do you spell justice? BDS!"

On July 22, pro-Israel groups held a "Stand with Israel" action in front of the Israeli consulate, while hundreds of Palestine supporters held a counterprotest across the street. Though police supposedly searched those attending the pro-Israel rally, pro-Israel participant Andrew Glatz was arrested for carrying a handgun to the event. Glatz's Facebook page includes photos of himself with Democratic Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.

In a statement, Hatem Abudayyeh of the Chicago Coalition for Justice in Palestine (CJP) and the U.S. Palestinian Community Network said:

The Zionists at Tuesday's rally believe that the lives of invading Israeli soldiers in Gaza are of more value than the lives of over 600 Palestinian civilians who've been killed in Israel's latest onslaught, including over 130 children. At the same time, our counter-protest was corralled and policed like a criminal enterprise, when it was the pro-Israel protesters who harassed and assaulted us. Chicago police commanders need to learn from our community's experience, and stop giving a privileged place to the other side, which is advocating an agenda of dispossession and murder.

In San Francisco, as many as 3,000 people rallied and marched on Sunday, July 20, in solidarity with the people of Gaza. The demonstration, which was several times larger than a similar protest the previous weekend, represented a broad cross-section of people and was led by the Arab Youth Organization.

After the initial rally, demonstrators marched up downtown San Francisco's main thoroughfare of Market Street. Halfway to their destination of Civic Center, protest organizers led a peaceful sit-in, during which the names of fallen martyrs in Gaza were read out loud. Evoking a funeral procession, some demonstrators carried replicas of coffins draped in Palestinian flags throughout the march.

There was a distinct note of confidence that the cause of Palestinian liberation is advancing, even despite the gruesome violence inflicted by Israel. As protester Zaina Rawi said:

Public accounts of what Israel is doing are getting to the point where Israel is having a political and public relations disaster. They can set up whatever war rooms they want to spread their pro-Israel propaganda online, but they cannot change the truth--that Israel is the occupier, and Palestine is the occupied state. This is something that people can increasingly see for themselves.

The July 20 protest was the largest in San Francisco since the Occupy movement of 2011. In this sense, the demonstration felt much larger than its numbers and may well contribute to a reinvigoration of street protest in the city.

In New York City, 2,000 people gathered in Times Square on July 19 for the seventh major protest since Israel's bombardment began.

Brian Jones, Green Party candidate for New York lieutenant governor, took the stage, making him one of the first politicians to come near a Gaza protest in a city stuffed with elected officials wanting to announce that they "stand with Israel." The crowd was electrified when Jones promised that, if elected, he would work to divest New York from any involvement with Israel.

Yusef Khalil read from a statement (click here for video) issued by the newly formed international network called Syrian Revolution Bases of Support:

As we stand with our sisters and brothers in Gaza and Palestine, we stand with our sisters and brothers in Syria. We believe that attempts of the Syrian regime and their supporters to exploit the Palestinian struggle are morally reprehensible and an insult to the Palestinian cause. Those who have sided with the Syrian regime or remained silent over its crimes have no moral ground to claim solidarity with Gaza and are as hypocritical as pro-Israel supporters who pretend to support Assad's victims.

In a genuine struggle for liberation, there is no room for double standards and selective indignation.

In Boston, more than 1,500 people attended a July 22 protest. Popular chants included, "Resistance is justified when people are occupied" and "Not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Israel's crimes."

During the speakout, Yusra, a young woman from Algeria, told the crowd, "The U.S. claims that they are fighting a war against terrorists, but they are supporting the biggest terrorists in the world--Israel."

Activist Keegan O'Brien addressed how Israel tries to sanitize its image by promoting itself as a "gay-friendly" country. "Israel tries to justify ethnic cleansing through pinkwashing when we know that's nothing but bullshit," said O'Brien. "There's no pink door at the apartheid wall, there's no pink shelters for the people of Gaza."

After the rally and speakout at Copley Square, protesters marched to the State House, where they held a mass sit-in in for 20 minutes before ending with another speakout at Boston Common.

On July 19, more than 100 people gathered at the Boston Common for a die-in. And on July 17, more than 200 people gathered in Copley Square. Jewish Voice for Peace; SJP chapters in Boston, in particular Northeastern SJP; and the Boston ISO spearheaded much of the organizing.

In Dallas, about 700 people rallied and chanted on the Grassy Knoll on July 20.

More than 300 placards were given to protesters with the name, age and date of a Palestinian killed during Israel's latest bombing of Gaza. In the middle of the rally, those with a placard spread out and dropped on the ground when the day of their death was called. This "die-in" was to visually represent the number of deaths since the recent wave of attacks and to underscore the significance of the increasing number dead every day. The protest then spontaneously turned into a march through downtown Dallas.

On July 16, about 300 people marched around downtown Dallas and chanted in solidarity with the besieged Gaza Strip. On July 13, about 900 people came out to support Palestinians under siege in Israel. Chants of "From Iraq to Palestine, occupation is a crime!", "Free, free Palestine!" and "Gaza, Gaza, don't you cry, Palestine will never die!" roared from the JFK memorial. Future protests are scheduled for Dallas on July 25 and Austin on August 2.

In Fort Worth, Texas, 350 people gathered July 12 in front of the Tarrant County Courthouse. Protesters held Palestinian flags and signs calling for an end to the bloodshed. The rally turned into a march after an hour of chanting. The march traveled through downtown Fort Worth, bringing attention to the latest wave of Israel's slaughter of Palestinians.

In Philadelphia, 300 people held a July 18 protest against Israel's war on Gaza in front of the building housing the Israeli consulate. They then marched down Market St. during the evening rush hour to City Hall. Protesters were also mobilizing to protest a pro-Israel demonstration on July 23.

In Northampton, Mass., more than 150 people rallied July 18 against Israel's bombing of Gaza. The rally was called by the Western Massachusetts Coalition for Palestine, individuals and organizations such as the American Friends Service Committee, International Socialist Organization and Springfield No One Leaves (an anti-foreclosure movement) participating as well.

Speakers focused particularly on the U.S. government's complicity with Israel's war. "I wanted to start by saying, thank you, Barack Obama, thank you Elizabeth Warren," said ISO member Ben Taylor. "Thank you for making it abundantly clear which side you stand on. By defending Israel's deadly campaign in Gaza, you have let us know which side you and your party stands on. By standing with Israel in this campaign, you stand with genocide and ethnic cleansing, with injustice, racism, colonialism and empire."

The crowd marched half a mile down Main Street on the sidewalk. People from the streets joined in. On the return walk back to City Hall, a few protesters made a quick decision to direct the crowd right into the street, so the march occupied the 30-foot wide westbound side of Main Street all the way back. Chants included, "Viva, viva Palestina!" and "Fight the power, turn the tide! End Israeli apartheid!"

In Indianapolis, more than 200 people took part in the largest pro-Palestine demonstration in Indiana history on July 19.

Palestinians and Arab-American students, many of them women, including Annise Adni, a history teacher from a local mosque, led a two-hour street protest and march through the streets of downtown Indianapolis. Passersby honked horns for peace as demonstrators chanted, "Gaza must have food and water; Israel, Israel stop the slaughter," and "Not a nickel, not a dime, no more money for Israel's crimes."

The demonstrators stopped to protest outside the office of Sen. Dan Coats, who co-sponsored U.S. Senate Resolution 489, passed unanimously last week supporting Israel's attacks on Gaza. Both Coats and Indiana Democrat Joe Donnelly voted for the resolution. Sireen Zayed, a student at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, read a letter calling out the names of Palestinian children killed by bombs and bullets purchased with $3 billion of annual U.S. aid to Israel.

The Saturday demonstration was the third against the Israeli occupation in Indianapolis in the past two weeks. Demonstrations have also been held in Lafayette, Ind., and at Indiana University-South Bend. Out of these protests Indiana activists have formed Indiana Palestine Solidarity (IPS), a statewide solidarity network.

IPS is now planning a series of meetings around the state about the BDS movement against Israel, how to form new SJP chapters at Indiana campuses, and educational meetings providing Palestinian perspective and history on events like the current bombing and slaughter in Gaza.

In Washington, D.C., nearly 100 Palestinian activists and allies organized by Code Pink gathered near the White House for a die-in. Each participant received a cardboard tombstone with a string attached to it so they could hang it around their neck. On each of the tombstones was written a name, age and location of death of one of the Palestinian victims of the most recent ongoing assault.

Participants laid down in the street in front of the White House, and a speaker began the emotional task of reading the names of the dead, along with the date they died and their age. It seemed to go on forever as time slowed down in the dying light of a setting sun, and the speaker began to cry after reading nearly 40 names.

"Unfortunately, we are gathered out here to protest another war on Gaza and after 66 years we are still doing this," said Ramah Kudaimi, membership and outreach coordinator of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. "Obama is out golfing on the beach or something somewhere, as if he has nothing to do with this and as if there is nothing he can do about it. The reality is that he can do something about it. He can end military aid to Israel. The United States is not a bystander in this conflict."

Tareq Redi of Students Against Israeli Apartheid at George Mason University was, by his own account, more somber than usual.

I'm usually more fiery. A lot of you who know me are used to me yelling at the mic and riling things up. But unfortunately, I was tasked with finding photographs of the shahid [martyrs]. I lost 42 members of my family during al Nakba, but I didn't even know their names, let alone have photographs...I didn't feel the way I felt about my family members as I felt when I saw those four boys on the beach who were just killed--because I could see pictures of them, and I knew their names.

Amanda Achin, Biff Anderson, Andrew Bennett, Jason Farbman, Henry Hillenbrand, Yusef Khalil, Bill Mullen, Mario Ovalle, John Snowden, Jeremy Tully and Ian Turner contributed to this article.

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