Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Middle East Peace Demo Draws 400

Speakers Bash Israel, Praise Hezbollah Resistance


Copyright © 2006 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

A surprisingly high turnout of 400 people came out on warm Saturday, August 12 to Balboa Park to stage an action protesting Israel’s attack on southern Lebanon and continued occupation of historic Palestine. The crowd was evenly distributed between Arab and Muslim Americans, many of them in traditional Islamic clothing and carrying Lebanese, Palestinian and Iraqi flags, and mostly white peace activists. The event began with a gathering and a few speeches via a bullhorn at the fountain at the Park Boulevard side of the park, then included a march across the park to Sixth and Laurel, where a longer rally took place at the end.

Many participants in the march themselves seemed surprised at the size of the crowd. One local journalist covering the event said he’d got e-mails from four different Muslim organizations in San Diego. “I didn’t know there were that many!” he said. But at least one local peace activist said she was concerned about the foreign flags being carried by many participants and the Muslim garb some of them were wearing. She explained that the protests to protect the rights of undocumented immigrants only began attracting popular support once the participants began carrying U.S. flags and dressing like ordinary U.S. residents.

While the official theme of the march was peace and a call for Israel to withdraw from Lebanon, some of the participants took it farther. During part of the march, its leaders started chants actively supporting the Hamas and Hezbollah movements and the resistance to the U.S. occupation in Iraq. Later, when rally MC Carl Muhammad — not an Arab or Middle Easterner but an African-American activist with the San Diego branch of the International Action Center (IAC) — mentioned that some of the 10 counter-demonstrators on Laurel had carried signs reading, “Go get ’em, Israel!,” one member of the crowd responded by yelling out, “Go get ’em, Hezbollah!”

Like the participants, the speakers were more or less evenly divided between mostly white peace activists and Arab and Muslim Americans. The event was opened by a speaker identified only as Walid, who said, “Your presence here today as people of conscience is crucial to oppose the atrocities being committed by Israelis on Palestinians and Lebanese. One thousand Lebanese have been killed [in the current war] and hundreds of thousands have been made homeless. Lebanon has been bombed into smithereens. The Israelis deliberately attacked civilians in convoys, massacred women and children, and killed farm workers.”

Walid also noted the situation in Gaza, the Palestinian territory Israel supposedly “withdrew” from last year, which they invaded before they attacked Lebanon and under the same pretext: to “rescue” an Israeli soldier taken prisoner by resistance forces. “In Gaza, the daily shellings continue and more than 160 women and children have been killed in the last month alone,” he said. “This is the epitome of injustice, all paid for by our tax dollars in violation of our laws. We need to send a powerful message to our government that human life is not cheap, all life is sacred and we need to stop funding the war machine.”

Though the rally took place one day after the United Nations announced an agreement for a cease-fire in Lebanon, participants clearly regarded this resolution as a sham. Rebecca Anshell of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) explained that “the so-called ‘cease-fire’ calls for Hezbollah to disarm and allows Israel to ‘defend itself,’ which means they can continue too destroy Lebanon and kill Lebanese.” She didn’t need to explain to her audience that Israel and its apologists had justified all their recent actions in Lebanon and Gaza by calling them “self-defense.”

Noting that the Bush administration has openly taken Israel’s side in the current conflict, Anshell added that secretary of state “Condoleeza Rice calls this ‘the birth pangs of a new Middle East.’ This is a really forthright statement of the goal of the war on terror: to create new market structures in the Middle East to decide who gets oil and keep China or India from becoming a superpower. Israel has been the U.S.’s agent and is doing its dirty work. … It is our job as activists to explain the way the occupations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon are part of a broader strategy. We have to take action against the whole agenda and unite people in the U.S. against this racist war.”

A number of speakers made the connection between Zionism and racism, but fewer more strongly than Jewish poet Steve Kowit. He was called to read his poem Intifada, which he’d also read at the Hiroshima Day peace demonstration at the Embarcadero six days before. But as he introduced the poem — which compares Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians to that suffered by the Jews throughout Europe and most of the world for the previous 1,600 years — he cited a book called Apartheid Israel by Uri Davis and said Israel has been the world’s most racist country since the apartheid system in South Africa was abolished.

“Ninety-three percent of Israel is reserved by law for the exclusive use of the Jewish people,” Kowit said. “If that isn’t the very definition of racism and apartheid, there is no such thing as racism. Israel stole the Palestinian homeland in 1947, 1948 and 1967, and now they talk about giving back a tiny bit of it and calling it the ‘Palestinian state.’ … The laws [in Israel] are designed to allow Jews to control the whole country and keep everyone else from being able to make a living.”

Zahid Mamouni of Al-Awda San Diego, the local branch of an international movement to demand that Palestinians be allowed to return to their former homelands inside Israel — a call fiercely resisted by virtually all Israeli politicians because it would mean the end of Israel’s Jewish majority — pointed out the disproportionality between the alleged provocations for Israel’s invasions of Lebanon and Gaza and Israel’s actual actions. “There was one prisoner of war in Gaza, and as a consequence 135 Palestinians are dead, 245 are injured and most Gaza residents are deprived of electricity, water and medical supplies,” he said. “In Lebanon, [there were] two Zionist POW’s, more than 1,000 Lebanese killed, 3,500 injured and hundreds of thousands displaced.” He called on members of the crowd to contribute to emergency relief funds being set up by Al-Awda to help people who’ve lost their homes due to the attacks.

“We need to liberate America from this fascist President and his group,” said Sheikh Sharib Wafiq. “Bush says the resisters in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq are terrorists. But if someone invades our land, we will fight. Our duty is to resist. It’s very important to support our brothers in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Palestine. This is our duty. It’s very important for us as Americans to raise our voices. I hope San Diegans will stand with us. I hope we will have thousands at our next demonstration. It’s very important to vote against the criminals. God loves peace, and there is no peach without justice. And there is no justice without an end to the occupation of Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq, and without giving all the people their freedom. We pray for peace because we like peace and justice. May God support all the people under occupation, the people in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and our people here in America to liberate themselves from the lies of the mass media.”