Sunday, January 18, 2009

Springfield's "Israel Solidarity Week" infiltrated by peace activists

A ceasefire may hover on the horizon, but the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is far from ended.

It's hard to know what role the nearly universal horror of Israel's invasion of Gaza, and the intense political activity that's followed, has had on moving the conflict closer to peace. But speaking out is simply what people of conscience have felt compelled to do.

On Friday, a group of peace activists brought their message to an event at the Jewish Community Center in Springfield, MA. The following is a report from one of those activists.

A lot of people have been asking for a report of our direct action at the Jewish Community Center yesterday evening in Springfield so here it is.
A group of 28 of us went to -- essentially infiltrated -- the "Israel Solidarity Week" rally at the Jewish Community Center (JCC)/Jewish Federation in Springfield. A series of these events were held all over the U.S. over the last two weeks. The rallies are sponsored and coordinated by the national organization United Jewish Communities (UJC). UJC's webpage defines the organization's mission as:

"Unifying North American Jewry: United Jewish Communities represents and serves 157 Jewish federations and 400 independent Jewish communities across North America. It reflects the values of social justice and human rights that define the Jewish people." [Emphasis mine.]

We planned our action very carefully so as to ensure the safety of all participants. Our goal was to get the media that was inevitably going to be at the event, as it always is for Israel solidarity rallies, to get footage of our protest that made clear to a broader public that the rally did not represent the sentiment about Israel's actions and policies of all Jews, Israelis, and other people of conscience. (As part of our group we had three Israelis and several Jews.) We didn't for a minute think we'd be changing the minds of the Israel supporters in the room.
We organized into "affinity groups" and drove to Springfield in six cars. The JCC auditorium was packed with over 200 people. Our group sat throughout the auditorium. After a welcome speech by the JCC's president; a short, sycophantish speech by the Springfield mayor in support of Israel; and the singing of the U.S. national anthem and the Israeli anthem, "Hatikva;" all the members of our group rose and went and stood at the sides of the auditorium. We unfurled three large banners and held up signs condemning Israel's actions in Gaza and calling for solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Audience members all looked at our signs and started to "get" what was going on. Immediately the verbal abuse from the audience began with calls of: "get the garbage out of here," "ANIMALS!!!" and "TERRORISTS!!!"
Within a matter of a minute or two, about ten Springfield police who were there doing security for the event approached us and started physically pushing and pulling us out of the auditorum to the hallways on both sides of the space. As soon as we were pushed out of the range of the news cameras' view, the police became physically and verbally aggressive and abusive. They herded us like cattle smashing us one into the other, dragging some of us by our clothing and scarves around our necks, screaming at us abusively all the while, and ultimately beating a few of the members of the group with batons.
Meanwhile, one policeman radioed for additional units to come to the JCC and requested a K-9 (canine) unit as well. Members of the group reported that at least one policeman had his gun drawn and ready to shoot. Their verbal abuse was tremendous, extremely loud and often shouted into our faces literally just inches away from our heads. They demanded that we get into our cars and threatened repeatedly to arrest the entire group. Approximately 10 squad cars arrive on the scene and cops swarmed us pushing us into our cars all the while screaming and physically pushing and pulling us.
One policeman slammed the car door on my leg as I was getting into the car. I got back out of the car and yelled at him that he has slammed the door on my leg and that that was not acceptable. He responded by putting his face right up to mine and screaming, "No I didn't! You're Lying."
A night to remember.
Unfortunately, the news media did not follow us out into the hallways or into the parking lot to record the abuses wreaked upon us. There was short clip of our demo on the 10 p.m. Fox News program (Channel 6) and ABC's channel 40 at 11 p.m.
I saw a cop writing down my license plate number. They probably recorded those of our other cars as well. What will happen to that information? Will it go to the FBI and Homeland Security? I recently heard an interview with Naomi Wolf about her book Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries in which she talked about the increasing force with which local police forces are responding to civil society's protests and political actions. She discussed how police are intimidating people calling for social change with such brutality that protesters are becoming more and more scared to participate in actions.
I don't know if we achieved the goal we had set for ourselves. The media coverage was fairly marginal and some of us sustained bruises and increased rage. We continue to struggle with questions about what our next steps should be toward ending the current carnage and cruelty in Gaza; ending Israel's occupation, siege, blockades, and dehumanization of Palestinians for the longterm. How can we, here in little Western Massachusetts, influence the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens and the politicians who are supposed to represent us? For those of you who are local, I'll send out just one more email today with ideas some of us are working on. We'd like to solicit your participation and support.
I am attaching a copy of the flier we dispersed as we were being pushed out of the JCC

We are an ad-hoc, multi-generational coalition of students, members of academia, Israelis, Americans, internationals, Jews, and people of conscience in Western Massachusetts who are speaking out against the policies and actions of the Israeli government and military.

We are deeply troubled by and outraged at Israel’s war on Gaza and its aggressive violence against the Palestinian people.

To date:

Over 1,100 Palestinians have been killed and over 4,600 have been wounded. Over 90 percent of those killed and injured are civilians. Almost half are children.

  • The 1.5 million Palestinian people in Gaza have been under Israeli-imposed siege and blockade for the past 18 months without adequate food, water, medicine, or fuel
  • The Palestinians in Gaza have suffered collective punishment for resisting an unjust and illegal occupation
  • Israel continues to perpetrate massive violations of international and humanitarian law against the Gazans
  • Israel’s murderous and unjust campaign in Gaza is being funded misguidedly by the U.S. and carried out with U.S.-made weapons and U.S. approval

We call on Israel to:

Stop the killing! Stop the siege! Stop the blockade! Stop the war crimes! Allow humanitarian goods and other commodities to flow into and out of Gaza freely! Allow the people of Gaza their human dignity, legal rights under international law, and freedom!

While the end of the current war, siege and blockade on Gaza is our most immediate priority, we call for an end to Israel’s ongoing occupation, ethnic cleansing and oppression of Palestinians. Israel’s current policies and actions will not bring safety to Israelis nor peace to anyone in the Middle East.

We call on the United States to: Stop funding and supporting Israel’s war crimes, occupation, and unjust assault on Palestinians!

Israelis, Jews all over the world, and people from all over the world are speaking out against the Israeli war on Gaza. We mourn the carnage Israel has wreaked in Gaza and the loss of life on both sides. AIPAC and this rally do not represent our views.

Image from Makaristos,


Bill Dusty said...

Where are you folks getting your numbers from? "Over 90%" of casualties are civilian? I don't think so. Even the liberal MSNBC put the figure at "about half" just last week.

That said, how does one differentiate between "soldier" and "civilian" when the militants need only a.) dress in civilian clothes, or b.) hold up in civilian buildings. And again, the casualty figures are coming from Palestinians who *want* Israel to look sinister. The Iraqis and Taliban did the same thing against us. Funny how their concern for civilian casualties disappears whenever they strap on bomb belts and run into marketplaces to set them off.

If the Palestinians didn't want war, then they should not have voted Hamas into power. Hamas subsequently took Gaza by force from the Palestinian Authority, then spent the better part of last year lobbing mortars and rockets into Israel. The fact that Israel suffered very light casualties due to those attacks is a testament to their preparedness and to Hamas's incompetence. Again, you don't win wars by keeping casualties even. You win them when the enemy suffers more than you and puts up his hands. War is a terrible thing. Hamas knew that when they lobbed rockets into Israel. Funny how when they strike, there is silence - both in the Arab World and in the Happy Valley. But when Israel retaliates, it's called a "war crime."


Unknown said...

Hey, Bill, here's a statement for you. Can you stand behind it?
(I plan to post it later.)

We, members and leaders of the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities in Greater Boston --- all having deep and symbolic ties to the land and peoples of the Middle East --- are anguished by the events unfolding in Israel and Gaza. Recognizing the legitimate needs of all peoples, including all those living in the Middle East, for dignity, peace, safety and security –- regardless of religion, race, or national origin -- we issue this joint statement with the hope and belief that our interfaith voices will be heard clearly, above the din of war.

As guiding principles,

•We acknowledge the long, complex, and painful history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

•We acknowledge the wide range of deeply-held beliefs, and intensely-felt narratives on all sides

•We acknowledge that all sides are capable of assigning blame to others, and asserting justification for their cause

•We observe that violence by any side begets more violence, hatred, and retaliation

•We deplore any invocation of religion as a justification for violence against others, or the depriva tion of the rights of others

•We decry any use of inflammatory rhetoric that demonizes the other and is intended, or is likely, to promote hatred and disrespect

•We believe the conflict can be resolved only through a political and diplomatic solution and not a military one.

In the face of many competing narratives, we recognize that the overriding common need of the peoples of the region is the prompt implementation of a just and lasting peace. Toward that end, and particularly in response to the current hostilities,

•We call upon the United States and the international community immediately to intercede to help reestablish a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, toward the goal of a permanent cessation of hostilities

•We call upon Hamas immediately to end all rocket attacks on Israel, and upon Israel immediately to end its military campaign in Gaza

•We call for an immediate end to all strikes on civilian centers and citizens, both Israeli and Palestinian

•We call for lifting of the blockade on Gaza as to all non-military goods, for an immediate and significant increase in humanitarian aid to address the needs of the people of Gaza, and for all parties involved to join in taking responsibility to address those human needs

•We call on all parties involved in the conflict to work sincerely and vigorously toward a20just and lasting peace that addresses and promotes the national aspirations of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples

•We call on President-elect Obama to make clear that as President he will urgently assert US leadership to achieve a comprehensive diplomatic resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts

Through this joint statement we affirm our commitment to engage with one another, even, and especially, during times of great stress. We also affirm our common humanity and our common belief –-- as Jews, Muslims and Christians --- that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must cease, that there is no military or violent solution, that all human life is valued, and that all parties must cooperate to make the peace –-- a just and lasting peace desperately needed and deserved by all the peoples of the region.

Signed: [Institutions are listed for identification only.]

Salwa Abd-Allah, (executive council, Muslim American Society of Boston (MAS-Boston), Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC))
Tariq Ali (president, Harvard Islamic Society)
Hossam Al Jabri (president, MAS Boston-ISBCC; trustee, Interreligious Center for Public Life (ICPL))
Rev. Jim Antal (president, Massachusetts conference of the United Church of Christ)
Dr. Abdul Cader Asmal (past president, Islamic Council of New England and Islamic Center of Boston/Wayland; trustee, ICPL)
Rabbi Albert S. Axelrad (chair, Center for Spiritual Life, Emerson College; Hillel director emeritus, Brandeis University)
Diane Balser (executive director, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom)
Dorothy C. Buck (director, Badaliya)
Rev. Nick Carter (president, Andover Newton Theological School)
Dris Djermoun (president, Islamic Center of Boston)
Diana L. Eck (professor of comparative religion, Harvard University)
Imam Talal Eid (founder, Islamic Institute of Boston; chaplain, Brandeis University)
Ashraf Elkerm (board chairman, Islamic Center of Greater Worcester)
Rev. Terasa G. Cooley (district executive, Massachusetts Bay District of Unitarian Universalist Churches)
Mercedes S. Evans (Committee on Contemporary Spiritual & Public Concerns, St. Paul Catholic Church/Cambridge)
Imam Abdullah Faruuq (Mosque for the Praising of Allah/Boston)
Michael Felsen (president, Boston Workmen's Circle)
Lisa Gallatin (executive director, Boston Workmen's Circle)
Zekeriyya Gemici (president, MIT Muslim Students Association)
Rabbi David Gordis (president emeritus, Hebrew College; founding director, the National Center for Jewish Policy Studies)
Rabbi Arthur Green (rector, Hebrew College's Rabbinical School)
Rev. Raymond G. Helmick (instructor in conflict resolution, Boston College)
Arnold Hiatt (philanthropist; former chairman, Stride Rite Corporation)
Rev. Jack Johnson (executive director, Massachusetts Council of Churches)
M. Bilal Kaleem (executive director, MAS Boston-ISBCC)
Anwar Kazmi (executive council, MAS Boston-ISBCC)
Alexander Kern (executive director , Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries)
Nabeel Khudairi (past president, Islamic Council of New England)
Idit Klein (executive director, Keshet)
Margie Klein (co-director, Moishe/Kavod House)
Mary Lahaj (Muslim chaplain, Simmons College)
Geoffrey Lewis (attorney; former president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston)
Imam Taalib Mahdee (Masjid Al-Quran/Boston)
Rev. Bert Marshall (New England director, Church World Service)
Jerome D. Maryon (president, Committee on Contemporary Spiritual & Public Concerns, St. Paul Catholic Church/Cambridge)
Michael J. Moran (Pax Christi Massachusetts)
Sister Jane Morrissey (Pax Christi Massachusetts)
Merrie Najimy (president, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee of Massachusetts)
Imam Khalid Nasr (Islamic Center of New England/Quincy)
Imam Basyouni Nehela (Islamic Society of Boston/Cambridge)
Rashid Noor (president, Islamic Center of New England/Quincy)
Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow (director of religious and chaplaincy services; Hebrew SeniorLife)
Rabbi Barbara Penzner (Temple Hillel B'nai Torah/West Roxbury)
Rev. Rodney L. Petersen (executive director, Boston Theological Institute)
Dr. Asif Rizvi (president-elect, Islamic Council of New England)
Rabbi Victor Reinstein (Nehar Shalom Community Synagogue/Jamaica Plain)
Rev. Anne Robertson (executive director, Massachusetts Bible Society)
Qasim Salimi (president, Boston University Muslim Students Association)
Robert M. Sarly (trustee, ICPL)
Rev. Mikel E. Satcher (pas tor, Trinity Baptist Church/Arlington)
Adam Seligman (professor of religion, Boston University)
Rabbi Sanford Seltzer (chair, ICPL)
Enid Shapiro (trustee, ICPL)
Bishop M. Thomas Shaw (Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts)
Alan Solomont (philanthropist; chairman, Solomont Bailis Ventures)
Rabbi Toba Spitzer (Congregation Dorshei Tzedek/Newton)
Rev. John K. Stendahl (pastor, Lutheran Church of the Newtons)
Sidney Topol (philanthropist; former chairman, Scientific Atlanta)
Rabbi Andrew Vogel (Temple Sinai/Brookline)
Bishop Peter D. Weaver (New England conference of the United Methodist Church)