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4/1: Arabs, Jews, Others Vigil for Palestine
by Matthew Williams
Email: third_aardvark (nospam) hotmail.com
02 Apr 2002
On April 1 at 5:00 outside of Park St. T Station, about 200 people gathered for a vigil in solidarity with the Palestinian people, currently under intensified attacks by the Israeli occupation forces. It was a diverse crowd, with women in Muslim headscarves, families with small children, and many clearly self-identified Jews.
Boston Solidarity Vigil with Palestine
By Matthew Williams
04/01/02; Boston, MA--Today at 5:00 outside of Park St. T Station, about 200 people gathered for a vigil in solidarity with the Palestinian people, currently under intensified attacks by the Israeli occupation forces. The vigil was organized by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Jewish Women for Justice in Israel/Palestine, and the Boston Committee for Palestinian Rights (BCPR). It was a diverse crowd, with women in Muslim headscarves, families with small children, and many clearly self-identified Jews. The latter were holding up signs reading "Not in Our Name" and "As a Jew, I demand an end to Israelís brutal occupation of the Palestinian territories".
People were responding to the latest Israeli attacks against Palestinians. This weekend, the Israeli military re-invaded those parts of the Occupied Territories from which it had withdrawn under the Oslo peace process. Ellen Cantaro, a Jewish activist who worked as a journalist in the West Bank from 1979-1989, said, "I am horrified that Israel acts in my name and is committing war crimes and atrocities against the Palestinian people."
Merrie Najimy of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) said, "The atrocities in Palestine are growing unfathomable. We think we hit the bottom and that itís the worst that it can be and suddenly more atrocities happen in a way that we never imagined they would."
Israelís re-invasion came immediately after the heads of the Arab states united in a conference in Beirut, Lebanon to offer normal, peaceful relations with Israel in return for Israeli withdrawal from all of the Occupied Territories, recognition of a Palestinian state, and a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. Among those cities under siege are Ramallah, where Yasir Arafat, President of the Palestinian Authority, has his headquarters. The Palestinian Authority is the official Palestinian body set up under the Oslo peace process that was eventually supposed to become a democratic government of an independent Palestine. Israeli forces have been laying siege to Arafatís HQ, trapping him in the basement.
There have been numerous reports of Israeli war crimes against civilians. The Israeli military has cut off electricity to Ramallah and imposed a curfew, leaving many Palestinian civilians without adequate supplies of food and water. Israeli soldiers have been occupying civilian houses, confining their inhabitants to a single room and destroying their personal possessions. The Israeli military has arrested large number of Palestinian men and not allowed the Red Cross to visit them to ensure their safety. The Israeli army has been firing on Palestinian ambulances for the last week and five Palestinian policemen were found lying dead, apparently executed (without trial) by Israeli forces. The Israeli government has forbidden international observers or media into the areas it has re-occupied in an attempt to close them off to the outside world. However, many international peace activists have managed to make their way in and are acting as human shields in Arafatís headquarters and Palestinian refugee camps. Israeli soldiers opened fire with live ammunition on a group of peace activists and journalists in Bethlehem, wounding one Australian activist.
Joseph Gerson, a Jewish organizer with the AFSC, warned of dire possibilities: "Already, this is deepening the cycle of violence. These kinds of attacks only create more terrorists, more people who are angry and builds enemies on all sides. In the mainstream press, weíre not hearing about whatís happening in the Arab streets. In some ways, this is a gift to bin Laden. This is splitting the United States from the Arab world and itís taking a close step to what Bush threatened to begin with, a crusade with catastrophic consequences."
The Israeli government has stated that its current invasion and attacks on the Palestinian Authority are in response to a wave of recent suicide bombings by independent Palestinian groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. While everyone at the vigil condemned the suicide bombings, they also insisted that the Israeli attacks would only make the problem worse. Najimy said, "We really have to look at the root of why there are suicide bombers. When we understand that, then we can understand what to do about it. [. . .] These are people whose homes are being demolished on a daily basis, whose olive trees are being uprooted on a daily basis, whose roads and cities are being demolished on a daily basis. Their cities have now been invaded and surrounded and are under closure. People havenít left their homes in thirty days. Innocent people are getting bulldozed, shot at, run over. Theyíre living in a war zone and theyíre innocent people. The ones who are choosing to use suicide bombing are the ones who have been driven to desperation." Najimy was referring to Israeli attacks on Palestinians as part of the Israeli occupation going back to 1967.
The roots of the conflict extend back to 1948, when the Israeli state was created by Jewish forces seizing 78% of what had been the British mandate (under the United Nations) of Palestine. In the process, most of the native Palestinian population was driven into exile in neighboring countries, where they and their descendants continue to live as refugees, often in extreme poverty. In the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Israel occupied the remaining 22% of historic Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel proceeded to colonize this seized land with settlements, mainly of fundamentalist Jews, in violation of international law. Israeli troops have also systematically destroyed Palestinian farmland and homes, creating more refugees, as well as building "Jewish only" roads crisscrossing the Occupied Territories. After the first intifada (Palestinian uprising) in the 1980s, the Oslo peace process was created in order to set up an independent Palestinian state in the 22% of historic Palestine occupied by Israel since 1967. The peace process fell apart after then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barakís most "generous" offer involved Israel retaining control over Palestineís natural resources such as water; control over Palestineís borders; and control over Israeli settlements and roads, which would have left Palestine fragmented and unviable as an independent state. Since then, living conditions for most Palestinians have continued to deteriorate. Since the start of the second intifada on September 29, 2000 and the resulting Israeli repression, 1,230 Palestinians and 415 Israelis (both civilians and soldiers) have been killed.
Cantaro, a member of the BCPR, compared the suffering of the Palestinians to that historically of her own people, the Jews: "Our people suffered the kinds of war crimes that are going on now in Palestine in Germany in the years before the Holocaust, when there were closures of villages, sieges, people unable to work, random killings, vigilanteism by the Brown Shirts. All of this has been happening in the West Bank and Gaza and has been happening for a long time, although not with the intensity thatís it going on now. When I was reporting in the West Bank, there was settler vigilanteism and Israeli oppression and apartheid."
Another Jewish protester, Yale Rabin, said, "One of the most cynical aspects of what is going on now is Sharonís clear understanding that for every massive act of repression there will be a terrorist response. One can only conclude from that he is perfectly to willing fifteen or twenty Israelis a day in order to maintain this international image of all Palestinians as terrorists."
The activists differed slightly on why the Israeli government launched the invasion immediately after the peace offer from the Arab heads of state in Beirut. Leila Farsakh, a Palestinian working on her dissertation at Harvard, said, "[Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon does not want peace. He has a vision of the Middle East in which his only problem is how to weaken the Palestinians and not allow them an independent state. When the Arab the countries unanimously said that they were willing to normalize relations with Israel, this meant the conflict would be over, but Sharon has never really wanted a real Palestinian state."
Gerson said the peace offer was actually irrelevant to the Israeli government: "The _Washington Post_ carried the story days in advance that the invasion was coming. Sharon has from the beginning has sought to conquer the Palestinians. One of the things we have to fear now is the Israeli version of ethnic cleansing."
Najimy said that the United States government has the power to solve the current crisis. Noting that Israel receives over $5 billion of military and economic aid from the US a year, she said, "The United States holds the purse strings. The United States needs to take and stand and tell Israel that they will not get next weekís check until they end the occupation. Once the occupation is ended, we can talk about peace, we can talk about borders, we can talk about how two peoples can live side by side."
So far, however, the Bush administration has expressed its support for the Israeli invasion and called on Arafat to do more to stop the suicide bombing attacks on civilians. It has not condemned Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians or other Israeli war crimes, nor has it clarified how the Palestinian Authority is supposed to stop terrorist attacks when its own police officers are under attack by Israeli forces. The Israeli military has a long history of bombing Palestinian police stations, in one case accidentally freeing the leader of Hamas after Palestinian police had arrested him. These continual attacks by the Israeli military have generally crippled the Palestinian police in their attempts to crackdown on organizations launching terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians.
Around 6:15 the vigil dispersed. About a quarter of the people marched to the Israeli consulate, where the sectarian group Workers World Party (under the guise of their front group International ANSWER) was holding a much smaller protest. The rally continued there till at least 7:15, with people spilling into the streets waving Palestinian flags and chanting slogans at a tiny group of pro-Israel demonstrators across the street.
Those who would like to take further action are urged to call President Bush at 202-456-1414 and Secretary of State Powell at 202-647-5291 and demand that the US government withdraw immediately from the Occupied Territories and that an international peacekeeping force be sent in to prevent any more attacks on civilians on either side.
For continuous updates on the situation in Palestine, see Indy Media Israel http://www.indymedia.org.il and Indy Media Palestine http://jerusalem.indymedia.org. To get in touch with the Boston Committee for Palestinian Rights, call 617-292-6308 or e-mail info (at) bcpr.org. For more background information, see the Electronic Intifada http://www.electronicintifada.org or ZNetís Mideast Watch webpage http://www.zmag.org/meastwatch/meastwat.htm.