(Following is an eyewitness account of a demonstration against Arial Sharon in Washington on March 19, 2001.)
Last Monday, March 19th, I went to the demonstration against Ariel Sharon, who was coming to Washington DC to address that terribly supremacist organization, AIPAC, at the Washington Hilton on Connecticut Avenue…. and it was an excellent rally. It was a very good evening, just before dusk, clear with a mild, warm wind.
I took a girlfriend of mine, Lisa, who has never been involved in Palestinian affairs but wanted to come along and see what it was all about and luckily we found a perfect parking place immediately and began very optimistically.
When we arrived in front of the Washington Hilton just before 6:00 pm, there were dozens and dozens of people there already swarming on both sides of Connecticut and streams of people arriving from all directions carrying pro-Palestinian signs with lots of media cameras everywhere (Middle Eastern media as far as I could see, such as Al-Jaz’iri) and a general feeling of enthusiasm, noise and excitement in the air. There were dozens of police on the scene and more arriving by the minute by police cruiser and motorcycle and they began to separate the two groups…. asking the pro-Palestinians to cross the street and stand on the opposite side of Connecticut across from the Washington Hilton; to be further away from Sharon when he arrived, I guess, so as to not possibly offend his very delicate sensibilities…..!!
Our crowd began to swell larger and larger with people of all ages and colors and began to spread up and down Connecticut Ave until eventually I think there were about 700-1000 pro-Palestinians on the far side of Connecticut Ave opposite the Washington Hilton and only about 100-150 pro-Israelis on the curb in front of the hotel. Our group was HUGE compared to their group.
It was a great enthusiastic pro-Palestinian crowd and we yelled and screamed continuously for more than three hours, ( I don’t know how long the demonstration actually lasted as I left before it was over but I’m proud to say that by the time I left I had lost my voice, and have been very hoarse still for the last two days, from yelling so hard and so long!) We chanted non-stop, things like “Sharon, Hey! Hey! How Many Kids Have You Killed Today?” “No Justice; No Peace!”, “Sharon, Sharon You Will See, One Day Palestine Will Be Free!” “Education, and No Occupation!” “Freedom Yes, Occupation No” and so on.
And there was a strong driving passion and fervor in the crowd, and in myself, that I had not felt for a very long time indeed; the last time I can remember being so angry was when I demonstrated against Meir Kahane in the 70s at American University.
The pro-Israeli crowd on the other side of the very wide street stared at us intently and could hear us loud and clear and they seemed just a bit subdued as they listened to us and yelled back occasionally.
There were a few fervent outbreaks of “Allah-u- Akbar” from our crowd which made me uneasy but I was relieved to see that the crowd seemed to instinctively shush those voices immediately as it seems that the crowd, as I too, really did not like the idea of Americans seeing and hearing us use references to God when this demonstration was not about religion at all but about apartheid and political oppression, Israeli theft of land and breaking of international law and the killing of unarmed Christian, Muslim and Druze civilians!
(I must say though that I felt a wave of nostalgia when I heard the man yell “Allah-u-Akbar” near me as it reminded me of the evening calls to prayer at dusk from the mosque minarets in the Middle East….a sound that I have always found very beautiful and haunting and which always seemed to make that hushed twilight time of day seem just a bit more mystical and holy as one watched the sun go down in the West and heard the muezzins call out God’s name into the ebbing sunset….)
When Sharon’s motorcade finally arrived the crowd spontaneously burst into screaming “Murderer, Murderer, Murderer, Murderer!!!” over and over, non-stop. The emotion in the crowd was overwhelming… and many of the cars that were passing by on Connecticut Ave. started honking their horns in unison and giving the raised fist salute in support. Really it was electrifying and gratifying.
A weird thing that happened during all this was that when I first arrived I saw a small group of Orthodox Jewish Rabbis in their black clothes and large hats, curls and all, standing on the opposite side of the street with signs and I looked at them with particular distaste and alienation. Ugh! Hardcore, Rabbis!! The “enemy” !! All of a sudden when the police separated the larger group into pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian groups, three very old Orthodox Jewish Rabbis headed across the street towards us!! I looked at the signs and was amazed to see that they said “Judaism is Not Zionism”, Shame on Sharon for Sabra and Shatilla”, and another sign I can’t remember right now. They headed to our side and ended up standing next to me as I stood on the curb holding one end of a huge banner that read “No US Tax Money for Israeli Oppression!”. I loved these guys!
They stood next to me more or less silently for the rest of the demonstration, yelling in Hebrew only when Sharon’s motorcade passed by and entered the hotel compound. And really I must saw they warmed my heart. Really!! I absolutely loved these guys!!! They were so old and frail and so dignified, and gave off such a solemn stoic feeling, I thought that they were very “cute” in a way I cannot explain, and I felt like hugging them and protecting them. Weird no? The whole crowd took to these three as if they were our mascots. The crowd moved apart like Moses had parted the Red Sea and put them in front on the curb with hundreds behind them. And I asked my friend, Lisa, to take a picture of me standing next to our three Orthodox Rabbis, as the whole scene amazed me and seemed so surreal. Here I was standing next to three old Orthodox Rabbis yelling at the top of my lungs for the same thing!!?? “Wonders will indeed never cease!! And “mysterious indeed are the ways of the world”!
Some reporters and spectators crossed over from the other side and pointedly took pictures of my three new friends and they stood silently saying nothing….I eventually asked the Rabbi standing next to me, “Do you think that they are trying to intimidate you?” and he turned and looked at me, smiled a little smile and shrugged his shoulders. He was definitely NOT going to be intimidated by anyone!! And so I continued to enthusiastically and contentedly shout on into the night, glad that he and his companions were by my side, feeling buoyed and heartened by their quiet and staunch presence, and by this chance encounter that seemed to me to symbolize the possibility in life of the coming together of very diverse peoples in a common goal, thereby becoming strange, philosophical soul-mates.
So, finally, this emotional evening drew to an end and I had to leave at 9 PM because my friend, Lisa, had to go somewhere else and as we walked away into the quiet neighborhood we were happy to notice that we could hear great roars from our crowd long into the distance from many, many blocks away and we mentioned what a great crowd it was. And as she and I walked on in the quiet streets I thought of all the poor Palestinians back in the Middle East living their life of unending hell and despair under Israeli apartheid and I wished that they too could hear these cries of anguish on the streets of Washington so that they would know that there were people far away on the other side of the world who were worried about them and cared about their fate and were passionately enraged by their unfortunate and unjust circumstances; that they have not been forgotten.
I wished too that they could have seen my three Rabbis and have been reassured that it is not a “Jewish thing” but a ‘Zionist thing” as my three friends wished the world to know and which I felt as I stood next to them. They had the wisdom to separate church from state, Zionism from Judaism that the State of Israel has not done, and they found that they could not condone what their Zionist state was doing and remain silent.
Yes, I really wished that my Palestinian friends in the “occupied territories” could have seen them there….I also wished that any Christian Zionists in the US could have taken note…if they thought that the Bible’s Old Testament condoned apartheid against the Palestinians I wish that they had met my three Orthodox buddies; my Rabbis would have set them straight!! And my American Jewish friends, I think that they would have been ashamed to see these three old Jewish men standing in the streets of Washington through the night, protesting injustices that my American Jewish acquaintances don’t take the time or trouble to talk about or to object to but rather live their comfortable lives in the US and send money to Israel to support apartheid just because it is a Jewish state ~ those same sons and daughters of Holocaust victims who do not bother to stand up and object to the plight of the Palestinians, to the ongoing ethnic cleansing of their Semitic cousins, the holocaust that is taking place while they watch but still grump and try to make everyone continue to feel guilty forty years later about the worlds inaction to the Jewish plight in WWII …..yes my three Rabbis would definitely set them straight on just how hypocritical, self-centered, or just plain brainwashed they are being. Well insh’allah (God willing) one day everything will be clear to all and justice will prevail for the Palestinians.
Meanwhile, we who care about victims of apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and ongoing holocausts will do what little we can, whenever we can on behalf of the Palestinians.
When I returned home I checked all the news stations…..not a single mention of the demonstration, only of Ariel Sharon’s speech, which I taped at 3;30 AM on C-Span …Old Ariel looked particularly sour and overfed and his spiel was the usual blah, blah. But preceding his speech, Colin Powell also addressed AIPAC. His speech consisted of the usual US line about Israel being a great “democratic” (??!!) friend of the US whom we support UNCONDITIONALLY, and so on and his words were greeted with waves and waves of continuous applause and I was getting a rather sinking feeling as I listened on as it was so much Zionist propaganda really ,until he got to the end of the speech…. and then he said ” The US government is determined to find a solution in the Middle East to protect Israeli security and promote peace in the whole region…..therefore the Bush Administration has decided to begin again to search for peace based on UN Resolutions 242 and 338″ !!! …..and there was a very deep silence…..the crowd did not clap as it did continuously up until that moment and Powell rushed to the end of his speech. I was ecstatic!! This is what I’ve been looking for for ages…..242!!! International law!! Withdrawal from all 196 occupied territories and Jerusalem as a corpus seperatum to be shared by the whole world!! It is what should have taken place 34 years ago if anyone had had the guts to make Israel obey international law when she choose to ignore it instead!! It will be the very best thing for the Arabs!! I got the sense then that the effect of all the warm, effusive reassurances that Powell had laid down in the beginning of the speech had just been wiped away completely. He has told AIPAC in no uncertain terms that 242 and 338 is the policy of the Bush Administration and that is the last thing on earth that the Israelis have wanted to hear since 1967!! Halleluiah!!! The Israelis have always ignored any mention of 242 or 338 and last night they did the same…the crowd was absolutely silent when 242 and 338 were mentioned….. but it means that 242 and 338 can no longer be completely ignored and that the Israelis will have some trouble with the Bush Administration and that the principle of complete withdrawal from the “occupied territories” as per international law is finally back on the table. The Bush Administration by even mentioning 242 and 338 is laying out a scenario that in the end will be the best hope for Palestine. This is contrary to the Clinton Administration which never, ever mentioned 242 or 338 in it’s 8 long years and instead lead us all on a long and terrible wild goose chase known as the Oslo Agreements. No! 242 must finally be obeyed, in the end and Colin Powell let out the first news of this last night….
The newspaper in reviewing Colin Powell’s speech have not made a single mention of Powell’s reference to 242 and 338…Ha! I wonder why!! Well, Alhamd-u-lillah! (Thank God) Anyway, strangely enough, I have a good feeling in my heart regarding the future even though I have actually come to the conclusion that more than just demonstrating is needed. I also have a feeling that Sharon will not last long as PM. So that was my day and night last Monday…..a very good day indeed.
The following morning there was a very small mention in the Washington Post that “a few hundred Muslim demonstrators were in front of the Washington Hilton” Muslim only? The Post apparently overlooked a lot of non-Muslims in the crowd, like my friend, Lisa, myself, and of course my three Rabbi buddies….but of course we know there is bias in the US media, so I don’t know why I was surprised at this slanted, and inaccurate kind of reporting; par for the course and part of the problem of course. Never mind…what they write is not the truth, and it is the truth that prevails in the end!