What Are the Protesters in New York Saying About Gaza?

By Amira Asad

The situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate, as they say. Another way to put it is that a war just started, or re-started. Last night, Israel gave the green light for the military to mobilize 30,000 troops in preparation for a full-scale invasion of Gaza. Tensions are escalating, the death toll is rising, and more rocket fire is being exchanged between sides. So far, 21 Palestinians, including both militants and civilians, have died, along with three Israeli civilians.

People around the world are getting pissed off, naturally, whether they are for or against Israel’s “Pillar of Defense.” Human rights organizations and the UN are calling for the combatants to stop fighting, and protesters are taking to the streets both in the Middle East and elsewhere to denounce Israel’s aggression or denounce those who denounce Israel’s aggression.

Last night, I went to the Israeli consulate in New York City to see who would show up for a pro-Palestine rally. By my count, there were roughly 220 attendees at the protest’s peak. Speakers touched on subjects that will be familiar to anyone who has shown up to an event of this sort—they attacked violence, human rights violations, racism, and apartheid, and asserted that US aid sent to Israel could be used instead to reconstruct areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. Chants of “Free, Free, Palestine!” and “Hey Israel what do you say, how many kids did you kill today?” were frequent throughout the night.

On the opposite side of the street there was a counter-protest being held for those supporting Israel’s right to self-defense (or “self-defense,” depending on what you believe). This was a smaller crowd that numbered around 60. “Israel wants peace, Hamas wants terror!” they shouted. “God bless America! God Bless Israel!”

I wandered around and asked people on both sides of the fence for their opinions on what was happening in Gaza. Not surprisingly, the two sides didn’t agree on the fundamentals of the situation.

Charlie, rabbi: I think this is a horrible situation. Missiles continue to fly into Israel with the expectation that Israel isn’t going to respond. I don’t know of any other country in the world that would have missiles flying into it on a regular basis and not respond to an act of open warfare.

Sofia, programmer: At this moment, the Palestinian Authorities in Gaza are firing rockets into Israel's territory and Israel is responding.

Do you think that Israel’s retaliation has been fair?
Sure, of course. These rockets are being fired from territory that was freed by Israel and the nice people. Instead of being peaceful [the Palestinians] destroyed the agricultural buildings and made rockets out of irrigation pipes. [Israel’s] retaliation is less than it could be and should be to stop this unjustified violence.

Ethan, freelance artist: As far as I can tell, there has been a series of escalating violence. But I believe this round started actually with the killing of an unarmed man in Gaza who was mentally disabled a week ago and a 13-year-old Palestinian boy who was playing soccer. And then there were a bunch of rockets in response, and then there was a ceasefire. Palestinian groups actually called a truce on Monday, and there wasn’t a complete ceasefire but there was a vast decrease in the number of rockets from Palestinians on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Then Israel bombed and killed several civilians, including an 11-month-old baby. So what’s happening is yet again Israel is using massive overwhelming military firepower against a captive population.

Do you think that the US plays a role in this?
Many people were here last time Obama got elected; Obama has unequivocally down the line supported Israel. Obama made a phone call to Israel today or yesterday saying, “I support your right to do whatever the fuck you want.” A lot of us, our first awakening to the Obama administration was four years ago, when Israel killed 1,400 Palestinians over the course of three weeks and Obama said nothing. The United States provides overwhelming political support to Israel—3 billion dollars a year in military aid. No US Congress member ever criticizes Israel, so it gives Israel a blank check. There is no accountability for Israel when it commits war crimes.

Avraham: Imagine if the whole rally of people got behind 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden. The horrifying reality is that the Palestinian people democratically elected an organization that is considered to be terrorists by the United States, Europe, Canada, Japan, and many different countries. They are being terrorized by their own government. Hamas is committing a double war crime in both firing rockets indiscriminately upon innocent civilians while simultaneously using Palestinian civilians as a human shield. It’s cynicism at its worst, it’s just a horrible reality. I mean, to stand on that [pro-Gaza] side is completely non-sensible; It’s hard to understand it really. It’s a rally for Islamic fanaticism.

Spenser, tech start-up employee: It’s just an extension of what’s been happening for a really long time. People want to focus on micro-issues: “an IDF soldier killed a child,” or “Hamas is using children as human shields.” I think its much more important to look at the structure of the occupation that encourages people on both sides to do really atrocious things. There is no reason for [Israel] to cooperate or to advance the peace process because they have our financial and political support. That’s why I feel like I have a stake in being here—my taxes, although they may not be a lot, contribute to aid to Israel and I think it’s atrocious.

Jacob, founder of One Heart, an organization that works to provide support for victims of terrorism: To support Hamas means to support a terrorist group recognized by America, Europe, and Israel. Maybe the easiest way to explain what’s going on is to think if one missile was launched at New York City, and the next day another missile was launched at NYC. Obama, or whoever the president was, would immediately send a very big force to stop the missiles. Israel didn’t do that. Israel threatened Hamas when they started to shoot and said if you [fire missiles into Israel], we will come and stop you, and they did a few times. But since then, Hamas grew. They control the government of something that is supposed to be a country in the future. We can’t allow the country to be run by a group like Hezbollah. Hezbollah started as a small guerilla group, and now they control Lebanon.

Yisroel, spokesperson for Neturei Karta International Jews United against Zionism: Our organization tries to educate the world about the fact that Judaism is not Zionism. They are opposites. Our religious identity, Judaism, has been hijacked by Israel. All the crimes that have been perpetrated against the Palestinian people are all being done in our name, illegitimately. Judaism is a religion, not nationalism. Zionism is a transformation to nationalism and it does not represent in any manner whatsoever the Jewish religion. We want the world to know that we suffer and cry with the suffering of the people of Palestine, and we find the existence of the state of Israel to be totally unacceptable.

@Amiraasad

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