Friday, January 02, 2009

Gaza protest

A bunch of us grad students went to a protest today.

It was the first protest I'd gone to in a long time.

One of the problems with protests nowadays is that you can never be entirely sure what the protest is for. In this protest, as in so many, different protesters seemed to have vastly different messages. On the one hand, I saw people holding signs declaring themselves to be Jews opposed to the attacks on Gaza. On the other hand, I saw people holding signs reading "Gaza will never forgive", or equating the Star of David with a swastika. Still other signs said generic things about imperialism or racism -- not false, but, again, not helpful.

Some of the chants called for an end to the siege of Gaza, others called for a free Palestine, still others called Israelis (all of them, I guess) liars.

The speakers were a similarly mixed bag (there were too many, it was cold, and standing still is not good in the cold). The best was a woman from the Quakers (yay, Quakers). She said reasonable things, and voiced reasonable demands. She was the only one to acknowledge that were Jews standing in the cold among us. Meanwhile others seemed to think we were all filled with the spirit of Palestinian patriotism, or that we all spoke Arabic. One of the main organizers kept going on about "movements" and "mobilizations" and how the plight of all oppressed peoples (she tried to list all of them) are connected.

Worst of all, we got handed a flier from ANSWER inviting us to a form where the following questions would be addressed: "What's behind U.S. & British attacks on Zimbabwe? What's at stake in struggle for an independent Africa?" I'm not sure what they're thinking of discussing there: perhaps Mugabe's theory that the cholera epidemic is actually a western conspiracy.

But it was not nearly as bad as it could have been. Considerably more focused and serious than the stuff you get back in Vancouver. The news coverage so far has been all right. And hopefully this will help correct some of the stories I've seen which mention the existence of protests around the world, but not in the US -- as if Americans could rest assured that only whacky foreigners are outraged by the attacks on Gaza. The crowd of 4000 people was really quite impressive considering how cold it was.

As for our little group, we had a pair of homemade signs, one calling for a ceasefire, one calling for immediate increased access to aid (because). This is a reasonable and feasible goal. If the White House decided it would happen (instead of making empty statements that in effect condone the attacks), then it would happen.

What's more, it's in the interests of everyone. Some of the media coverage called the protest a "pro-Palestinian rally", but I rather think that it would be pro-everyone to end the attacks on Gaza. On our way in, we passed a counter-demonstration, a "pro-Israel rally". I actually agreed with every one of the signs being waved at that rally.

Here is a pro-Israel stance: stop these attacks on Gaza and the blockades around Gaza, which are against long-term Israeli interests. Stop perpetuating the radicalization of Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world. Stop undermining the popular support of those Arab leaders who are most cooperative with Israel. Listen to people who aren't at all crazy leftists, like the Economist, or Zbigniew Brzezinski:

We left the protest a little early, came home, and ate sushi.

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