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Month-long Gaza Protests in U.S. were the Largest Ever for Palestinian Rights

by Sharat G. Lin Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2009 at 8:54 AM
San José Peace and Justice Center

In an unprecedented outpouring of popular opposition to U.S. policy supporting the Israeli invasion of Gaza, a full month of nearly continuous protests brought tens of thousands into the streets. Arab American youths mobilized as never before. Even after Israel’s troop withdrawal, advocates for the human rights of Palestinians in Gaza vowed to continue the campaign until Israel lifts its blockade on the tiny territory.

Month-long Gaza Prot...
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For over four weeks, nearly continuous protest demonstrations against Israel’s full-scale military assault on Gaza have been unfolding in the streets of cities around the world. The United States, whose government has fully backed the Israeli invasion, was no exception. California witnessed the largest protests ever against against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories: over 3,000 in San Jose on four successive weekends beginning on January 4, 2009, over 10,000 in San Francisco on January 10 and December 28-30, 2008, and thousands more in Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, and elsewhere.

When Israel launched its full-scale aerial bombardment of Gaza on 27 December 2008, killing some 300 Palestinians within the first two days, much of the world reacted with horror and outrage for the 1.5 million Palestinians trapped within the walls of the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the tiny territory. In the United States, public protests began the very next day in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Anaheim, and elsewhere, followed by more demonstrations San Jose, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego, Houston, Washington DC, and scores of other cities nationwide. The early rallies were moderate in attendance relative to past actions on the Israel-Palestine conflict, but strong in determination and words of condemnation.

The Bush administration predictably backed the Israeli invasion, laying all blame on Hamas for continued Qassam rocket attacks into southern Israel. The U.S. Congress once again reaffirmed its nearly unanimous support for Israel. Never did the U.S. government ask why Palestinians continue to resist 61 years of military occupation, or whether the resurgence of Qassam rockets in November and December 2008 was a response of last resort to the ever-tightening Israeli blockade.

In its attempts to starve Hamas, which was elected to power by Palestinian voters in Gaza in January 2006, Israel has directly restricted or blocked all access and movement of goods into and out of Gaza since that election – collective punishment of a civilian population under occupation in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. Food, medicines, and supplies were being routinely held up at Karni and Sufa crossings. Fuel trucks were being blocked at Nahal Oz crossing. Essential commodities from Egypt were being arbitrarily restricted from entry at el-Auja crossing for transit through the Negev enroute to Gaza. Even during times when medicines were being admitted, anaesthetics were cruelly being blocked. Along Gaza’s common border with Egypt, Israel has exerted indirect control over the flow of goods and people at the Rafah crossing through remote electronic monitoring and agreements between Israel and Egypt.

In response to this intolerable situation, an increasing number of people in the United States have been coming to recognize that the launchings of Qassam rockets have been acts of last recourse by an otherwise defenseless people. By 30 December 2008, the carnage was sparking outrage and the numbers of protesters began to swell. High school and college students, grandmothers and grandfathers, shopowners and engineers, workers and businesspeople, people who had never participated in street demonstrations before came out to voice their condemnation of Israeli war crimes. People brought out scores of Palestinian flags and hundreds of kafiyehs (the Arab headdress that has become symbolic of the Palestinian resistance to occupation), both black and red, in numbers that have never been seen before in American streets.

Some local Palestinian Americans reported losing relatives in Gaza. Those who were spared the loss of a loved one saw the carnage on al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya television, scenes that were rarely shown on U.S.-based television channels. Those who had been intimidated into the shadows in the fearful aftermath of the 9-11 attacks of 2001, had begun to shed their fears on seeing the light at the end of the tunnel of the Bush administration. For the first time, Palestinian youths felt pride in displaying the Palestinian flag and waving it from their cars. Arab American youths, in particular, mobilized by the thousands to spearhead the street demonstrations. Many such demonstrations rapidly grew beyond the leadership of the initiating peace and justice organizations, developing into spontaneous and unplanned expressions of mass sentiment for an end to Israeli control over Palestinian territories and one-sided U.S. support for Israel.

They repeatedly shouted, “Stop bombing Gaza!” “Free, free Palestine!” “Stop killing children!” “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” Passing motorists honked in support.

A young woman who had family trapped in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza spoke eloquently at an interfaith candlelight vigil at San Jose City Hall on January 15, 2009 about why so many Palestinian Americans and supporters are now speaking out. Palestinians in Gaza “have not been able to live a life,” she said. It was not always this way because “Palestine was the land of Christians, Muslims, and Jews – always.” She went on to explain why Americans have a vital responsibility for what is happening in Palestine: “Our tax dollars are funding this atrocity 100 per cent.”

As hundreds marched through Santana Row, an upscale shopping district in San Jose, they chanted, “While you’re shopping, bombs are dropping!” Shoppers stopped to watch in amazement at a sight they have never before seen in front of the classy shops. Many took photos with their mobile telephones. While a few were reluctant to be bothered, many accepted flyers from the protesters explaining why Gaza and U.S. policy towards Israel and Palestine are important concerns for U.S. taxpayers.

In San Francisco and San Jose there were much smaller pro-Israel counter-demonstrations. Among them, the majority of the Jewish participants genuinely want a lasting peace, but apparently fail to understand the Palestinian need for justice and freedom. A very small minority make no secret of their desire to see the elimination or removal of all Palestinians. One man in San Francisco held a sign saying, “Until all of Gaza is destroyed, the job is not done.” Another in San Jose held a sign that read, “No country for Palestinians.” Most Israel supporters would not agree, yet they apparently did little to distance themselves from this type of bigotry and hatred.

Other Jews played a prominent and welcome role in reassuring the world that many among their community do not support Israel’s occupation, aggression, and war crimes. Jewish Voice for Peace, Bay Area Women in Black, and other Jewish groups repeatedly made it clear that they condemn Israeli war crimes, the siege of Gaza, and the entire occupation.

Finally, different communities in struggle began making connections and finding common cause. The juxtaposition of Martin Luther King’s birth anniversary on January 19th and the inauguration of Barack Obama as the first African American president on January 20th was an historic moment of moving from a dream of equality to the enabling of that dream. The euphoria of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel mobilized millions of people into a new sense of civic involvement and of communities coming together as communities. One aspect of this political opening was the further partial breakdown of identity-based politics.

When the police killing of Oscar Grant was captured on mobile telephone videos, the people of Oakland of all races, ethnic groups, and religions came together to demand justice from reluctant city, county, and transit administrations. From the beginning, the community embraced the struggle of Palestinians in Gaza with hundreds of posters saying, “Justice for Oscar Grant! Justice for Gaza!” For African Americans in particular, the notion of Israeli apartheid is a painful echo of the long struggles for racial equality in the U.S. and in South Africa.

Latino immigrants marched in San Jose on the day after Barack Obama’s inauguration to remind the new president of the urgent need for comprehensive immigration reform that provides a rational pathway to legalization of immigration status for 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. At the same time, they embraced justice for Gaza. Palestinians, Mexicans, and other Latin Americans marched side-by-side to demand equal rights and the right to live where they can make a living.

But it is perhaps Native Americans who can best empathize with the plight of Palestinians, having had their former lands carved up into isolated reservations (like the West Bank bantustans) within whose boundaries underemployment, poverty, and inadequate healthcare are prevalent. Meanwhile, the best lands were seized for development by European Americans. Members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) gave expression to their common cause with Palestinians at the rally in San Francisco on January 10.

Israel may have won the battle for Gaza with a kill ratio of 100 Palestinians for each Israeli killed, but it has decisively lost the battle to break the Palestinian people’s will to resist. It has also lost the contest for world sympathy and support. While President Obama disappointingly promises only incremental change in U.S. policy towards Israel and Palestine, American public opinion is shifting under his feet. People are mobilizing into civic action in escalating numbers, and making their voices heard. Obama has promised to listen. Now is the time for him to prove it, for the solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict lies not so much in Tel Aviv or Ramallah or Gaza City, but rather in Washington, DC.

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Emergency protest at Israeli Consulate, December 30, 2008

by Sharat G. Lin Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2009 at 8:54 AM
San José Peace and Justice Center

Emergency protest at...
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Some 1500 people mobilized on two days’ notice to an evening protest at the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco. The crowd became so large that it eventually spilled into the street, blocking traffic, forcing organizers to call for a march without a permit in order to let traffic through.

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1200 people protest in San José, January 4, 2009

by Sharat G. Lin Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2009 at 8:54 AM
San José Peace and Justice Center

1200 people protest ...
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As many as 1200 people swarmed around the intersection of Stevens Creek and Winchester Boulevards in San José and Santa Clara while others marched off to Santana Row. This scene was repeated on a comparable scale on January 11 and again on January 18.

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1200 people protest in San José, January 11

by Sharat G. Lin Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2009 at 8:54 AM
San José Peace and Justice Center

1200 people protest ...
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Palestine supporters jammed the busy road intersection for hours.

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10,000 march in San Francisco, January 10

by Sharat G. Lin Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2009 at 8:54 AM
San José Peace and Justice Center

10,000 march in San ...
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In one of the largest demonstrations ever exclusively on the Israel-Palestine issue in the United States, people condemned the Israeli aggression and blockade of Gaza by rallying at Civic Center Plaza, then marching down Market Street.

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Ocean of signs

by Sharat G. Lin Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2009 at 8:54 AM
San José Peace and Justice Center

Ocean of signs...
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“Free Palestine. Let Gaza live!” as 10,000 marched down Market Street in San Francisco.

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A sea of Palestinian flags

by Sharat G. Lin Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2009 at 8:54 AM
San José Peace and Justice Center

A sea of Palestinian...
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March up Mission Street in San Francisco on January 10.

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Youths demonstrate in midst of traffic

by Sharat G. Lin Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2009 at 8:54 AM
San José Peace and Justice Center

Youths demonstrate i...
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Palestinian youths and their friends came out in unprecedented numbers to express their outrage at the massacres of civilians. Standing in mid-traffic, they occupied every available space of elevated pavement at this San José intersection.

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Jews stand with Palestinians

by Sharat G. Lin Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2009 at 8:54 AM
San José Peace and Justice Center

Jews stand with Pale...
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Jewish Americans provided immense moral support by showing the world that not all Jews support Israeli policies. These people joined the protest in front of the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco on December 30.

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Jews stand with Palestinians

by Sharat G. Lin Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2009 at 8:54 AM
San José Peace and Justice Center

Jews stand with Pale...
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Jewish Americans condemned Israeli war crimes. San Francisco, January 10.

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Jews, Muslims, and Christians unite in San José

by Sharat G. Lin Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2009 at 8:54 AM
San José Peace and Justice Center

Jews, Muslims, and C...
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Wendy Greenfield of Jewish Voice for Peace called for an end to Israeli aggression and occupation at a candlelight vigil in front of San José City Hall on January 15.

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Palestinian youths

by Sharat G. Lin Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2009 at 8:54 AM
San José Peace and Justice Center

Palestinian youths...
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Palestinian youths came out in great numbers to condemn Israel bombing of a very dense civilian population.

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Names of dead Gazan children

by Sharat G. Lin Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2009 at 8:54 AM
San José Peace and Justice Center

Names of dead Gazan ...
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Protests continued after the Israeli troop withdrawal. In the demonstration in San José on January 25, 2009, this woman listed the names of hundreds of Palestinian children killed by the Israeli assault by air, sea, and land. The United Nations has confirmed the deaths of at least 412 children in Gaza, while more bodies are still being pulled from the rubble.

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Solitary Israel supporter shows hate

by Sharat G. Lin Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2009 at 8:54 AM
San José Peace and Justice Center

Solitary Israel supp...
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Holding a sign saying, “Until all of Gaza is destroyed, the job is not done,” this man was isolated and ignored by other Israel supporters in San Francisco on January 10 (photo by “Scary” on Indybay).

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Israel supporter refuses to recognize Palestinian state

by Sharat G. Lin Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2009 at 8:54 AM
San José Peace and Justice Center

Israel supporter ref...
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“No country for Palestinians,” reads a sign in San José on January 18. Not all Israel supporters agree, but few came forth to denounce it.

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“Justice for Oscar Grant! Justice for Gaza!”

by Sharat G. Lin Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2009 at 8:54 AM
San José Peace and Justice Center

“Justice for Oscar...
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On January 14 in Oakland, people protesting the murder of an unarmed 22-year-old black man by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police carried signs linking the their struggle to the struggle of Palestinians in Gaza.

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Native Americans support Palestine

by Sharat G. Lin Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2009 at 8:54 AM
San José Peace and Justice Center

Native Americans sup...
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With a common legacy of bantustans – Indian reservations and encircled Palestinian territories – Native Americans understand well the situation of Palestinians. Tony Gonzales of the American Indian Movement (AIM) spoke in San Francisco on January 10.

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“Mexico loves Gaza”

by Sharat G. Lin Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2009 at 8:54 AM
San José Peace and Justice Center

“Mexico loves Gaza...
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Latino immigrants in San José on January 21 linked their struggle for human rights and freedom of movement to and from the U.S. to the Palestinian struggle for human rights and freedom of travel to and from Gaza.

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LATEST COMMENTS ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
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TITLE AUTHOR DATE
Gaza protests expose US anti-Semitism Yamani Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009 at 4:33 AM
wow mom ! who woulda thought? Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009 at 3:12 PM
oh gee!!!~!~ look at the kid Friday, Feb. 13, 2009 at 4:33 AM
DUH PrionPartyy Friday, Feb. 13, 2009 at 4:50 AM
how nice Seeds of Zionism Friday, Feb. 13, 2009 at 4:46 PM
?? wrong thread Friday, Feb. 13, 2009 at 6:10 PM
more anti_semitism from the Bay area BOTH Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009 at 9:39 PM

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