Reflections from a San Francisco protest in solidarity with Gaza

8202713466 912712ce0a z
San Francisco protest against Israeli attacks on Gaza, Nov. 19, 2012
(Photo: Angela Sevin/Twitter)

In solidarity with the besieged people of Gaza under their 6th day of bombardment by the Israeli military, Bay Area residents gathered for the second time at the Israeli Consulate in downtown San Francisco.

The emergency action was planned by a coalition of groups including the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, Middle East Children’s Alliance, Students for Justice in Palestine, American Muslims for Palestine, Al-Awda, Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, International Socialist Organization, CODEPINK, and Revolutionary Books among others.

I am not a journalist, and I’ll leave the reporting to those with better expertise, but I would like to share with you my reflections on the night as I took part in the protest:

As I stared across the street at the handful of Zionists waiving Israeli and American flags I found myself thinking, “What on earth is going through their minds?” I asked this question to a few of the people around me, and they thought the same thing. “What could motivate someone to instantly react in favor of oppression? Who taught them this? Why? How?” No matter how much I try to understand the Zionist position, something about it always baffles me.

Numbers – Our demonstration numbered in the hundreds and continued to grow throughout the night, spilling into the streets and stretching a whole city block. In contrast, there were never more than 50 Zionists (in my estimate) counter-demonstrating, while their numbers sank below 25 by the time the sun went down. How come? Is it because of how absurd it is to cheer-lead assault on a defenseless population? Or because Zionists are so comfortable in their power that they do not feel the need to defend themselves, confident that the media and our government are on their side? Or because it doesn’t matter what any of us think anyway, as long as it only amounts to slogans on a street corner?

Regardless of the answer to the above questions, what I think is important here is the message the disparity in numbers showed to passers-by. We might not have the money or political clout to drown out enemies of truth and justice but we are still here and there are a lot of us.

Demographics – Our group did a fantastic job showcasing the rich diversity of the pro-Palestine movement, perhaps evidencing the universal appeal of values of truth and justice. There were self-identified Christians, Jews, and Muslims. All age groups were present from teenagers to elders, while the bulk of protesters were young adults. We were a rainbow coalition –White, Black, Arab, Persian, Hispanic, Asian, and more – mostly composed of people of color. The Zionists, on the other hand, were on the whole over 40 and white with the exception of one woman of color and a handful of young people.

Discourse – Our signs and slogans spoke against racism, apartheid, imperialism/colonialism, and in favor of justice, human rights, and an end to occupation and siege. Zionists held signs about rockets and Jihad. To me this says ours is a movement based on ethics, while theirs is a movement steeped in militarism, religious bigotry, and ideas too embarrassing to say out loud (how does “I support ethno-supremacism” look on a cardboard sign?). Our chants were the usual ones: From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free; 1 2 3 4 We don’t want your racist war, 5 6 7 8 Israel is a terrorist state; End the occupation; No Justice, No Peace. The Zionists countered with: What Occupation, Morons? They came off as childish, ill-prepared and historically ignorant.

Solutions and Connections– Rather than just a protest to raise awareness, or show Gazans that they are not alone (important causes in their own right), the demonstration was heavily focused on informing participants of the ways they could truly contribute to the struggle. Groups passed out BDS pamphlets, chanted “Boycott! Divest” and spoke of the importance of convincing our government to spend our tax dollars on curing poverty and disease instead of war and ethnic cleansing. We connected our financial problems at home to misplaced priorities abroad, and called for an end to all occupation, from Gaza to Iraq and beyond.

But even after all these reflections, the most sobering moment for me was when I left the protest to head home, weaving in and out of traffic deep in the heart of the Financial District. As I walked past corporate headquarters, multi-national banks, stock tickers and well-dressed businessmen unaware of the screaming and shouting only a few blocks away, I realized simultaneously how ignorant most people truly are about what’s going on, and how complicit our institutions are in the oppression of millions of people around the world. As sobering as that thought is, it reminds me of how many minds there still are to win over, how many board decisions there are to influence, how much potential we activists have to effect radical change. Whether in times of acute crisis or of the banal procession of time under unending occupation, we have a responsibility to the people of Palestine to do all that we can to make sure our slogans and actions aren’t just empty moral posturing.

Posted in Activism, Gaza, Israel/Palestine

{ 13 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. I oppose Israel’s current assault on Gaza. If I were Prime Minister I would be engaged in negotiations with Hamas as Gershon Baskin proposes. (Although my knowledge of Baskin’s position is superficial, my position seems to be aligned with him.) My absence from counter demonstrations against demonstrations against Israel, is mostly a function of my priorities, but also a function of my Baskin-esque attitude.

    But, at some point this current battle will be over and the overall conflict will return to the fore. And at that time the one sided attitudes expressed by this writer and others here on Mondoweiss will be correctly categorized as obstacles to peace. I concede: the primary obstacles to peace are Netanyahu policies (and his future reelection as prime minister) rather than the musings of a leftist from San Francisco.
    Yet, if this web site cares about dialogue (which I seriously doubt, given Phil’s speech at the Brecht society in September), there are words that lead to dialogue and words that don’t. And this article is not dialogue conducive.

    • James says:

      yonah,
      where do you stand on the settlements? i am curious to know if you think you would have a chance to hold open minded and fair views if you ever got to be the prime minister! i don’t think you would, but i am curious to know your thoughts.. my impression of israeli society is one of intolerance for any palestinian state whatsoever. it sure looks to me that israel is doing to the palestinians what germany did to the jews 70 years ago.. what are you doing to change any of it?

      • james- First off, spare me the german versus jews analogy. it may be useful if you are a scholar trying to understand various attitudes towards “the other”, but in terms of talking (communicating) with me, it’s not useful.

        second: what am I doing to change the situation? let’s assume nothing but talk. does that mean that you aren’t allowed to talk to me or I’m not allowed to talk to you?

        third: I think the settlements are a very grave error and they make the two state solution appear impossible. they turn a legal occupation (a military occupation) into an illegal (civilians with rights, versus indigents without rights) occupation. In Jerusalem I favor the building of a settlement, as in the settling of Jews into the old Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, as in the expansion of the Western Wall area into a large area through the destruction of homes. Other than those specific exceptions, I am opposed to all settlements including Jerusalem.

        I don’t think I will be elected prime minister.

  2. Nevada Ned says:

    In related news, George Wallace and Lester Maddox, speaking from beyond the grave, issued a joint statement. They condemned Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, which, they said, “was not conducive to dialog”. Wallace condemned King’s “I have a dream” speech, for paving the way to race-mixing and intermarriage.

    And the sentiment was echoed by deceased Prime Minister Menachim Begin, and comat0se-but-still-alive Ariel Sharon, who pointed out with pride that as Israelis they answered calls for “dialog” with cluster bombs and F-16s and helicopter gunships

    Yonah Fredman wants dialog – between oppressed and oppressor – without recognizing which side is oppressing the other side.

    No justice, no peace!

  3. Henry Norr says:

    Thanks for a good report. One small correction: Monday’s demonstration at the Israeli Consulate in downtown San Francisco was not the second at that location during the current assault on Gaza, but the third: a couple of hundred of us were out there last Thursday, and then two or three times that many on Friday.

  4. Scott says:

    Maggie, I thought it was a great article. I very much doubt that more dialogue is what is needed at this point– unless it’s an internal dialogue among Zionists about where this is heading. And that is made more possible by changing the external environment Israel operates in. In America it’s long been, you’re great, we’ll give you whatever you want, just ask us how high you want us to jump. Your demo changes that, a bit. Congrats for getting out.

  5. piotr says:

    yonah, very seriously:

    what “dialogue” is possible? The principle number one of Israeli policy is to do what they can get away with. In the internal politics “liberals” for years argued that you cannot do this or that because Israel would not get away with it, which has proven manifestly false, they lost all credibility and wiser heads like Netanyahu and Lieberman are ruling to overwhelming popular satisfaction (although as usual, there is a chorus of complaints that they coddle Palestinians, IDF is fighting in Gaza with one hand tied behind its back and so on, I would not be surprised if complainers will not be rewarded with extra Knesset seats in January).

    Only by changing the objective reality, what Israel can get away with, some change can be enabled.

  6. A quick answer before a more thoughtful one later.
    Dialogue may or may not be helpful, but nonetheless in the About section of this web site it states that the second purpose of this site is: To publish a diversity of voices to promote dialogue on these important issues.
    So if you feel dialogue is not important or possible, then you have a beef with the web site. Or it may be possible that the web site is in favor of dialogue between various factions disagreeing on how to dismantle Israel rather than dialogue with those who do not favor dismantling Israel.

    • A longer answer- I think dialogue is useful to understand “the other”. In my case “the other” is the Palestinian. In your case “the other” is the Zionist Jew. Even though in this case your “the other” is oppressing and my “the other” is being oppressed, I think a deeper understanding of the situation is certainly helpful to you as individuals and will certainly be helpful if and when the situation changes. At this point of time, let me grant that dialogue is not of practical use, but when the situation approaches a solution, dialogue will be very helpful. At a negotiation table it is very useful to understand the mindset of those sitting across from you. Certainly we are not at a negotiation table, but there were Jewish Zionists killed by a rocket the other day and I think it improves your humanity to understand the dead and those mourning for the dead.

      If you doubt your own beliefs so much that you must blind yourself to the humanity of the Jewish Zionists and feel that you must harden your heart against the oppressor, don’t let me stop you. Lincoln, I think, was opposed to viewing the enemy (the supporters of slavery before secession, certainly, and even after secession he used the phrase, “with malice towards none” ) as evil and tried to understand their point of view. You should ask yourself, “What would Lincoln do?” I think he would try to think the situation through and he would not be opposed to dialogue on the grounds bandied about here.

      The Jewish Zionists did not plop down in that land arbitrarily or for no reason. They came there because of a connection to the land and certainly in the years 1881 to 1945 or even 1953, because they needed somewhere to relocate to. If those ideas are too George Wallace like or Lester Maddox like, I think you are wrong and I think you are taking a shortcut in order to eliminate contrary thoughts that might disturb your narrow mode of thought.

      • Woody Tanaka says:

        “At a negotiation table it is very useful to understand the mindset of those sitting across from you. ”

        The Palestinians have been cursed with having these people on their land for generations now. They understand them and what drives them, as they suffer daily from the racist ideology that is in the driver’s seat.

        What is needed is the thing that will break the back of israel and force them to either fully withdraw back to the green line or have one-person, one-vote from the river to the sea.

        We don’t need more dialogue. We may need a Palestinian A.Q. Khan, an Israeli F.W. de Klerk, who knows. But what we don’t need is more mindless dialogue while the israelis murder more and more Palestinians.

  7. As far as “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea”, it would be more accurate to say that the goal of the demonstrators would lead to “Palestine will be ruled by Islamic a-holes from the river to the sea”, and of course some will see this as preferable to “Palestine is being ruled by Jewish a-holes from the river to the sea”, but if one takes the word “free” as being of some higher value, it should not be used in vain and what Hamas has in Gaza is not a system of freedom, nor would it have a system of freedom if it was in charge from the river to the sea.

    • Woody Tanaka says:

      “but if one takes the word “free” as being of some higher value, it should not be used in vain”

      Wow, this is some major league pity trolling. The damnable zionists have been terrorizing these poor people for generations and you’re picking nits about the use of the word “free”??