As the ferocious attacks on the Palestinian population of Gaza continue, once again the Israeli government’s sense of impenetrable impunity is on display in all its brutality. With an Israeli rabbi condoning the killing of civilians in Gaza, an Israeli lawmaker calling for the murder of Palestinian mothers and a “scholar” suggesting Palestinian women be raped, it should come as no surprise that this sense of impunity is being transmitted to Israeli citizens, interpreted by some as a free license to attack those who dare to publicly stand for justice in Palestine.
In Tel Aviv, demonstrators protesting the assault on Gaza were violently attacked by right wing nationalists, with the police on the scene failing to intervene.
The message is also reaching Israeli supporters outside the country. Vigilante groups, reportedly associated with the extremist Jewish Defense League (JDL), were recently caught on video in the streets of Paris, armed with metal bars and pepper spray, attacking pro-Palestinian demonstrators. Despite the attack being played out under the watchful eyes of the police, not one of the attackers was arrested and the French government has since banned pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Paris.
In Italy, Rome has also been scene to a number of deeply disturbing and violent incidents, with attacks on Palestinians and Palestine solidarity activists, and not just with the recent events.
On July 1, the Young Palestinians of Rome had called for a protest on a central square against the escalating collective punishment being wrought out by Israel across the West Bank and in Gaza following the discovery of the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli settler teens. An Italian university student approaching the square was told by a plainclothes police officer that the protest would not be taking place. In fact, demonstrators had been dispersed by the police due to “tension” in the area, as organized groups from the self-appointed security squads of the Jewish quarter of Rome were stationed in the area.
Suddenly, five to six men pounced on the student, “guilty” of wearing a keffiah, and began shoving and kicking him. As he attempted to flee, he ran into yet another group of pro-Israel supporters who quickly surrounded him and continued beating him until the police and another man intervened. The attackers escaped, while the student was taken to the hospital, with a number of contusions to the head as well as a dislocated shoulder.
A statement by the Young Palestinians noted that “the Zionist project not only aspires to ethnically cleanse our people in Palestine… but also aims to eradicate our memory, our dignity outside of Palestine.” The Young Palestinians added, “We are also Italian citizens, citizens of Rome, and we are outraged by the inaction of institutions that, with their silence, render themselves complicit with the violence, and make Rome a city less beautiful, less tolerant, less just.”
Later that same night, two gunshots were fired from a car passing the Palestinian embassy in Rome. The night before, on June 30, as the news of the death of the three kidnapped teens spread, a protest march led from the Jewish Quarter to the Palestinian embassy in Rome, where pro-Israel protesters attached a banner reading “Assassins” to the wall of embassy as police stood idly by. Slogans were also spray painted on the walls of the embassy, with a Swastika = Hamas and below the Star of David. Netanyahu’s intention of holding the Palestinian Authority responsible was being carried out in Rome.
This was hardly the first time Palestinians and Palestine solidarity activists have been targeted in Rome by the ultrazionist thugs in Rome.
At this year’s annual April 25 march commemorating the liberation of Italy from Nazi-Fascism, Palestinians and Palestine solidarity activists gathered near the Colosseum to participate, as they have every year, bringing the voice of Palestine to this celebration of resistance against oppression. As they began to raise Palestinian flags, a group of roughly 40 members of the Jewish Community, led by the president Riccardo Pacifici, present with Israeli flags and those of the Jewish Brigade, also an annual occurrence, stormed and began physically attacking the activists. This time the police did intervene, though late and facing the victims of the aggression rather than the aggressors, allowing the attacks to continue!
Loretta Mussi of BDS Rome commented, “It was a very sad day for those in Italy who hold dear the values of the resistance against the Nazi-Fascist occupation and want to see them remembered and kept alive. This should be a day of solidarity with all those who resist in the world.”
Despite a prior agreement with ANPI, the Italian Partisans Association, organizers of the march, for the participation of Palestine solidarity activists, ANPI, shamefully, chose to concede to the demands of the pro-Israel fanatics, who refused to allow the march to begin with Palestinian flags present. Police prevented the Palestinian solidarity activists from joining the march as it departed, though a large number of supporters stayed on and eventually marched together with the activists.
“Taking a stand with Palestinian resistance is becoming more and more a taboo in Italy and demonstrators risk being attacked by Zionists in Rome, who seem to enjoy near absolute impunity, thanks to the strong support afforded them by state institutions,” observed Mussi.
One of the gravest incidents was in June 2010. The Union of Young Italian Jews had organized a protest calling for the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held by Hamas. More than a kilometer away, the Rome Palestine Solidarity Network organized a candlelight vigil to remember Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. As they set out candles and a banner reading “Without their freedom we will never be free”, in a peaceful and somber vigil, activists were viciously attacked by pro-Israel thugs using brass knuckles and scooter helmets. Two activists were hospitalized, one with a concussion and the other, a Palestinian from Gaza, with a broken jaw and cheekbone requiring months of treatment. Several others were bruised and battered. The police present limited their actions to forming a line to separate the two groups, but made no efforts to identify or arrest the aggressors.
Violent attacks have not been limited to pro-Palestinian demonstrations. In January 2014, at the presentation of the book “The Left and Israel” at a Jewish cultural center in Rome, a member of the Italian Network of Jews Against the Occupation was “identified” by a group of young Zionists there, as they commented to one woman, to protect her and others. He was violently removed before the event had even began, assaulted outside, and knocked over in the street as he attempted to leave on his scooter.
In November 2012, a group of young women and men returning from a student protest against the privatization of education were attacked as they passed through the Jewish Quarter, apparently for looking a little too leftist, with one young man being pinning down in a chokehold against the hood of a parked car and punched in the face as others gathered around, failing to intervene. “You can’t enter here. You can do whatever you want around Rome, but if you enter here, you’re dead,” they were told.
A little over a year later, four young people were passing through the quarter at 4 am, when one of them decided to rip a poster commemorating the death of Ariel Sharon. A group of 15 violent thugs on “patrol” and armed with baseball bats immediately jumped them, sending them to the emergency room.
Miryam Marino of the Italian Network of Jews Against the Occupation observed that “the immeasurable Zionist violence that continues to move forward with its plan of genocide in Gaza, after killing over a dozen in the West Bank in recent weeks, is extending its reach to here in Rome, as thugs led by the President of the Rome Jewish Community, Riccardo Pacifici, who is nothing more than a mouthpiece for the criminals Netanyahu and Lieberman, target protesters who peacefully express their solidarity with the Palestinians under bombs.”
While these events pale in comparison to the genocide currently taking place in Gaza, they represent an alarming trend. The responsibility lies with the both the Israeli government for its continued incitement, and local administrations, which have varied over the course of the events from one led by a rightwing former militant with the young fascists to the current center left mayor, as well as national politicians, who have failed to act to end impunity for Israel and its supporters.
The press also shares a great deal of responsibility. Miryam Marino noted, “The story being told by the press elicits a sense of great disgust for the hypocritical ‘balance’. We are witnesses to a genocide, where the lives of an entire population seems to have no value in the eyes of the media.” She added, “With our hearts full of sorrow and indignation, the cry of pain that rises from Gaza breaks our hearts and we will do everything possible to amplify it so that it reaches the deaf ears that do not want to hear.”
One word that came up over and over again in relations to the events above was fascism. And that is something Italians know a thing or two about.