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PALESTINE SOLIDARITY EVENTS CAP WEEKEND OF PROTEST

A diverse crowd of over 3,000 protested Israel’s occupation of Palestine and the U.S. government’s support for Israel today outside the Washington Hilton.
A diverse crowd that included Palestinians and Arab-Americans, Jewish Americans, and political contingents from anti-capitalists to Women in Black, protested Israels occupation of Palestine and the U.S. governments support for Israel today. Reporting from the scene via cell phone, CIMCs Chris Geovanis estimated the number of protesters outside the Washington Hilton, where meetings of the pro-Israel lobby American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) were being held, at more than 3,000. A press conference in support of Palestinian rights preceded the demonstration and included a variety of speakers.





PRESS CONFERENCE CALLS FOR END TO U.S. SUPPORT OF ISRAEL





The afternoons events kicked off at 3:30 with a press conference sponsored by SUSTAIN (Stop U.S. Tax-funded Aid to Israel Now), at which a broad range of speakers addressed the crisis in Palestine and the need to end U.S. military and monetary aid to Israel. Chicagos activist community was represented at the conference by Mahmoud Ahmed of the Committee for a Democratic Palestine, and Andy Thayer of the Chicago Coalition Against War and Racism.





Ahmed emphasized the importance of U.S. tax dollars and military support to the continuation of Israels brutal, illegal occupation of Palestine. He called for a public outcry in the U.S. against Israels actions, demanding not only an end to the occupation, but reparations for Palestinians, international observers in Palestine, and an investigation into the scope of Israeli war crimes. We must demand that Sharon and others be held accountable for war crimes and brought to justice, Ahmed said.





Saying he was proud to be there, Thayer asked why we should believe the Bush administrations call for patience. What theyre really fomenting, he said, is just a transparent effort to prepare the way for yet another war in the Middle East. Thayer continued, We know this war will not be about freedom or human rights, but about American domination of the resources and people of the Middle East. Thats why were here to oppose Sharon, oppose Bush, and oppose Cheney - the true Axis of Evil.





Tariq Ali, a Pakistani playwright who is a member of the London Stop the War Coalition, also spoke at the press conference. He was particularly critical of Israels current partial pull-out of the occupied territories, which he called a cosmetic operation. The move is only good news if Israel pledges not to go in again, and they have made no such pledge, Ali said. Theres only one solution to the problem posed in Palestine, he continued, and thats the creation of an independent Palestinian state free of settlements within, and Israeli aggression without. Ali went on to condemn Israels recent conduct in Jenin, as well as insufficient coverage of events in the Middle East by American mainstream media. Oslo is dead, Ali said. It died the day Sharon went into the Al Aqsa Mosque. Its death was complete when Israel went into Jenin.





Also speaking at this afternoons press conference, Rima Anabtawi of Al Awda, a group that advocates the right of return for Palestinians exiled from Israel, demanded the implementation of U.N. resolutions in Palestine. She continued, We stand behind the Palestinians as they struggle for their rights under international, moral, and human law.





REVEREND HAGLER CONDEMNS U.S. STANCE ON ISRAEL





Speaking to CIMC via cell phone from the middle of the protest, Reverend Graylan Hagler, Senior Minister of the Plymouth Congregational Church, said he was there to continue to stand up in support of Palestine, continue to raise questions in terms of this countrys stance toward Israel, and to call for a halt to American aid for Israel.





Reverend Hagler, who spoke at Saturdays march as well as at todays rally, said the entire weekend had been very successful and that good numbers of people spoke in a clear and passionate voice. The other issues addressed by the weekends protests, such as corporate globalization and U.S. policy in Colombia, are related to the issue of Palestine because it all boils down to empire-building at the expense of indigenous people all over the world, Reverend Hagler said.





In his addresses to protesters Reverend Hagler echoed a central theme of the weekend expressed in the slogan We Are All Palestinians. Even though I am black and Christian, today I am Palestinian, I stand up for Palestinians, he said.





PALESTINE SOLIDARITY RALLY IS SPIRITED DESPITE CONFRONTATIONS





At around 6:00 pm, following the SUSTAIN press conference, protesters began to gather at the intersection of Florida and California near the Hilton, where a large protest pit had been set up and the street closed off by police. At one point, a group of several hundred broke off and moved down the street to the Hilton itself, where they attempted to confront directly AIPAC delegates who were arriving by bus. When this group returned to the main demonstration it spontaneously broke into a traditional Palestinian devka dance, which was joined by large numbers of Palestinian and North American protesters. The dance epitomized the high-spirited atmosphere of the rally, which the crowd seemed to feel was very successful.





Nonetheless, the scene was briefly marred by around half a dozen Zionist counter-protesters, who forced their way into the crowd and attempted to provoke physical confrontations with the protesters. All the counter-protesters were seen to be carrying cameras and aggressively photographing members of the crowd, particularly Palestinians. This incursion prompted collective self-marshalling by protesters, some of whom established a spontaneous, non-violent security line.





Among the protesters were a large number of Jews opposed to Israels occupation of Palestine. Sal Rosenberg, an activist from the New York/New Jersey area, said he had come out to protest the fascist politics of Ariel Sharon, [who] is part of the same right-wing extremist tendency that killed Rabin, and now theyre in power. Rosenberg continued, America must stop funding Israeli terror. Israeli policies make American Judaism look terrible by killing innocent men, women, and children and burying them with bulldozers.





Also attending todays protest was Kate Sorensen, who had just returned from the West Bank where she was among a group of internationals trapped along with Palestinian residents during Israels siege of that city. It was a very scary situation for me, Sorenson said, but it is much scarier for people who live there on a daily basis. She spoke of daily shooting by the Israeli army around the house that she was staying in, and perpetual danger in the streets. People could not leave their houses even during the brief periods in which the IDF-imposed curfew was lifted, because soldiers would shoot anyone in the streets. Conditions were very harsh, Sorenson said, and those she met seemed to find it difficult to talk about people they knew who had been killed.





As the protest began to wind down, at around 8:00 pm a group of protesters launched a nonviolent direct action in which they rolled out a chicken wire fence to symbolize life under state incarceration in occupied Palestine. This action initially provoked confrontation with police, but after negotiation on the part of National Lawyers Guild representatives the fence was allowed to stand. No arrests were observed by CIMCs reporter. While the fence action was initiated by a group of anarchists and anti-capitalists, it received broad support from the entire crowd of protesters, aptly illustrating the unity and non-sectarianism that characterized the weekend of protests capped off by todays rally.
 
 

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