Monday, January 5, 2009

Thoughts on international Gaza protests

[Anarchists Against the Wall about to stage a die-in outside an air force base in Israel. The sign reads "The blood of children is on your hands"]

From Indonesia to the US, the protests against the criminal war in Gaza have not stopped over the past 10 days. Maybe it is the magnitude of brutality and injustice that is driving people to the streets. They remind me of the marches before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Hopefully, the Gaza marches will have a more significant effect.

Out of the hundreds of marches, three have particularly caught my attention (for different reasons): those in UK, France and Israel.

This comment in the The Guardian captures some of my thoughts on the UK protests. It is great to see huge protests in London supported by political and entertainment celebrities; however, the photos and news footage I've seen makes it obvious that the vast majority of the crowd is Muslim. What's wrong with that? That means that either 1) the message is not getting out to the non-Muslim public and/or 2) they do not feel comfortable taking part in the demonstrations. Excerpts from Comment below:

My quibble is more with some aspects of the demo itself. Wandering around and taking pictures I didn't hear anything antisemitic, which was a relief. A bunch of "rudeboys" with their faces covered by bandanas performed like monkeys for the television cameras as usual. The atmosphere was generally light, even while charged with emotion. Not many cheered when George Galloway was introduced (thank God for small mercies).

I had an uncomfortable feeling I couldn't articulate until I was leaving via Charing Cross tube. It was crowded inside as we made our way to the trains. Two girls started to chant "We are Hamas" (I'm not, thank you very much) but were almost immediately drowned out by "Free free Palestine" before I had the chance to get annoyed. And then it came: Allah hu Akbar, Allah hu Akbar on repeat. Our fellow white travellers said little.

And therein lies my problem. I came to the march to express solidarity with Palestinians and express my anger at Israel's bombings. I didn't come to express solidarity with Hamas, nor want to come to a religious march. If I wanted to hear "God is Great" I could have gone to a mosque or a gurudwara. But I didn't. People can say what they want – freedom of speech etc – but I think this encapsulates a broader problem.

British Muslim organisations have broadly failed to capitalise on the widespread support for Palestinians in the UK, compared to the United States, by constantly bringing religion into a dispute essentially about land.

A similar issue comes up in France, except it is compounded by the heavily biased anti-Muslim media coverage there. My thrill at the large number of people marching turned into disappointment and fury when I saw the images of store fronts burning. However, this website offers some clarification and insight(excerpt of translation below courtesy of A.S.):

The media has been careful to hide photos, preferring to linger on the schemes of certain thugs that have nothing to do with the peaceful approach of the thousands of protesters present and who contributed to the success of this historic demonstration.

A similar media bias exists in Israel; however, this is not stopping thousands of Arab and Jewish citizens from taking to the streets (and the air force bases) to demand an end to the insane war. Even left-wing Zionist groups have joined the calls for a cease fire (as noted here) which is a significant change of events (historically, Zionist parties from extreme right to extreme left rally around the army in times of war).

As massive as the Israeli protests were, they were barely covered in Israeli media, as Rela Mazali (member of JVP) notes:

To read the English internet version of Haaretz of January 4th, you wouldn't know that some ten thousand marchers had protested their government's policy and attack on Gaza the night before in Tel Aviv or that earlier that day, many tens of thousands (some estimates have quoted 70 to 100 thousand), Jews and Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, marched their protest through the Arab town of Sakhnin in the Galilee. They're not part of the reality constructed by Haaretz's English website. On January 4th, one headline—topping an item picked up from Associated Press read: "Protesters across Europe urge Israel to end attacks on Gaza Strip" with no mention of domestic protests. Haaretz, mind you, is the newspaper often cited as a central example of Israel's relatively critical and truthful media.

Al Jazeera English did a much better job at covering the protest - article here.
More on protests in Israel here, here and here. Of course, Palestinian citizens of 'Israel' continue to be harassed and intimidated, but they continue to ensure their voices are heard loud and clear. More here

I do have some thoughts on the US protests (watching and reading from a far); however, I'll wait to hear yours first...

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