Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

December 30, 2009

DC vigil for Gaza: A new grassroots movement dawning?

Filed under: Activism,American attitudes,Gaza — Helena Cobban @ 9:31 pm

I went to the DC Vigil for Gaza this evening.  It was a really moving experience. I have to admit it’s been more than two years now since I gave up my long-sustained practice of regularly taking part in the weekly peace demonstrations back in Charlottesville, Virginia. (That change happened in summer ’06, when I started spending more time in Washington, DC.) But it felt good to back on the streets in a pro-peace, pro-justice activity… And I sensed a really new spirit of solidarity and political and personal clarity moving among all the 200-plus people who took part tonight.

Local personality Andy Shallal, the owner of the Busboys & Poets restaurant chain, said something to that effect in the brief remarks he made to the people gathered there in the very cold evening at the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro station entrance.

Somehow, so long as the Palestinian question was seen as one being handled primarily by negotiators huddled far away from the gaze of outsiders– something we might call the “Taba Syndrome”– then it always felt very hard to mount any effective public solidarity movement around that.  Especially when you could always suspect that many of the “Palestinian” negotiators already had second and third passports tucked handily into their back pockets; that they had long ago thrown in their lot 100% with the “western” nations that were evidently much more concerned with preserving Israeli privilege than they were with protecting basic Palestinian rights; and that the version of the “two-state solution” they were all heading toward was something designed much more for Israel’s demographic convenience than to assure the flourishing (or even survival) of their own Palestinian constituency.

It would have felt odd at a street gathering like this evening’s to hear anyone stand up with a passionate defense of the need to “build the confidence of the Israelis”, or to “assure the security of Israeli settlers” by building an entirely new, Israelis-only road system in the West Bank…  which were the kinds of policies that the PLO negotiators assiduously pursued, from Oslo on. Instead, the speakers,  chanters, and musicians who participated tonight concentrated on some stark and pretty self-evidently clear home truths.

Particularly moving was local musical phenomenon Lucy Murphy singing one of her best-loved songs, “Palestine needs her freedom”.

The vigil had been organized by a coalition of groups, of which, I am delighted to say, CNI was one. But in truth, I think most of the hard work of organizing was done by Shelley Fudge and her colleagues in the local support group of the absolutely wonderful nationwide group, Jewish Voice for Peace.

Shelley was kind enough to ask me to say a few words about our recent visit to Gaza and what we saw there. I also noted that, though the main theme of the vigil was “Lift the siege of Gaza”, “Let Gaza live”, etc, what we should really all be working for is a complete end to the military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank that has gone on for 42.5 years now.

After all, even if the siege is lifted, then so long as the underlying condition of occupation is not removed, then the siege or any other horrendous act of mass punishment can be reimposed at a moment’s notice, at the whim of the Israeli military authorities. (That’s what military occupation is, and what it does. It is a condition in which the rulers are absolutely in no way accountable to those over whom they rule.)

If I’d had a chance to say more, I’d have noted that it’s been 18 years now since the Madrid Peace Conference— the one at which all participants, including the Palestinian members of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, dedicated themselves to securing a just, sustainable, and international-law-based final resolution of all the remaining strands of the Israeli-Arab conflict, including of course its Palestinian-Israeli strand.

Eighteen years.

And what have the Palestinians seen since then? Very little other than the continued grabbing of their lands and resources for Israel’s colonial-settler project; Israel’s continued and very deliberate fragmentation of Palestinian communities, one from the other; death and destruction at the hands of the Israeli war machine; the tightening of controls over Palestinian movement; siege, dispossession, and despair…

Eighteen years since Madrid… But 42.5 years of occupation, total.

It’s enough. Palestine indeed needs her freedom.

… Thank you Shelley, Lucy, Andy, and everyone else who made this such a great and politically clear community event.



  1. a complete end to the military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank that has gone on for 42.5 years now

    You’re dating things from the Six Day War, which is odd. Surely the Gaza Strip was already under military occupation in 1967: it was run by a military governor appointed by Nasser. I guess you could argue that Jordan didn’t “occupy” the West Bank, because it annexed it. But most people would rather that Israel maintain the status quo than bring an end to the occupation by annexing the West Bank.

    Comment by Joe in Australia — December 30, 2009 @ 10:29 pm | Reply

  2. Oh, and I ought to have also said that prior to Egyptian and Jordanian rule they were governed by the British under the League of Nations’ mandate. I can’t see why this doesn’t count as occupation, so that brings the period of occupation up to around ninety years – there can’t be many Palestinians who were born before the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the most recent purely civilian government of the area. As you point out, this is a disgrace.

    Comment by Joe in Australia — December 31, 2009 @ 2:48 am | Reply

  3. the weekly peace demonstrations back in Charlottesville, Virginia

    Although is good to see people do this part of things, but These things are dead nothing good coming from it.

    these people who gathering and spending their time they should find new ways in out time that really make different.

    If you and other keep their weekly peace demonstrations with Zero outcome then better-off should some one call to cancel it or please change the name your “weekly demonstrations” to any thing but not peace.

    Comment by Salah — December 31, 2009 @ 7:28 pm | Reply

  4. So long as the goal is “negotiations”, there will be no just peace. Negotiations is just a euphemism for maintaining the status quo of apartheid, colonization and slow ethnic cleansing; all fully supported by the US, including the current administration. Why?

    Comment by Jack — December 31, 2009 @ 11:52 pm | Reply

  5. Joe, I guess you– like the Israeli government– are not really conversant with international law and the definitions it has for foreign military occupation.

    The current and ongoing military occupations of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Golan started during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. Prior to that, Gaza (and some of Sinai) was under Israeli military occupation for a few months in 1956-57, as a result of that earlier Israeli military (mis-)adventure. Btw, we should all look out for Joe Sacco’s latest graphic book about some of the atrocities the Israeli occupation forces committed at that time.

    Egypt’s rule over Gaza before and after the 1956 occupation was rule by a foreign government that– after the Nasserist coup of 1952– was a military government. But it did not count under international law as an occupation; and many Gazans have quite fond memories of those days, rightly or wrongly.

    But all those arguments of yours are red herrings, really, aren’t they? Because, it seems, you really don’t want to confront the fact that Israel’s extremely lengthy military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank is an anti-humane abomination that must be ended.

    Heck, even the US military signed an agreement with Iraq in November 2008, stipulating the complete withdrawal of all US forces from there by the end of 2011. Iraq will thus have completely ended its foreign military occupation within less than nine years.

    As for your “But most people would rather that Israel maintain the status quo than bring an end to the occupation by annexing the West Bank”– Wow, that’s another red herring, too, isn’t it? You’re implying there that the only two alternatives are to maintain the status quo or for Israel to annex the West Bank??

    What arrogance!

    The only alternative that’s acceptable under international law is for Israel to withdraw in full, having concluded a final peace agreement with Palestine. If Israel doesn’t want to conclude such a peace agreement, then this is obviously a very serious matter for the Security Council to take up.

    Comment by Helena Cobban — January 1, 2010 @ 12:04 pm | Reply

  6. I’m surprised at your tone, Helena. I think that if you re-read my post you will find that we are substantially in agreement.

    Comment by Joe in Australia — January 2, 2010 @ 6:24 am | Reply

  7. […] felt it, a little, when I took part in that Gaza Freedom vigil in downtown DC last Wednesday evening. But I’ve felt it, too, when reading all the bulletins […]

    Pingback by Gaza war, plus one « Fair Policy, Fair Discussion — January 2, 2010 @ 5:24 pm | Reply

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