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.
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.