On Wedneday July 12, Grassroots International joined a group of demonstrators in front of the Israeli Consulate at Park Place Plaza to protest the Israeli government’s collective punishment of the Palestinian people.
There were both demonstrators (includign staff, supporters and allies of Grassroots International) and counter-demonstrators. Unlike most demonstrations that I have attended, where the two groups stand on opposite sides of the street or in discreet groups, the counter demonstrators practically stood right next to the demonstrators. They did it as a tactic, to make it less obvious that there were twice as many of us as there were of them but I found it more intersting for its metaphorical power than for it’s power as a demonstration tactic.
The two groups standing next to each other were painfully indicative of the situation in Israel and Palestine–similar people, living in close proximity, unable to see each others’ point of view, unable to hear each other’s voices. The atmosphere was charged. There was no physical violence, but the gazes exchanged between the two groups spoke volumes.
Our signs attempted to be firm with slogans that we thought most people would support. They read: « Grassroots International says: NO! to Collective Punishment » and « Grassroots says: YES! The Palestinian People have the Right to Exist. »
The point was to get across the idea that civilians should not be targeted, that one million people should not be forced to suffer because of the actions of a few people.
I like to believe that this is an easy message to get behind. Most days I believe that many of us are able to separate the actions of a government from its citizens. But something often happens to prove me wrong. So I must admit to being startled and visually shocked when I read a sign held by a counter-demonstrator: « Everyone in Gaza is responsible. »
There were a number of counter-demonstrators holding signs that read, « I support Israel. » In this context, supporting Israel meant supporting collective punishment of and denying the human rights–and therefore the humanity–of the Palestinian people. One counter demonstrator stopped his car in the middle of the street and blocked traffic for about eight minutes. He got out of his car, balled his hands into fists and raised them in the air above his head and began chanting, « Israel! Israel! Israel! » An older gentleman in a wheelchair rolled up next to him holding a sign reading, « Justice for Palestinians » and stayed there next to him until police officers finally forced the car driver to move along.
The demonstration was an illustration of some of the tension of the current situation in Israel and Palestine. A number of people I spoke to said how uncomfortable they were walking past the counter-demonstrators and that made me think of the Palestinians who , essentially, walk past counter-demonstrators through check points and a « security » wall every day.