75,000 rally in U.S. to
back Palestinian struggle
Actions on both coasts
condemn U.S. backing of Israel
BY SAM MANUEL
Militant photos: top, Ruth Nebbia; bottom, Peter Buch|
|Tens of thousands of protesters marched April 20 in Washington (top), and in SanFrancisco (bottom) against Israeli military assault on Palestinians in West Bank.
WASHINGTON--Some 75,000 people converged on the U.S. capitol here April 20 to back the Palestinian struggle against the colonial-settler Israeli regime, the largest such action in U.S. history. Some 20,000 more from across the West Coast mobilized in San Francisco, waving thousands of Palestinian flags in a march that took four hours to cover the two-mile route.
At both actions tens of thousands of mostly young Palestinians, Arab Americans, and immigrants from the Middle East turned out. In Washington, they led the march. Placards and banners could be seen throughout the demonstration that read: "End the occupation!" "Free Palestine!" and "We are all Palestinians!"
Hundreds of buses came from across the eastern part of the country, including areas with large Palestinian and Arab communities such as Detroit, Cleveland, northern New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. Many saw the demonstration as an opportunity to respond to the brutal Israeli military offensive in the West Bank, as Palestinian and Arab organizations, student groups, and mosques across the country threw their support behind the action in the final weeks.
"This is the least we can do to make our voices heard and also express opposition to the U.S. aid to Israel," said Safa Muhanna, a 17-year-old high school student born in Ramallah, West Bank, who came on a bus with her relatives from Fairview, New Jersey. "Bush has restricted all Palestinian organizations from sending funds to Palestine, calling them terrorist organizations, while the U.S. government continues to send military equipment to the Israelis."
She noted the massive devastation wrought by the recent Israeli military offensive with U.S.-made warplanes and tanks, saying how one of her relatives had been slain a couple of days before the protest. "Palestinians are being killed every day, but all we hear about is suicide bombings and Jews dying because the media is so one-sided."
The serious, organized and disciplined participation of the Palestinians set the tone for the march and rally, which also attracted layers of workers and thousands of high school and college students. Many of the students drove here in cars and vans. Daniel Keller, a 15-year-old at Roeper High School in the Detroit area, said he and his classmate, 15-year-old Laurel Parker, and other students were unsuccessful in getting his school to sponsor a bus so they came in a van.
"I’m against the ‘war on terrorism’ and the bombing of Afghanistan," he said. "I’m Jewish but I’m not a Zionist. I don’t think what the Israeli government is doing will solve the problem."
Since it had been announced, the capitalist press and police had violence-baited the action, putting the entire police department on alert here and recruiting cops from nearby jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia for the weekend. The city’s police chief, Charles Ramsey, conceded, "The organizers did an outstanding job."
The day began with a feeder march and rally in support of the Palestinian fight. That action was called to protest the decision of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to give a leadership award to Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. The pro-Israeli lobby group held a conference here over the weekend.
Following a three-mile march participants in the feeder action were cheered enthusiastically as they joined the tens of thousands already gathered at the Ellipse just behind the White House.
"I am so happy today," said 22-year-old Shara Amal, who came with a caravan of 30 buses organized by mosques from Detroit, and the surrounding area. "For the first time we have come together by the thousands to speak out against what is happening to us in Palestine and in this country," he said. "This demonstration lets the world know we will not be silent."
End the occupation
Thirteen-year-old Mohomad Shahin said he came to "oppose the genocide against our people in Palestine." There can’t be peace until Israel ends the occupation and stops the murders," he added. Shahin said that seven busloads had come from the Patterson, New Jersey, area. They were organized by the Islamic Center of Passaic County.
"America calls us terrorists because of the suicide bombings. But the Israelis have jet bombers, tanks, and other weapons paid for by America." Shahin explained. "Suicide bombers are the weapons of the poor. We fight with what we have."
Many demonstrators came from northern Virginia where just weeks before FBI agents had carried out a raid on several Islamic research, educational, and charity organizations. With sealed warrants the cops also raided some homes. In one case a mother and her daughter were held in handcuffs for five hours while the cops searched their home. Correspondence, financial records, and computers were taken but no charges or arrests were made.
Several signs and banners in the march read, "Israel Out of the Occupied Territories! U.S. Out of Vieques!" Nahbi Reality, a young Puerto Rican from Bronx, New York, said, "What is happening to the Palestinians is just like in Vieques. Israel must withdraw from Palestine and the U.S. must end its occupation and bombing of Vieques."
The U.S. government maintains a naval base on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques where it also conducts military exercises. There were widespread protests on the island demanding an end to the exercises after two U.S. Navy warplanes on a training mission for Washington’s 1999 bombing campaign against Yugoslavia dropped 500-pound bombs on a lookout post that killed David Sanes, a Vieques resident employed by the Navy as a security guard.
Opposition to attacks on workers’ rights
Initially called to "Stop the War at Home and Abroad," the march and rally also drew large contingents carrying banners that read, "Defend civil liberties! No to the Patriot Act." "Stop the attacks on immigrants! and end racial profiling!" read others.
Many carried banners opposing U.S. policy in Colombia and throughout Latin America. About 2,000 participants attended a rally at the Washington Monument the following day.
There were also several protests at a meeting of officials of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The march and rally capped a week of activities, including teach-ins on area campuses.
At the San Francisco action as well, many participants had been organizing against the U.S. government attacks on civil liberties and workers’ rights after the September 11 events. Erlinda Valencia, an airport worker and member of the Service Employees International Union, set up a table in support of the 1,200 airport security screeners who will lose their job after new federal legislation requiring screeners to be U.S. citizens takes effect.
Ralph Santos, a student at California State University at Long Beach, and member of a chapter of the Bayan International movement, called for the United States to withdraw its troops from the Philippines. The U.S. government announced the previous week they were sending additional troops to the country as part of the "war on terror."
Jessica Fitzgerald of San Diego came to the San Francisco march to back the fight for Palestinian liberation. She carried an Irish flag with a message written over it that equated the Palestinian struggle with the Irish struggle, and pointed out that in both places people are fighting against a military occupation and for their liberation.
Emily Paul and Rollande Girard contributed to this article from San Francisco.
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