WASHINGTON – An activist dressed as an elderly Palestinian woman lay on the
pavement outside the convention center where the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC) convened for its annual conference on Sunday, her arms
stretched wide while she desperately pleaded for help. The pro-Israel delegates
waiting in line in the chilly morning air stared at her coldly. Then, another
activist representing an Israeli soldier appeared and rammed the butt of his
mock cardboard rifle into her head.
That is the true picture of what is
happening in Israel and the occupied territories, according to anti-Israel
protesters who gathered outside the AIPAC convention.
“We’ve been doing
that kind of visual for years and I think it’s pretty powerful to illustrate
that there are pregnant [women] who have died in childbirth, [since they were]
unable to get to hospitals on time in the West Bank and in Gaza,” said Rae
Abileah, one of the organizers of the protest.
While she was reluctant to
say assaults on elderly Palestinian women by Israeli soldiers were an everyday
occurrence, she did say “there have been cases where that has been the
Abileah was one of a few hundred people who gathered outside
the convention center here to demonstrate against Israel, just as they do every
year. The protesters carried banners, sang songs, set up fake checkpoints and
built a cardboard wall symbolizing the barrier in the West Bank.
year’s protests differed slightly from previous ones. Instead of focusing on
Palestinian rights and demands for statehood, much of their criticism related to
the possibility that either Israel or the US might launch a strike against Iran
to stop its nuclear program.
“This country can’t afford a military
attack,” said Abileah. “We’ve gone through ten years of unjust war in Iraq,
we’re still in Afghanistan, our budget is a disaster, kids in this country can’t
afford to go to college, it’s insane to be thinking of war.”
was echoed by Sasha Glzin, a 24-year-old student involved with Jewish Voice for
Peace and CODEPINK the two groups that organized the protest. “I don’t think
[the US and Israel] will be well served by militarily striking Iran,” she said.
“I think there are better ways to deal with a regime or a country you’re not
happy with. Striking civilian populations, striking people in Iran isn’t
going to get the outcome the US and Israel wants.”
Michael Figa, 30, a
bio-tech engineer from Boston, said he could understand Israeli concerns over
Iran. He described himself as a realist, saying he recognizes Israel’s right to
exist and that Iran was known to fund terrorist groups that launched attacks
against Israel. At the same time, he said Israel must end its occupation of the
West Bank, accommodate the Palestinians regarding the “right of return” of
refugees from 1948 and allow the creation of a Palestinian state.
have peace between Israel and the Palestinians then that would defuse the entire
issue because there’d be no more wind in Iran’s sails,” he said.
said such a deal might placate Iran and persuade it to drop its nuclear program
of its own accord.
“Perhaps the mullahs would not like it theologically
but peace would defuse the situation,” he added.
Further down the road
another group of anti-Israel protesters assembled outside the entrance to the
convention center. They chanted slogans against AIPAC and Israeli policy using
loudspeakers. One protester was wearing tefillin.
Barbara Isaacson, who
traveled from Boston to take part in the AIPAC convention, gazed at the group of
protesters from a distance.
“I’m so ashamed of them,” she said. “I can’t
believe they’re Jewish.” She brushed aside questions about whether she
understood the plight of the Palestinians. The protesters, she said, were more
anti-Israel than they were pro-Palestinian.
Besides, she added, Israel
had done everything it could to cultivate peaceful ties with the
“We can’t do it, we tried to give them Gaza and look what
happened,” she said.
“Every time we give in we get it worse. We can’t
give in, we have nowhere else to go.”