Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Detroit Community Protests Gaza Genocide

The Arab American News
Community protests Gaza genocide

By Nick Meyer
Friday, 01.09.2009, 06:50pm

The streets of downtown Detroit were painted red, green and black on Thursday, Jan. 8 as more than 1,000 protested Israel's attacks on the Gaza Strip.

A diverse crowd of people from varying ethnic and religious backgrounds circled the Patrick V. McNamara Federal Building, waving Palestinian flags at passing cars and showing off dozens of hand-made signs pointing out truths about the war that many felt the mainstream media had ignored.

A group of about 40 Israel supporters also gathered nearby, keeping their distance.

From the building, which sits at the corner of Michigan and Cass, the pro-Palestine protestors marched down Michigan to Washington Blvd. to Woodward before filing into Central Methodist Church for a rally.

Scores of protestors took their seats while various community leaders and sign holders stood together in solidarity to denounce the attacks and to call for an immediate, peaceful solution to the conflict.

Reverend Edwin Roe of Central Methodist offered up his church for the protestors to show his support for peace.

"We are a church that has been against violence and killing since its inception," Roe said. "What we are angriest about now is the media, which hasn't reported on the refugees and the apartheid taking place in Gaza that is worse than anything even South Africa's seen.

It is just as deadly as any rockets fired and it's been going on ever since 1948. We want to call for an end to the occupation."

The Arab American News publisher and Congress of Arab American Organizations (CAAO) spokesman Osama Siblani thanked Roe for hosting the event and made his case for peace.

"I speak on behalf of all Arabs when I say that we don't speak from all sides of our mouths, we believe in peace and justice," he said. "We are asking for peace with justice. If there's no justice, there can never, ever be lasting peace."

As of Thursday, 765 Palestinians had been killed in Israel's 13 day-old offensive, according to Hamas officials. Recovery teams and ambulance crews ventured into battlegrounds on Thursday, using a time slot coordinated with Israeli forces, to gather bodies from the rubble. Red Cross officials said they found four children starving beside the bodies of their mothers and evacuated scores of trapped and injured.

The McNamara protest was one of many pro-Palestine events that took place since the bombing campaign by Israel began on Dec. 27.

On Tuesday, Dec. 30, thousands of protestors met at Byblos Banquet Hall in Dearborn to form a "human chain" along Warren Avenue while protesting, marching, chanting, and waving to passers-by in their cars. Siblani talked about the importance of protests for getting media exposure.

"When the media is present, it transfers the feelings and the emotions and the presence of the people – the message goes farther than Dearborn," he said. "And we have to continue to press on."

The CAAO did just that later in the week at the steps of Dearborn City Hall last Friday, Jan. 2 as about 500 people showed up for another demonstration and candlelight vigil. With freezing temperatures and high winds, keeping the candles lit was a problem but the gathered crowd stuck it out as TV news trucks from across Detroit showed up to cover the event.

Passionate chants of "1,2,3,4, stop the killing, stop the war!" and "5,6,7,8, Israel is the terrorist state!" which have been among the most popular rallying cries for recent demonstrations, went up from the crowd before speeches were given by members from various groups.

Jewish anti-war demonstrators were among those on hand, including members of the Jewish Voice for Peace and activist Jerry Goldberg of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice (MECAWI). MECAWI was also present at the McNamara protest.

"These attacks are not in the interest of any people," Goldberg said. "Jews and Arabs lived in peace for 5,000 years until the creation of the Zionist movement and the discovery of oil in the Middle East."

Goldberg placed the blame for unrest in the region "squarely on the U.S. government."

"Every bomb being dropped on Gaza is paid for by the U.S. government," Goldberg said.

Other protests took place outside of Dearborn as well. Also on Friday, Jan. 2, demonstrators came out to the southeast corner of Liberty and Fifth in downtown Ann Arbor. Around 100 people came out, held anti-war signs, and led chants through megaphones in support of Palestine.

The next day in West Bloomfield, CAAO took their show on the road, drawing about 1,200 people on the corner of Maple and Orchard Lake to continue the protesting efforts just about a mile from the Holocaust Memorial Center.

"We just want to remind people that if we do not stop this genocide in Palestine, we might have to build another museum next to it," said Siblani, who helped lead the protest.

Siblani was pleased with the way passers-by responded, honking their horns in support or giving thumbs up, peace, and victory signs to the gathered crowd.

One car drove by flying an Israeli flag and two people in the car imitated shooting at people with rifles according to Siblani, however. But that was the only sign of counter-protest on the day in West Bloomfield.

A smaller counter-demonstration was held in West Bloomfield on Sunday.

Meanwhile, in Washington, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) on Tuesday sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice notifying her that Israel my be in violation of requirements of the Arms Export Control Act of 1976 (AECA).

The AECA outlines the conditions under which countries may use military articles or services obtained from the U.S. government, which include "internal security" or "legitimate self defense."

"The letter offers preliminary evidence that there may be a violation of the requirements of AECA," read a statement from Kucinich's office. "For example, Israeli forces have used F-16 fighter jets and Apache helicopters to precede and to support ongoing ground actions such as the one today in which 40 Palestinians were killed while taking shelter in a U.N. facility... When the President is aware of the possibility of such violations, the AECA requires a report to Congress on the potential violation(s)."

On Wednesday the Ohio Democrat took up the issue in a floor speech in the U.S. House, challenging Israel's contention that the offensive against an entity with no official military is an act of self defense.

"We cannot truly celebrate a New Year, a new Congress and a new administration if all we see is the same old destruction in the Middle East with U.S. weapons being illegally used to kill children," he said. "I oppose Hamas' rocket attacks on Israel... But how can Israel claim self defense when it bombs Gaza which has no army, no air force, no navy and has been under a constant blockade? The (Bush) administration knows Israel is using U.S. weapons, paid for by U.S. taxpayers, with disproportionate force creating a collective punishment of Gazans, assuring an escalation of conflict, clear violations of the Arms Export Control Act."

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) made repeated demands on the U.S. government, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross over the week to investigate the bombing of a U.N.-operated Gaza school and an attack on a U.N. relief convoy that resulted in the U.N. suspending all activities in the Gaza Strip on Thursday.

"It is a violation of international humanitarian law and the laws of war, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, to target or attack civilian aid workers or emergency medical personnel engaged in the evacuation and treatment of victims," the group said.

A Washington, D.C. protest organized by groups across the country is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 10 at 1 p.m.

Buses taking locals to Washington for the demonstration will depart from Luxury Limosine, 5445 Oakman Boulevard in Dearborn, at midnight Saturday. The cost is $75. For more information, call Mariam Habhab at 313.207.8177 or Rima Abuelroos at: 313.445.7979.

Also in Dearborn on Saturday, a fundraising drive for al-Shifa hospital and other humanitarian causes in Gaza is to be held at Riverside Academy, 7124 Miller Road in Dearborn, at 5 p.m.

Khalil AlHajal contributed to this report.

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