A Night of Conviction: Hundreds Gather in NYC to Denounce Massacre of Gaza

 

By Malcolm Shore
 
Several hundred people packed a New York City auditorium Tuesday night for an emergency town hall meeting about Israel’s assault on Gaza. The event — entitled “A Call to Act: Stop the Israeli Massacre in Gaza! We Condemn the U.S. Role in This War Crime!” — was initiated by Revolution Books, and held at the New York Society for Ethical Culture on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
 
As the evening began, Israel was known to have killed nearly 1000 Palestinians in less than three weeks. And that staggering death toll could only be expected to rise rapidly during days that followed, considering that the Israeli Army was penetrating ever deeper into Gaza, and considering that more than 3000 Palestinians had been wounded in an area that is without vital medical supplies due to the Israeli blockade.
 

 

Confronting—And Refusing To Accept—The Horrible Truth
 
Throughout the nearly three-hour long forum, a powerful sense of urgency radiated from the stage as well as the audience. As moderator Andy Zee stepped to the microphone to commence the forum, voices in the crowd indicated there were problems with the sound. “Pump up the volume for Gaza!” one person exclaimed. “Speak with passion!” implored another. With the technical difficulties quickly ironed out, Zee began by describing the unthinkable horrors Israel is inflicting upon Gaza, noting in particular the Samounis family, which lost an astounding 30 members to an Israeli attack on January 5. Zee was interrupted by applause when he said that too few people were speaking out against these atrocities. He further argued that a broad lack of understanding in U.S. society about Israel, as well as the pervasive misconception that president-elect Obama would end the suffering in Gaza upon taking office next week, had led to widespread “political passivity.”
 
“This can and must change,” Zee said. “This is our charge tonight.”

Zee’s introductory comments set the tone for the program’s series of speakers, all of whom emphasized the moral responsibility on the shoulders of the American people to resist Israeli war crimes committed with U.S. weapons and with the complete backing of the U.S. government. Chris Hedges, a former Middle East correspondent for the New York Times, earned some of the most boisterous applause of the evening when he told the audience that the lesson of the Holocaust is that those who are in a position to stop genocide, and choose not to, are culpable in that genocide.
 
“We have become monsters, militarized bullies, heartless and savage,” Hedges said, reading from a recent article he wrote about the massacre of Gaza. “We are a party to human slaughter, a flagrant war crime, and do nothing.”
 
Hedges was greeted with a standing ovation from roughly one-third of the crowd as he concluded his speech with the words of W.H. Auden’s poem, “August 1968.” The closing words of that poem: “About a subjugated plain/ Among its desperate and slain/The Ogre stalks with hands on hips/ While drivel gushes from his lips.”
 
Peter Weiss, vice-president of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), spoke immediately after Hedges and offered a chilling personal explanation for why he felt morally compelled to speak out. 
 
“One of the reasons I am here,” Weiss said, “is [that] I was soldier in the U.S. Army when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.”  
 
Weiss then recalled that, at the time the U.S. dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, he reacted—to his “eternal shame”—with relief, knowing he would not have to fight in Japan. When he later realized the horrific consequences the U.S. had inflicted on the Japanese people, he vowed he would never again be silent in the face of atrocity. Weiss concluded his comments by referencing a famous quote from Martin Luther King: “Our lives begin to end when we remain silent about things that matter.”
 
Najla Said
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One of the more emotional moments of the evening came when playwright and actor Najla Said, the daughter of famous Middle-East historian Edward Said, read an excerpt from her play “Palestine,” which chronicled Said’s visit to Gaza in the early 1990s when she was 18 years old. In the excerpt, she described being shocked, appalled, and overwhelmed at the unthinkable hopelessness, poverty and suffering she witnessed in Gaza; she referenced the powerful stench of sewage, and the sight of residents packed together like “caged animals.” Said was clearly talking as much about the present as the past when she passionately delivered the line: “It is NOT O.K.!”
 
After noting she was “honored” to be part of the emergency meeting, and before reading from her play, Said remarked, “I think we all have a responsibility to use whatever means we can to tell people what we’ve seen.”
 
An Emphasis on Taking Action
 
Some of the speakers stressed not only the moral imperative for Americans to resist Israel’s war crimes, but also the huge potential impact that can result from doing so. The night’s first speaker, Abdeen Jabara, former president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said the town hall meeting, along with various demonstrations throughout the country and the world during the past several weeks, “are an important source of support and solidarity with the Palestinians and the people of the world.”
 
Former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, the evening’s final speaker, offered the provocative analysis that, because people all over the world were exposing and denouncing Israel’s crimes, Israel had “already lost” the current conflict. McKinney began by thanking Revolution Books for organizing the emergency meeting and added that, given the tremendous chill on anti-Israel dissent in the United States, it was of great significance that Tuesday night’s forum was even being held.
 
“The fact that we can have a town hall meeting like this on this subject—McKinney began—“in my 12 years in Congress, and far longer than that in overall political life, is unprecedented.”

 

Throughout the evening, in keeping with the “call To act” component of the event, speakers announced or proposed specific steps that those in attendance could take to resist the U.S.-backed massacre of Gaza. World Can’t Wait announced Thursday January 15th as a “Day of Conscience,” with two specific actions planned: People were urged to gather at the U.S. Consulate to the U.N. at noon, and deposit baby bottles, blankets, children’s shoes, and other symbols representing the Gazan children slaughtered by Israel. Then, at 5:30pm, people were to gather inside Grand Central station with burial shrouds representing the massacred civilians of Gaza.

 
The speakers themselves offered a broad range of suggestions for how people could resist. Weiss encouraged the audience to do a Google search on Grassroots International – a human rights group that advocates for the people of Gaza as well as other indigenous groups throughout the world – and also to attend a rally being held in New York on January 16 in support of the Center for Constitutional Right’s case against Avi Dichter, the former director of Israel’s General Security Service. Dichter gave the orders to drop a one-ton bomb on a Gaza City apartment building in 2002, killing 15 and wounding 150. Adam Shapiro, a co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement, called on the crowd to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, comparing it to the boycott movement against South Africa during the apartheid era. 
 
 
Alan Goodman, a writer for Revolution newspaper, emphasized the importance of mass resistance centered on the slogans of the evening, which both identified Israel’s actions as a massacre and war crime, and also clearly condemned the central role of the U.S. in that crime. Goodman also argued that resistance from the people of the U.S. would be crucial in demonstrating, to the people of the world, that they did not have to choose between supporting either U.S. imperialism or Islamic fundamentalism.
 
Political action, of course, stems from political clarity. With that in mind, some of the speakers addressed the roots of Israel’s massacre of Gaza, situating it in a historical context that dates back well before the current wave of bombing started last month. Hedges began his speech by saying that Israel’s slaughter of Gaza is not motivated by a desire to stop Hamas rockets, or to destroy Hamas. 
 
“The Israeli decision to rain death and destruction on Gaza, to use the lethal weapons of the modern battlefield on a largely defenseless civilian population,” Hedges said, “is the final phase of the decades-long campaign to ethnically cleanse Palestinians.”
 
Hedges noted that 800,000 Palestinians were forced from their land in 1948, during the creation of Israel, and that hundreds of Palestinian villages were wiped out during the infamous “Plan D” stage of that process.
 
The speakers also pointed to the heavy role of the United States in the Israeli massacre. Actor Vanessa Redgrave noted that the United States abstained from a cease fire that would have ended the massacre several days after it started. “All the great powers have a vested interested in maintaining this conflict,” Redgrave said. “All of them.”   A moment later, she added, “Our governments have become almost psychopathic. There is no law that they would respect.”
 
Hedges pointed out that the instruments of terror Israel is using against the people of Gaza originate in the United States. 
 
“Palestinians are being killed tonight,” Hedges said, “with American-made weapons.”
 
 
A Spirit of Selfless Sacrifice
 
The need to take bold, uncompromising stands and the willingness to sacrifice personally in the course of resisting atrocities were important themes of the evening. McKinney informed the crowd that Zionist groups had threatened Shapiro in advance of the event. “There is a price that all of these speakers today have paid,” McKinney said, “because they’re willing to speak on a topic on which silence is encouraged.”
 
McKinney, of course, had recently experienced—in a very direct and personal way—such a price. In the waning days of 2008, she joined other peace activists on a boat from Cyprus, in an attempt to deliver humanitarian supplies to Gaza. Israeli ships rammed the boat repeatedly, nearly sinking it. Israel threatened members of the boat crew by telling them that they were committing “subversive acts” and called them “terrorists.” Israel prevented the crew from reaching Gaza.
 
As soon as Zee mentioned McKinney’s name, he was drowned out by thunderous applause. “I suppose,” Zee mused, “we can dispense with the rest of the introduction.”
 
McKinney related the story of her experience in a manner that was both harrowing and inspiring. She said she received a call from someone in the Free Gaza movement after the first day of Israeli’s bombardment of Gaza, asking “Cynthia, would you like to go to Gaza tomorrow?” Despite her father’s warning that she and the other crew members would be “sitting ducks,” and despite the fact that she does not even know how to swim, McKinney said she hardly hesitated.
 
“It didn’t take me five minutes to say yes,” McKinney said.
 
Explaining that decision, McKinney noted the history of political activists and leaders who refused to back down in the face of government repression. “I know what my own government did to Marcus Garvey… to Paul Robeson… to Malcolm X… to Martin Luther King,” McKinney said. “Despite the fact that the entire weight of the U.S. government was arrayed against these people, they didn’t stop! So how I could I cower in fear and say no?”
 
Before long, McKinney found that she, too, was a target—in this case, of the Israeli government. “We’re in international waters, and all the sudden we’re all flying everywhere,” McKinney said, describing the impact of the boat being rammed again and again.
 
While Goodman’s experience did not bring him close to death, as McKinney’s did, he, too, had a recent encounter which demonstrated bravery in the face of risk and repression. On January 4, Goodman and another writer for Revolution held a 20-foot banner in front of the Museum of Jewish Heritage/Holocaust Museum which read: “After the Holocaust, the worst thing that has happened to the Jewish people is the state of Israel.” The quote is from Bob Avakian, chairperson of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP).
 
Within 15 minutes, Goodman and his colleague were surrounded by nearly 30 police cars. They were ultimately issued a $1000 citation for “displaying a banner criticizing Israel” with “no permit.”
 
The crowd at Tuesday night’s panel applauded when Goodman read the statement displayed on the banner. Most of his speech was an elaboration on the deeper meaning of the quote. Goodman told the crowd that the notion expressed in the quote was counter-intuitive: it is obvious why the state of Israel has been a horror for the Palestinian people, but less immediately apparent why it has also been a disaster for the Jewish people. In illustrating the validity of the statement, Goodman related a story from his own experience as a Hebrew school student during the mid-1960s. Goodman’s teacher was generally an “enlightened,” progressive man who, for instance, vehemently supported the civil-rights movement. However, when the issue of Israel’s support for the apartheid regime in South Africa became a topic of heated classroom discussion, the teacher ultimately justified Israel’s relationship with South Africa by telling his students that if it weren’t for that relationship, South Africans would likely reclassify Jews as “colored” rather than white.
 
“I remember blurting out something like, ‘Why would we want to be white?’” Goodman remembered, drawing cheers and laughter from the crowd. He went on to say that his teacher’s stance demonstrated the “moral trade off” that many Jews have embraced—exchanging their status as one of the most bitterly and viciously oppressed peoples in the history of the world, and their proud legacy of support for others’ struggles against persecution, in the name of a state built on the ruthless subjugation and murder of an entire people.
 
One person who was selling Revolution newspaper at the event reported that many people approached him after the meeting was over, requesting copies of Goodman’s articles.
 
 
Going Forward With Determination
 
After the event, audience members said the evening’s speakers had inspired them to resist—or to continue resisting.
 
“The message that I heard,” said Dolores, 60, “is that we have to keep pressing on as American citizens, and stand up for humanity, and we can’t be silent with this war for Gaza.”
 
Dolores, who described herself as an enthusiastic supporter of Revolution newspaper for the past year, said the event had helped strengthen her resolve to fight back. “It inspires me to continue,” Dolores said, “and it lets me know I’m doing the right thing.”
 
Jennifer Shirazi, 29, said she had already been to several demonstrations against the massacre in Gaza, and also noted she was motivated to attend the meeting because she was previously familiar with—and appreciative of—several of the speakers.
 
“I liked hearing that people have hope,” Shirazi said, “that this meeting and all the demonstrations might bring a change.” 
 
Shirazi added that the forum had empowered her ideologically. “I think it gave me some ideas,” Shirazi said, “about how to talk to people who may not agree, or who aren’t sure how they feel.”
 
Matt, 23, who said he was a member of the Green Party, said the event had really helped to drive home the dire conditions of the people in Gaza; he was particularly struck by the comparison between these conditions and those of concentration camps. “I’m starting to get the message,” Matt said.
 
He added that his convictions about the issues in question had always been strong, “but the need for people to do something is out there even more now after seeing this”
 
Indeed, it was—and is. An extremely powerful and compelling case was presented Tuesday night for why the Americans can, and must, act now to resist the U.S.-backed crimes of our government. 
 
Now, it’s up to all of us to follow through.

 

Main Palestine A Night of Conviction: Hundreds Gather in NYC to Denounce Massacre of Gaza

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World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.