On Friday, July 25 nearly 100 people gathered in Utica at the foot of the Baron von Steuben monument where Genesee Street and the Parkway meet to protest the continued bloodshed and war unleashed on the people of Gaza, Palestine. Although the large demonstration had only a fleeting reference in local media, the issues discussed at the protest will no doubt be revisited in the future.
Occupy Utica, the Green Party of Herkimer-Oneida Counties, the Mohawk Valley Freedom School, the union Industrial Workers of the World, local Palestinian refugees and others put a call out for the rally just a few days prior. Much outreach was done at the mosque on Kemble Street where many of the demonstrators, young and old, heard of the rally.
Although the mainstream media in the US has a strong bias favoring Israel and its policies, the experiences of the Palestinian refugees at the protest, such as recent Proctor High School graduate Haneen Alsaad paint a very different picture. Many of the protesters held signs, waved Palestinian flags, and listened to speeches before they marched down Genesee Street to Congressman Hanna’s office to continue the rally. Hanna, like most of his colleagues, provides uncritical support to Israel.
There were a number of comparisons made between apartheid South Africa and the state of Israel at the rally. During one speech, reference was made to South African freedom fighters and strong supporters of Palestinian liberation Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. The racial segregation and brutality forced on the Palestinian people by Israel was not lost on Tutu when he visited Palestine and Israel.
There was also discussion of launching a local Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign to target local politicians, businesses, and even colleges that have financial or political connections with the state of Israel. The BDS campaign, endorsed by Tutu among countless other activists, politicians, musicians, and celebrities around the world, is an international struggle, one modeled in many ways after boycott campaigns that were launched against South Africa.
Although the spirit of the demonstrators was somber over the rising death toll of Palestinian civilians (UN schools, hospitals were repeatedly bombed by Israelis, and entire families have been wiped out), there was also a glimmer of hope that change is possible. Local educational and political rallies in the near future will take shape to target modern-day apartheid in Israel and support an enduring peace in the region. This peace ultimately rests on the reality of a liberated and free Palestine.
Brendan Maslauskas Dunn
(to get involved with a local BDS campaign, please contact 240-3149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org)