Protesters raise their voice over Netanyahu’s White House visit
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s arrival at the White House today was protested by several organizations sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians. Protesters assembled in front of the Federal Building on Wilshire Boulevard, an event that was coordinated with several others across the country.
Netanyahu met with Obama to smooth out U.S.-Israeli relations that had gone sour since Israel raided a humanitarian-aid ship, the Mavi Marmara, on May 31 headed for Gaza. The event resulted in the death of nine Turkish passengers and led to widespread international condemnation.
Two months prior to the attack, on March 9, Israel angered the Obama administration by announcing its plans, during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden, to build 1,600 more settlements in the West Bank.
“We wanted to show some expression of resistance that we have not forgotten the brutal treatment of Palestine,” said ANSWER Coalition organizer Muna Coobtee. The ANSWER Coalition hosted today’s protest.
Since Isreal’s attack on the Mavi Marmara, Swedish dockworkers held a week-long boycott of all goods headed to or coming from Israel, as well as a one-day refusal of Oakland longshoremen to cross a picket line held by peace activists preventing an Israeli ship from docking.
Coobtee says that since the Mavi Marmara incident, a growing awareness of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is growing.
“It is quite amazing where here, in the U.S., where there is so much propaganda and support for Israel, that people got over there support,” she said. “It is a good sign.”
Mazen Almoukdad, an organizer for Al-Awda, a Palestinian-rights organization, has also noticed greater support for his cause since Israel’s well-publicized shortcomings. He said the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) against Israel is growing.
“We have more support for that,” he said. “Things are evolving faster than what we had expected – even though Israel has a monopoly on the media.”
Almoukdad said the policies of the U.S. toward Israel don’t serve the American public, but only benefit the Zionists, whom he calls racists.
“They assume the oppressed people will forget about it and surrender their rights, but that is not going to happen,” he said.
The Los Angeles Israeli consulate issued a statement today saying that Israel has stopped its practice of publishing a comprehensive list of items permitted into Gaza. Instead, the government published a limited list of forbidden items. The consulate claims this new policy will “greatly improve the lives of the residents of the Strip” by allowing an average of 150 trucks into Gaza – nearly double the previous average.
According to the consulate, “the significance of this policy is that all but a limited number of goods deemed dangerous are now permitted” to enter Gaza.
However, on May 31, the consulate issued another statement saying there was “no humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” that thousands of tons of food, goods and equipment were getting to the occupied people.
Such statements are a hard sell for many of the protesters today. They have had first hand experience in the matter.
“My parents were both raised in Palestine,” said Mohammed Barakat. “I’ve been there a dozen times and I’ve seen what goes on there.”
Barakat described how the movement of individual Palestinians are restricted. They face checkpoints and are issued special license plates that label them as Palestinians. He said he had more rights in Palestine as an American citizen than a Palestinian.
Barakat said it would be like living in California but not being allowed to travel to Nevada, while any foreigner could travel the U.S. freely.
“It would be weird for someone to come here from another country and they had more rights than you,” he said. “The Palestinians can’t leave this little area because they are barricaded by checkpoints. The only thing that gets me through is my American passport.”
Barakat came from Ventura County to attend today’s protest. He said his father, who also attended, has been a Palestinian-rights activist since he was born and that his father taught him to stand up against injustices.
“I feel it’s my obligation,” he said.