Inequality in Israel focus of demonstration
There were no placards, no bullhorns, no chants and no rallying speeches at a pro-Palestinian demonstration today. It was a “silent march” where participants walked through the neighborhood of Westwood handing out literature.
The demonstrators, who were organized by the American Association for Palestinian Equal Rights (AAPER), a D.C. lobbying group, seek freedom for Palestinians living in the occupied territories, as well as equality for Palestinians living in Israel.
According to a statement from the group, Palestinians living in Israel “are subject to discriminatory laws that deny them equal access to education, health care, housing and land.”
Paul Hershfield, a demonstration attendee and co-founder of the Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid of Southern California, said Palestinians living in Israel are not treated like Israeli citizens. The campaign’s Web site states that in Israel, “a dual system of law discriminates between Jewish Israelis and indigenous Palestinians.”
Hershfield criticized Israeli land distribution as unfair to Palestinians. He said private organizations, such as the Jewish National Fund, or JNF, have undue influence in the Israeli Land Administration.
The JNF was established in 1901 to purchase land for a Jewish state. In 2007, the Fund owned 13 percent of Israel’s land mass and has been criticized for excluding Palestinians from purchasing it. According to Hershfield, several members of the JNF sit on the Israeli Land Administration board.
“They have a significant say in how state land is distributed,” he said. “One percent of the development budget goes to Palestinian towns and cities. Getting a building permit is next to impossible.”
According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “the JNF has long insisted that its lands be sold only to Jews, due to the fact that the land was purchased with money from Jewish donors for the purpose of settling Jews in the Land of Israel.”
Starting at the Federal building, marchers walked through Westwood garnering some attention and occasional horn honks from approving motorists. However, when advocating Palestinian freedom and equality in the United States, drama is never far away.
Los Angeles resident Shahram Danesh was passing by when he noticed the march. He attempted to challenge the group’s understanding of Muslims. He called the prophet Muhammad a “butcher” and said Islam “propagates murder and extermination.”
Danesh is from Iran and a follower of the Baha’i faith, a persecuted minority in that country. Fifteen years ago, he said, several of his family members were killed for not being Muslim.
“Hatred and discrimination in Iran is not a Persian thing,” he said. “It’s an Islam thing.”
He argued that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict was religiously driven, blaming the Islamic faith for the discord.
“If there was no religion involved in this,” he said, “this conflict would have been resolved years ago.”
Despite emotions running high, Danesh and the marchers maintained civility and broke away from each other after awhile.
“Sometimes people don’t know the difference between Muslims and Islam,” said Diamond Bar resident Said Barbur, who emigrated from Palestine 10 years ago. “There is a difference between what we are doing and who we are.”
In his comments, Barbur stressed the importance of getting away from generalities and assumptions about Muslims. Since being in the U.S., he has found many people lack knowledge about the Middle East.
“I don’t blame them,” he said. “[The media] doesn’t show the whole story.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Yael Korin, co-founder of the Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid of Southern California.
“Americans don’t understand what is happening in Palestine,” she said. “It serves the purpose of perpetuating the conflict.”
U.S. involvement in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict was also an issue amongst marchers. According to a statement made by AAPER, the U.S. government “has provided Israel with more than $100 billion since 1967.” It is a policy, they say, that “contradicts America’s ideals of freedom and equality.”
Anwar Soliman, who emigrated to the U.S. from Egypt, attended the march. He taught at NYU and is currently an entrepreneur in the alternative energy industry.
“This country is great,” he said, “but I see what has been happening for 50 years. The Jewish lobby is so strong in this country, candidates don’t stand a chance. The last thing they would do is say something negative [about Israel].”
Soliman disapproves of his tax money being used to subsidize the Israeli military, especially considering the economic problems the U.S. now faces.
“[Israel] is a developed country,” he said. “When was the last time you saw the U.S. give foreign aid to a developed country? This has to stop.”