Hundreds of protesters from Occupy AIPAC protested outside AIPAC's annual policy conference in Washington DC yesterday during speeches by President Obama and Israeli President Shimon Peres.
The group spelled out "NO WAR ON IRAN" in giant letters and set up mock checkpoints and an "Annexation Wall."
Protesters remarked on the increased awareness and interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict following the Arab Spring:
“Last year we galvanised the Palestine crowd but no one else seemed very interested,” says 24-year-old student Sasha Gelzin, one of the coordinators of Occupy AIPAC. “This year you've had the Arab uprisings and Occupy, you’ve had the thousands of activists making connections between domestic policy and foreign policy.”
Though having adopted the "Occupy" title, the group was the brainchild of Code Pink, Women for Peace, and other peace, faith, and solidarity groups. This week, Occupy Wall Street's General Assembly did pass a motion of solidarity with Occupy AIPAC, though the original Occupy chapter has always tried to steer clear of that particular issue.
the issue of Israel had previously been avoided at central committee discussions because it was deemed too contentious.
Laurie Penny reported from outside the event and was one of the only reporters on scene to speak with protesters themselves, who ranged from youth expressing solidarity with the Arab uprisers to one conspiracy theorist rambling about Zionist property developers bankrolling the 2001 attacks on the World Trade centre.
The United States gives billions of dollars to Israel in military aid every year, money which has been used to kill at least 6,439 Palestinians (1,328 children) since 2000, according to B'Tselem. Comparatively, about 590 Israelis were killed by Palestinians since 2000.
Activist and author Chris Hedges, who Penny reports was given a somewhat tepid response following his denouncement of anarchist tactics, spoke outside the AIPAC conference.
"The battle for justice in the Middle East is our battle," said Hedges to the crowd, adding that the struggle for justice is part of the "global battle against the one percent." (read the entire speech here)
"What is being done in Gaza, the world’s largest open-air prison, is a pale reflection of what is slowly happening to the rest of us. It is a window into the rise of the global security state, our new governing system that the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls 'inverted totalitarianism.' It is a reflection of a world where the powerful are not bound by law, either on Wall Street or in the shattered remains of the countries we invade and occupy, including Iraq with its hundreds of thousands of dead. And one of the greatest purveyors of this demented ideology of violence for the sake of violence, this flagrant disregard for the rule of domestic and international law, is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC."
A move to bomb Iran would be, according to Hedges and putting it mildly, unwise.
"Those in Washington who advocate attacking Iran, knowing as little about the limitations and chaos of war as they do about the Middle East, believe they can cripple nuclear production and neutralize the 850,000-man Iranian army. They should look closely at the 2006 Israeli air campaign in southern Lebanon, which saw Hezbollah victorious and united most Lebanese behind the militant Islamic group. If the massive Israeli bombing of Lebanon failed to pacify 4 million Lebanese, how can we expect to pacify a country of 70 million people? But reality never seems to impinge on the neoconservative universe or the efficacy of its doctrine of permanent war."
While Chris Hedges and company protested outside AIPAC, one young activist decided to take her message inside the conference. Liza Behrendt, 22, from Young, Jewish, and Proud (the youth wing of Jewish Voices for Peace) stood up during the conference in a breakout session called "The Struggle to Secure Israel on Campus" to call attention to what she calls the silencing of Palestinians.