Puppies, babies, and discomfort: reflections on the Mass March for Gaza

me with a

On Monday, I took part in a march to a Hewlett-Packard conference to hold the company responsible for its complicity in Israel’s massacre in Gaza, as part of a contingent from Jewish Voice for Peace. I’m glad I went, but I had a lot of mixed feelings about the march. Here are some of my thoughts, in no particular order:

– I really, really, really love dogs, so I was excited to meet two sweet pups who attended the march along with their humans: Dory, the black lab mix pictured above, and her husky brother, Nicky. Dogs make everything better.

– There was a good turnout, which was heartening. And I got to meet Britni of Fiending For Hope and her infant daughter, Teagan. It’s great to meet people from the internet in real life. And, as someone who attended her first peace vigil as an infant, I always appreciate seeing babies representing at rallies.

– Marching past Boston’s Holocaust Memorial gave me chills. This is what “Never Again” means, in action.

– I am really not a fan of white college-age kids wearing keffiyehs.

– I was really uncomfortable with a good third of the things that were chanted during the march (when I could actually hear them–the chanting was often poorly organized, and some people would be trying to chant one thing while others were chanting another). One of them was “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which usually implies getting rid of Israel completely, and sometimes even kicking all Jews out of Israel/Palestine. The phrase “from the river to the sea” may sound pleasant out of context–like “from sea to shining sea”or “from the redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters”–but within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, no matter which side the speaker is on, it’s never a good thing.

– Another chant I felt really, really uncomfortable with was variations on “Long live the intifada!” “Intifada” is an Arabic word which means “shaking off” or “resistance,” and I’m fairly sure that the vast majority of the protesters were using it in that literal sense. But it also refers to multiple specific uprisings, including one in which Palestinian suicide bombers killed and traumatized civilians throughout Israel. I feel that it’s impossible to use the word without bringing up that association, no matter how it is intended, and I wish that the Palestinian solidarity movement would stop using it completely.

One of the chants in particular sent chills down my spine, and not in the good way: “Palestine, you’re not alone–bring the intifada home!” No, no, no, I would NOT like suicide bombings to come to Boston. We’ve had enough bombings already, thank you very much.

two people holding signs that say

Me, Britni, and Teagan standing with Gaza

– I talked with a few of my friends who were at the march, both during it and afterwards, and they felt the same way. One of them, who marched with the Unitarian Universalist contingent, said that a woman from the group told her, “You know it’s a good protest when elements show up that make you uncomfortable.” I’m not sure I agree.

– When I hear people chanting shit like that, I can almost understand why some pro-Israel/pro-war people paint anyone who opposes Israeli policy as pro-terrorism. It makes us all look bad.

– It’s also why I feel more comfortable at small events held by Jewish groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, If Not Now When, and the Boston Workmen’s Circle. I went to this particular march because I felt that the importance of standing up to corporate sponsors of the occupation outweighed the importance of my comfort level, but…I don’t think I have it in me to go to another big pro-Palestine march anytime soon.

– Also unfortunate: a Neturei Karta group was there. From pictures I’ve seen online, it looks like they’re been showing up at pro-Palestine protests all over the country–and I’ve seen their pictures get passed along as proof that not all Jews agree with Israel’s policies or even its right to exist as a Jewish state.

Yes, plenty of Jews oppose the occupation and the war, and some Jews are non-Zionist or anti-Zionist for a variety of reasons. Yes, it is good to point out that the “Stand With Israel” crowd doesn’t represent all Jews. But the NK are a terrible poster child. They oppose Israel not because they care at all about the Palestinians or about human rights (spoiler: they don’t), but because they’re religious fundamentalists who believe that Jews shouldn’t have a state until the Messiah comes back. I know we can’t exactly stop them from showing up to big-umbrella marches and rallies, but I want to make it clear: those people don’t speak for me any more than the right-wing pro-war types do.

– The march was exhausting in general. It started at 5:30, I left at 8, and it still wasn’t over. It reminded me just how much privilege it takes to participate in actions like this, and how important it is to have multiple types of actions that require different levels of time, energy, and physical ability. Luckily, there have been many smaller and shorter actions and other ways to get involved, which I’ve found mostly through the aforementioned Jewish groups. If you’re looking to get involved in calling on Israel to end its oppression of the Palestinians, but like me you’re wary of much of the Palestinian solidarity movement, I highly recommend getting involved with your local chapter of JVP (and yes, you can do that even if you’re not Jewish).

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