Thousands rally to end Israeli occupation

WASHINGTON — Thousands of demonstrators rallied at the U.S. Capitol, June 10, to protest Israel’s 40-year occupation of Palestinian lands and to demand that Congress take action to win “a just peace for Palestinians and Israelis.”

The rally was followed by a march to the Ellipse behind the White House, and a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill on June 11.

The crowd at the rally was a diverse mix, including Arab Americans, Muslims and Jews. Among the latter was a contingent of Hassidim. Women in Black, a Jerusalem-based peace group that unites Palestinian and Israeli women, was there, as were many Christian churches, African American and white. Palestinian and Israeli flags floated overhead as the crowd chanted, “From Iraq to Palestine, occupation is a crime.”

The crowd fell silent as Cindy Corrie of Olympia, Wash., told how her life was upended March 16, 2003, when her daughter sat down in front of an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza to protect a Palestinian home. The bulldozer ran over her repeatedly, killing her instantly. The still grieving mother read letters from Rachel written just days before her death.

Around the world, including Ramallah and Tel Aviv, she said, “people have gathered to say no to 40 years of occupation and repression, to say yes to international law, justice and peace.”

Corrie continued, “We are not going away until we have a foreign policy that treats Palestinians with the same regard as it treats Israelis, an equitable future for Palestinians and Israelis alike, a foreign policy that builds relations with the world not empires.”

Corrie told this reporter that HR 143, a bill pending in Congress, urges appointment of a special envoy for Middle East peace.

“This issue should loom in the 2008 elections. It should be at the top of the list of issues the candidates address. We have family and friends in Iowa who will raise this issue in the Iowa caucuses next year. Jimmy Carter has asked the candidates to take a pledge to seek a resolution of this crisis. If they are not willing, they should not be elected.”

Israeli Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom of Clergy for Peace, a founder of the Rebuilding Alliance, drew strong applause when he told the crowd of his group’s work in blocking Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes or rebuilding them.

The Holy Land, he said, “is beautiful but it is a land that devours its residents. Both Israelis and Palestinians bury their children in this land. There is a unity between Israelis and Palestinians who believe the occupation must end. A majority of Israeli people believe the occupation should end. The problem is the Israeli government.”

Co-sponsored by United For Peace and Justice and the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the rally was one of hundreds across the nation and around the world to observe the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Six Day War. Israel has refused to abide by UN Resolution 242, which calls for it to withdraw from Palestinian lands it seized and return to its 1967 borders.

Afif Safieh, head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization mission in Washington, decried U.S. support for the Israeli occupation but reminded the crowd there are “two Americas,” one that stands for genocide, the other for democracy and peace. “There is the America of Martin Luther King Jr.,” he said.

Sue Udry, UFPJ legislative coordinator, was on duty June 11 taking reports on the visits by over 200 citizen lobbyists from 30 states to Capitol Hill offices.

“We have had a great day,” Udry said in a phone interview. Yet, the response of lawmakers “has been all over the map.” Some lawmakers’ staff, she said, “speak of a ‘special relationship with Israel’ and don’t want to talk about the issue. But others, like a delegation from Indiana, had a positive meeting with Sen. Richard Lugar’s staff. Our delegates pressed Lugar to push for an end to the occupation.”