By Aaron Gaglia
This last Saturday, a group of pro-Palestinian activists gathered in Farragut Square for a rally speaking out against Israeli policies toward Gaza and the West Bank. This rally featured a combination of religious and non-religious activists alike urging President Obama to stop U.S. aid to Israel. Participants then marched to the White House and back demanding America stop enabling ostensible Israeli human rights violations. This event was sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace and endorsed by countless college, religious, and political groups. Speakers included Phyllis Bennis, Institute for Policy Studies, Philip Farah, Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace, Rabbi Julie Greenberg of the Rabbinic Council of the Jewish Voice for Peace, and Reverend Graylan Hagler, senior minister at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, Washington, D.C.
Throughout the event, Israeli occupation was likened to Apartheid, and one speaker championed that Americans should be as outraged over the violence in Palestine as they are over the Newtown shooting. Throughout the event, the M.C. led the crowd in various chants including “Not another dollar, Not another dime, Occupation is a Crime” and “No to the dark side, No to apartheid.” As it was two days before Martin Luther King Day, the event was replete with allusions to King. Phyllis Bennis said that King “would be appalled” at the amount of money that the U.S. is giving to Israel and called Obama to completely go forward in name the name of King and all he stands for. Another speaker showed Martin Luther King’s opposition to exorbitant military spending with this quote: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”
Yet for Christians, the most interesting part of the rally was the key role of Rev. Graylan Hagler. He is a major religious voice in D.C. for pro Palestinian advocacy. “People have been silent too long” because corporations and the press have educated people to look the other way when Israel commits atrocities against Palestinians, he claimed. He then insisted that it is not anti-Semitic to question Israel. Hagler told the crowd that they were not speaking against anyone but “standing up for that which is right and decent.” Next, he highlighted that the church is becoming more sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians. Israeli occupation used to be a topic church leaders could not speak out against, but that is no longer the case. Progress is being made in this regard, he enthused. Lastly, he asked Obama to not just be a proponent of justice but an actual doer of justice. “Don’t just mouth it. Do it.” He told participants they need to not only challenge Obama’s aid to Israel but also his use of drones. Hagler said, “Somebody said that Martin King had a dream. And unfortunately President Obama has a drone. And we need to challenge him on the contradiction of that…”
The jokes about Obama and drones did not end there. After Hagler’s speech, the M.C. of the event told the audience that “if you go in the mirror and say Obama three times a drone will appear with an Israeli flag.”
After hearing from all of the speakers, the over 500 participants marched to the White House. Participants were instructed to march on the sidewalk but the crowd quickly moved to the street. Palestinian flag waving, Kuffiyat around necks, and signs in hand, participants marched down the streets screaming various chants. In addition to the ones above, more notable ones included, “Netanyahu, Shame, Shame on you” and “The people are occupied, Resistance is justified.” Leading the march was none other than Rev. Hagler. The crowd stopped at the White House briefly and then returned to Farragut Square for a brief concert by a leftist rapper.