Sunday's anti-war protest in DC followed the land invasion of Gaza by Israeli forces.
It is important to examine the political context in the United States in which this march took place.
The Israeli military response has been vastly disproportionate to the provocation -- on December 22, after a six-month pause, Hamas' home-made rocket attacks against Israel resumed. When Israel struck back, American political leaders of both parties widely condoned Israel's attack on Hamas as an appropriate self-defense measure.
The consensus among American opinion makers strikes me as reminiscent of two recent military fiascoes: First was the Iraq war -- a time when US opinion leaders of both parties blindly followed Bush into a costly war of choice. Second, US leaders adopted a similar consensus view prior to the Israel's 2006 invasion of Lebanon -- a war which has had the effect of making the extremist group Hezbollah stronger.
Israeli attacks on Gaza have claimed 500 Gazan lives and left some 2,000 people injured. One NGO estimates at least one quarter of the casualties have been civilians. For days now, some 1.5 million people have passed sleepless nights in terror -- according to "there live" reports from Gaza residents (see here). Meanwhile, five Israelis have been killed in the conflict to date, including two soldiers.
The Gaza war may embolden extremists and make it harder for moderates in the region to attract support. FT observes that "Israel has significantly expanded its occupation of the West Bank and Arab east Jerusalem" since it pulled out of Gaza in 2005. Israeli politicians have long a track-record of making potentially destabilizing decisions mainly to appease religious zealots within their own constituencies. Namely, people who believe that God intends for them to live in the Occupied Territories.
On the Mall I spoke with a Palestinian American woman carrying a sign. She said she had been part of a demonstration consisting of about two thousand people who had gathered at the capital around noon. She told me the protesters had moved to Constitution Avenue. Before heading off in that direction to check it out, I asked the lady if I could take her picture.
"OK but I just don't want want my face in the photo."
She held up her sign so I could get the Congress in the background of the shot. I asked her how she felt about the situation.
"It's my tax dollars that are buying Israel the weapons," she said. "Here we are in D.C. -- the capital of the world -- and so many people around us in this city are homeless. Why aren't we spending the money here in America on education, health care, for our own people?"
I asked her what the future might hold.
"Little by little we will make things better." She indicated that her hopes for progress under the Obama Administration were modest.
By the time I located the band of protesters their number had -- apparently -- diminished to a few hundred.
Taking pictures of the protesters, most interesting to me was the reactions of various bystanders -- American tourists on their way to visit nearby museums. Among these spectators, there were a lot of confused looks and comments. Many had no clue as to what the protest march was about. When they learned more about it, the typical reaction was neither one of hostility nor support but bemused indifference. Their tax dollars may be paying for the Gaza war, but the issue did not seem to concern these people much one way or another.
Women appeared to outnumber men. And when one lovely protester smiled at me, I smiled back. Big mistake.
If you listen to the video carefully you can hear where Jotman got reprimanded by one of the women in the march (about a quarter of the way through the video). An older woman wearing in a green head scarf points at me, and admonishes me for smiling. The funny thing is that many of the marchers -- check out the video for yourself -- are also smiling.
Overall, the experience of viewing a Gaza war protest convinced me that the Palestinian cause is in real need of a public education campaign in the United States. That could come about in several ways. In the meantime, protests such as the one I witnessed on Sunday will likely continue to be greeted by confused looks.