By Sergio Barreto - 5/14/06
More than 300 Jews, Muslims, Christians and secularists came together in Oak Park on May 7 for the Fifth Annual Walk for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine.
The event was organized by the Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine, with a long list of sponsoring groups. Hovering over the kickoff rally at Scoville Park was a 26-foot-tall banner representing the wall being constructed to separate Israel from the West Bank.
The first speaker was Rep. Danny Davis (D-7th District) — a guest whose presence didn't please everyone.
"Put down that Davis voted to cut funding for Palestinians" after Hamas was elected, said activist Neal Resnikoff.
Rep. Davis was followed by Yigal Bronner, a Ta'ayush (Arab Jewish
Partnership) activist and former Tel Aviv University professor who was jailed for refusing to serve in the occupied territories.
Bronner, who now teaches South Asian languages at the University of Chicago, compared Israel to an addict dependent on its military might and U.S. aid.
"Being the clever addict that it is, Israel has created a semblance of normalcy," he said. "It created a sophisticated system of Apartheid and called it the end of the occupation."
Bronner called for an international "intervention of true friends" to save Israel from itself, and lambasted the U.S. Congress — "so-called friends that contribute to the demise of Israel" by continuing to support the occupation.
Bronner was followed by singer Ronnie Gilbert, who co-founded the folk group The Weavers in 1947. The group often sang about peace and social justice, but "it was to be several decades before I applied my Jewish tradition of questioning to the growing disaster of Israel," Gilbert said.
The Weavers were blacklisted in the McCarthy era due to their leftist leanings, and Gilbert, who went on to co-found the Bay Area Women in Black in 2001, said she is now on another black list: that of the alleged self-loathing Jews who threaten the existence of Israel.
The final and fieriest speaker was Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electronic Intifada and vice-president of the Arab American Action Network. He began by naming Palestinians who were killed by the Israeli Defense Forces in the previous days.
"These deaths go unreported, unnoticed, including by Mayor Daley, who is visiting Israel and refused to visit the occupied territories to see what so many of his fellow Chicagoans have seen," said Abunimah, who labeled the wall going up in the West Bank as "a last-ditch effort by Israel to gerrymander an untenable situation."
Abunimah called for a "non-violent struggle modeled on the South African anti-Apartheid struggle." He expressed hope for a future of reconciliation — a prospect that requires an understanding that "the enemy of the Palestinians is not Israelis or Jews. It's a system of racism that prevents even Palestinians within Israel from having the same rights."
After the rally, the crowd marched through downtown Oak Park's main thoroughfare, Lake Street, escorted by police officers who were far less intrusive than their Chicago counterparts (none of them toted a camera).
Patrons eating alfresco at Lake Street's many restaurants and cafes looked on wordlessly. Some drivers honked in support.
A few Oak Parkers didn't like what they saw and heard. "Get a life," a man yelled from across the street as the march headed west. "Stay away from the terrorists," another man said, taking his young son by the hand as they walked past the marchers.
The march ended at First United Methodist Church, where a Middle Eastern luncheon catered by area restaurants was followed by more speakers.
Phyllis Bennis of the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Institute for Policy Studies reminded the audience of the operations conducted by the IDF in the Jenin Refugee Camp in 2002.
There was much discussion in the media about whether the battle resulted in a massacre of civilians, but to U.S. leaders the incident was merely proof that Israel "knew how to occupy a Muslim country," Bennis said. She argued that the U.S. military studied the techniques used by the IDF in Jenin and proceeded to use the same tactics in the 2004 incursion into Fallujah, Iraq.
But Bennis has seen signs for hope lately. "As we challenge this war in Iraq, an amazing thing has happened ... the question of challenging U.S. support for Israel is now coming up," she said, noting recent media discussions of the Israel lobby.
Actor and activist Danny Glover, who had just returned from Venezuela, was expected to headline the march. But his plane was delayed, and he went straight from O'Hare to the luncheon, looking rather exhausted.
A Channel 7 (ABC) cameraman — the only corporate media representative at the event — stood up to get some footage as Glover took the stage for a brief speech.
"We need to start talking about issues of justice for the Palestinian people in the same way that we struggled for justice for people of color in this country, and in the same way that we talked about Apartheid," Glover said.
"We're right here in the belly of the beast," Glover went on, saying that it's U.S. support that enables the occupation to continue. "We have to transform this into a movement that's just, that forces our government to respect the power of the people."