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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Manhattan "peace rally" a "dialogue of the deaf"

by Robert Jancu, in the Jerusalem Post

On Friday August 27, I read in a newspaper that a group called the Middle East Peace Coalition would be holding a rally the next day between 3 and 6 p.m. in Manhattan's Union Square Park. It was one of many street events of all political stripes timed to coincide with the Republican National Convention, set to begin August 30.

I want peace in the Middle East. So I decided to attend the demonstration. I had never heard of the Middle East Peace Coalition, but figured it would be nice for me, a Zionist Jew, to stand in solidarity with a coalition of folks wanting peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors.

I scrawled a handwritten sign stating, simply, "Zionists for Peace," and drew an Israeli flag with 1960s-era peace signs.

I attended the rally with a friend, Polina Valis. She is a survivor of the Dolphinarium Disco suicide bombing in Tel Aviv of June 1, 2001, in which five of her friends were among the 21 teenagers killed, Jewish and Christian. She herself spent two months in the hospital, underwent five operations (and needs another), carries nails and metal fragments from the bomb in her legs, back, and arm, and is permanently missing several chunks of her body.

She is also a Zionist, and she is also for peace.

As Polina and I waded into the crowd to draw nearer to the speaker, I realized that this peace rally might be not as advertised when I spotted a man I had once seen selling insignia pins of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The PFLP is a Marxist-Leninist gang specializing in wholesale civilian murder. The US Department of State properly classifies it as a foreign terrorist organization.

The speaker at the rally was holding forth on the Zionist cabal controlling America.
"Who is running American foreign policy in the Middle East? Who is in charge? Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Feith, Perle, Abrams: right-wing Jews who work for the Israelis."
Calling Rumsfeld a Jew was a minor flub compared to his later peroration on "Zionist death camps."

Polina and I had scant time to listen. When my fellow demonstrators read my innocuous sign, they accosted me. Zionists hate peace, they insisted. Someone called me a Nazi. Plucky Polina stood by me, trying to make sense of bellicose peaceniks.

Hovering journalists, sensing story potential, scribbled down bits of conversation and snapped photos as the Middle East Peace Coalition formed a circle around Polina and me.

A woman demanded that I put down my "Zionists for Peace" sign.

"This is a peace demonstration," I objected.

"Who told you it was a peace demonstration, huh?" she said.

Alarmingly, she then yelled, "No justice, no peace!"Hoping not to be on the receiving end of "no peace," I pathetically stuttered: "Middle East Peace Coalition. It [the paper] says a 'peace demonstration.' It says 'peace' on my sign."

A dialogue of the deaf ensued. I asked why Jews can't have a state like every other nation, just like the Palestinians want. Or why Zionism is racism if fully 20 percent of Israel's population is Palestinian, while Arabs insist that all Jews leave the West Bank and Gaza so they can have a state without Jews.

Someone demanded to know why I had cited the status of the West Bank and Gaza as the sticking points rather than "the whole occupation." Then a guy wrapped in a Palestinian flag asserted that since all Israel is occupied territory and Israel's existence is therefore a crime against peace, a Zionist like me was, by definition, an intruder at a peace rally.
Eventually the author was removed from the scene by the police, for his own protection.