Recently, I posted about an event Michigan Peace Team endorsed; a protest of Israel’s 60th anniversary celebration at “A Fair To Remember.” https://playfulspirit.wordpress.com/2008/08/17/why-protest-israels-60th-anniversary-celebration/
I wanted to add a “post protest update”, but realized as I started writing it was more than a short Post Script.
On Thursday 21 August 2008 around 70 individuals gathered along Woodward Ave. near 8 MI, at one of the entrances to the state fairgrounds. We were a somewhat eclectic group and signs and banners demonstrated that; (More on that later) with everything from “ A free Palestine is a Free Israel” to “Boycott Israeli Apartheid” to “A 2 state solution is Apartheid.”
Cars lined up to enter the fairgrounds along Woodward, and we were highly visible. Many people pretended to ignore us or just shook their heads or shrugged their shoulders as they drove by. A few flipped us the finger, gave a thumbs down sign or shouted out “go home” as they drove by. One woman held a sign up in her car window that appeared to be quickly written on notebook paper, “Jews Rule.” But, I did not feel the intense antagonism I have felt at other Palestinian solidarity protests.
I never felt fearful, or under attack myself. A few even gave thumbs up or a peace sign as they drove into the fair grounds. I remember at a protest during the attack on Lebanon; the Jewish Federation of Washtenaw County had a support Israel protest and a number of people joined a counter demonstration. A woman leaving the support Israel protest told my friend she hoped my friend’s child was killed. There was such fear and hatred in her words.
Someone else leaving the rally on thier bike tried to run into a group of counter demonstrators.
I sensed none of that this time. Sure some people were angry that we were there. Some expressed that. But the intensity and something I can’t quite put my finger on was gone.
A few people approached to ask why we were there and what we were doing. A young man from West Bloomfield high school interviewed several of us for his school paper. An organizer with the “Fair to Remember” who was attempting to direct people to parking joked with me that people wouldn’t pay attention to him thinking he was with us. I acknowledged we were making his job harder and we both laughed a little.
Several buses filled with what looked to be middle and high school age kids went in. Some leaned out the window to flip us off, several snapped our photos on their camera phones as they drove by and the majority seemed to move to stand up or move to the side of the bus where they were better able to see us.
I realized that these bus loads of kids and the many many cars with children that drove in made it important for us to be there, and made me glad we were. Perhaps it will spur some conversations in families and with friends. Perhaps they will begin to ask the questions that are difficult to answer. Perhaps we were the voice that said “hey, check out the other part of the story” that some of them heard.
I’m glad I was there. It felt important for all the reasons I noted in the earlier post. I was glad that no one was there with signs that said “Fuck Israel” or had swastikas on them. There was nothing said that I felt so uncomfortable with that I wanted to walk away, to disassociate myself from.
Still there were signs and banners that I felt less than comfortable with. “Smash Israeli apartheid , “Zionism = Kosher Apartheid” , and “Stop Crucifying Palestine” and “ A two state solution is apartheid.” Why? Well… it varies from sign to sign…. And perhaps that is more for another post. Perhaps not. I guess in general I find myself uncomfortable with signs that call to mind violence, that while may have no anti-Semitic meaning or intent themselves can easily (even if intentionally) play on the real anti-Semitism that does exist in the world, or that can be interpreted as name calling and attacks.
But, as I said – all in all I think it went well. I am glad I was there. I am glad I asked others to be there. I am glad that MPT was a part. It was an important reminder that there is another side.
I think many of those attending the “Fair to Remember” are probably not in 100% agreement with Israeli policies of apartheid. I would guess that many of them are like the people in Mark Twain’s The War Prayer http://thewarprayer.com/war_prayer.html they simply are unaware of the unuttered part of their celebration. (Al Nakba, 750,000 Palestinians expelled from their homes, 33 massacres, 531 Palestinian villages and towns destroyed….)
I’m glad we were there to utter it.