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Video: 5,000 Texans March For Gaza

Posted in Austin, Journalism, and MintPress News

Originally published at MintPress News.

AUSTIN, Texas — “But we do not have much time. The revolutionary spirit is already worldwide. If the anger of the peoples of the world at the injustice of things is to be channeled into a revolution of love and creativity, we must begin now to work, urgently, with all people, to shape a new world.”

On Aug. 2, Sheikh Islam Mossaad ended his speech at the Texas Stands With Gaza rally by quoting these words of Martin Luther King, Jr. The quotation was preceded by a passionate speech invoking the spirit of dead Palestinian children and calling on the living youth of the world to take up their struggle.

It set the tone for a historic moment — the largest rally for Gaza in the Lone Star State since the beginning of Israel’s military offensive dubbed Operation Protective Edge, and likely the largest pro-Palestine rally ever in the state. A crowd of thousands grew through the speeches and swelled further as it turned from a rally on the state capitol grounds to a march down Congress, the central artery running through downtown Austin, to City Hall. People came off the sidewalks to stand against Israel’s war crimes, to stand with an oppressed people, until the peaceful march stretched to five blocks long and included at least 5,000 Gaza supporters.

An activist stands atop the "Angelina Eberly" statue on Congress Avenue in downtown Austin, Texas during an Aug. 2, 2014 march for Palestine. (Kit O'Connell)
An activist stands atop the “Angelina Eberly” statue on Congress Avenue in downtown Austin, Texas during an Aug. 2, 2014 march for Palestine. (Kit O’Connell)

After smaller rallies in their respective cities, Texas Stands With Gazabrought together activists and organizations from Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, under a diverse umbrella ranging from interfaith groups to Iraq Veterans Against the War. Chartered buses brought hundreds from around the state. Unseasonably mild weather kept temperatures only in the 80s, a boon since the many pallets of water provided by organizers ran out under the thirst of unexpected throngs.

A revolutionary spirit was apparent in almost every moment of the event that followed Mossaad’s opening speech. This crowd stood not just againstthe human rights’ violations of the current Israeli offensive, which has left about 2,000 civilians dead, destroyed over 10,000 civilian homes, and injured over 6,000, but forthe rights of Palestinians to live peacefully and not under terror or siege. Before he spoke, Dr. Snehal Shingavi, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a perennial activist for social justice, led the crowd of thousands in a chant of “Resistance is justified when Gaza is occupied!

‘Never again’ means never again for anyone’

In her speech, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb related the plight of Gaza to other social justice struggles:

“I grew up in the civil rights movement and my rabbis, the rabbis of my youth, they were getting arrested, they were going to jail because they could not stand segregation in the United States. An evil institution which is still so much the reason we cannot see what is happening in Gaza, because we are still such a racist society […] so how can we see what is happening in Gaza without struggling for justice here at home?”

Activists, some wearing masks, hold protest signs supporting Palestinian liberation during an Aug. 4, 2014 rally at the Texas Capitol. (Kit O'Connell)
Activists, some wearing masks, hold protest signs supporting Palestinian liberation during an Aug. 4, 2014 rally at the Texas Capitol. (Kit O’Connell)

Gottlieb told the crowd that the first word she learned in Arabic as a young woman in Israel was “nakba.””Nakba,” which means disaster, is not limited to a single day, she explained, it is an ongoing destruction of Palestinian life and Palestinian culture through ethnic cleansing since Israel colonized historic Palestine in 1948.

According to Gottlieb, the Jewish Federation of Greater Austin told their members not to counter-protest for fear of drawing too much attention to the rally. But like Gottlieb, other Jews had followed their sense of outrage to Israel’s brutal assault and injustice throughout the march.

A revolutionary spirit had led Naomi (she asked that MintPress News use only her first name) to push her own boundaries by attending her first rally for Palestine. When we found her, she wore a look of deep and almost overwhelming emotion. Naomi, who describes herself as openly queer, laughed as she told MintPress she’d been out of the closet to her Jewish friends about everything except her support for Gaza.

She’d been inspired to come by the example of Ernest Rosenthal, a 95-year-old Holocaust survivor who demonstrated for Gaza in Los Angeles.

“I felt ashamed that he’s 95 and being active and all I was doing was sitting around, talking about it on Facebook,” Naomi said.

After deciding to attend the rally, “I made the sign ‘I am Jewish and I stand with Gaza’ because I think it’s important to say that publicly — to show that it’s not about Jews versus Palestinians. It’s not a tribal conflict, it’s a political one.”

A huge crowd gathered at the Texas Capitol on August 4, 2014 to support an end to Israel's brutal assault on Gaza. (Kit O'Connell)
A huge crowd gathered at the Texas Capitol on August 4, 2014 to support an end to Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza. (Kit O’Connell)

What she hadn’t expected was how much attention her simple poster board sign would draw. “A lot of people asked to take my picture. […] Several wanted me to be in a picture with them. People thanked me for coming. One man came over just to shake my hand. A woman gave me a hug and she was almost crying and she said ‘Thank you for understanding.’ The positive response I got was really powerful and moving. It was important to me to do it but I didn’t realize just how important it would be to other people.”

Meanwhile, Rabbi Gottlieb spoke directly to those of her faith who hesitated to attend.

“By standing with the people of Gaza, you arestanding with the Jewish people. Because how can we, the Jewish people who know the Holocaust, how can we witness what is happening and not be present to say ‘Not In Our Name?’ I learned from the rabbis of my youth that ‘Never Again’ means never again for anyone.”

The lies won’t stick anymore

After the march ended at Austin City Hall, MintPress met Banafsheh Madaninejad. Madaninejad, who teaches at Southwestern University, has a long history of activism for Palestine. She’d helped organize the day’s events.

“I was a student at [the University of Texas at Austin] for ten years and every once in a while — especially in 2009-2010, last time Gaza was under siege — we’d do all this. We’d do gatherings, we’d get together, have rallies and protests. I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said.

The pro-war crowd had been conspicuously absent at the previous two, smaller Austin rallies as well as this one — something she also commented on.

On August 4, 2014, thousands marched down Congress Avenue in downtown Austin, Texas to demand an end to Israel's brutal assault on Gaza. (Kit O'Connell)
On August 4, 2014, thousands marched down Congress Avenue in downtown Austin, Texas to demand an end to Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza. (Kit O’Connell)

“There is nothing that can justify what is going on, whatsoever,” Madaninejad explained. “[Israel is] out of excuses. They keep telling the lies, but they don’t stick anymore. I truly feel that public opinion is turning. [Americans are] finally getting to see what’s really going on — that the core problem is the occupation.”

We asked Madaninejad what is different now.

“I think because Israel has truly shown its colors. It has gone overboard. You listen to the Knesset [Israel’s national legislature] and they’re talking about ethnic cleansing. They’re talking about killing kids. They’re pretty open about their agenda with no holding back anymore. If anyone was in doubt in the United States they are slowly turning. They are asking themselves, ‘What is going on?’”

Beyond questioning the media

The Texans at the rally seemed eager to do more than just question the mainstream media story on Israel and Palestine.

A flier was passed around with possible targets for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS — including locals like Motorola, which has a branch in Austin’s “Silicon Hills.”

Hundreds gathered on Aug. 4, 2014 at Austin City Hall in downtown Austin, Texas after a rally to demand an end to Israel's assault on Gaza. (Kit O'Connell)
Hundreds gathered on Aug. 4, 2014 at Austin City Hall in downtown Austin, Texas after a rally to demand an end to Israel’s assault on Gaza. (Kit O’Connell)

During Rabbi Gottlieb’s speech, the crowd chanted “Shame on you!” against American support of Israeli war crimes. Since World War II, Israel has received more military aid from the United States than any other nation — an average of $1.8 billion dollars every year. Additionally, documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and recently released by the Intercept reveal that American intelligence agencies share money, raw data and technology with Israeli intelligence to further Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

But Gottlieb cautioned: “And shame on us if we do not leave here with our signs and our feelings and we do not organize!”

As the march passed a statue of Angelina Eberly, the hero of the Texas Archive War, a young man leapt atop her cannon and waved a Palestinian flag in a figure-eight around himself. That Saturday afternoon, a revolutionary spirit had thousands of Texans ready to act.

A woman in a bright green hijab and carrying a Palestinian flag walks up to the Texas Capitol for a Palestine rally on Aug. 4, 2014. (Kit O'Connell)
A woman in a bright green hijab and carrying a Palestinian flag walks up to the Texas Capitol for a Palestine rally on Aug. 4, 2014. (Kit O’Connell)


Jeff Zavala contributed to this report.

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