Friday, January 30, 2009

At a leftwing NY bookstore, a very pan-global vibe for Gaza

Phill Weiss - Mondoweiss

On Monday night, Kathy Kelly, a longtime activist who spent a week in Gaza, came to the Bluestockings bookstore, a center for the next wave of activism on the Lower East Side, and said something I hadn't heard before. As part of the assault, she said, the Israelis had bulldozed orange groves.

The goal, she said, “is to move people off of the land. Get people out of the way. It is analogous to the way this country moved the Indians. If you get in our way we will kill you... The people of Il Tufa [in northeast Gaza] were told to evacuate. Every single house was dynamited. The orange groves were all bulldozed. Every single orange tree was uprooted. That was their livelihood. Later they tried to pull their clothing out from under the rubble... They were trying to salvage some of the oranges, too."

Kelly wanted others in the crowd of 50 to speak. A Palestinian American poet named Fareed Bitar stood up and spoke of his anxieties. He had hardly slept since the assault began. He called his family constantly. He was ashamed to see Senator Schumer and David Paterson at the rally for Israel. He spoke of the issue of human shields. “My uncle is part of the resistance. I want the American audience to actually listen… These Hamas members are part of families. They are heads of families.... We are not hopeless,we are educated people. But we have to have the worst luck in the world.”

His voice was despairing and he seemed to tremble. Soon after that a woman in a pink scarf went to the front of the bookstore and took a microphone. She introduced herself as Sunshine and spoke directly to the poet.

“You have my solidarity as an American and as an Iranian,” she said strongly. "You have my solidarity and I think you have the solidarity of a lot of people.” Sunshine gave the other people in the room advice: not to let a conversation go by without bringing up Gaza. This makes people uncomfortable at times, she said, but it is essential. “We’re in a culture that’s pretty pro-Zionist in New York. “ That only upped the ante for Sunshine.

A word about the vibe in the room. We were in New York, which is of course a Jewish center. You looked around the room and saw a very diverse crowd. Ryan Senser of JATO, who had helped bring Kelly there, is Jewish, but there were also a lot of people of color, mixed race people, people whose ethnic identity you'd be at pains to place, and who would not identify simply, in any case. As Uri Avnery says, this is the way of history. Denis Halliday formerly of the UN was there--bit of a brogue. Marcelle Hopkins, an Al-Jazeera reporter at the UN, too. A Jewish guy named Ted who's worked with International Solidarity Movement. I pushed through the crowd later to talk to Sunshine. I asked her if her encounter-policy in conversation was since Gaza, and she told me, No, she's been doing it for a long time, being of Iranian extraction. Very fair-skinned by the way; I'd never have said, She's Iranian.

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