Today I was a Palestinian. One of more than 100,000 that marched down the Pennsylvania Avenue, from the White House to the Capitol. I even, briefly, marched under the shade of a huge canopy made out of the Palestinian flag. When I reached out and tentatively touched this symbol of human dignity of an oppressed people, I felt a reverence that is hard to explain. Many a night I had found myself crying silently in the night thinking of the innocent Palestinian children buried alive under the rubble in Jenin and of babies, crying with hunger and fear, cowering behind their mothers in other Palestinian towns. I was crying as much because of empathy as with guilt, after all it were my tax dollars that supported the tanks, apache helicopters and bulldozers that were raining death and destruction on the Palestinians. Today I shed a few more tears, but they were shed openly, in daylight and were tears of relief and gratitude. Watching tens of thousands of fellow Americans and fellow humans marching in solidarity with the oppressed Palestinians had revived my faith in the American people. These hundred thousand “honorary Palestinians” including “Jews for Palestine”, were marching with determination, holding their banners high.
Today was the day not just to demand freedom for Palestinians; it was also to celebrate freedom. After living under fear for eight months, the Muslim-American community finally felt bold enough to march in such great numbers. Their sense of outrage and grief over the terrible massacres in Palestine and India had forced them to overcome their fear. “Yeah, too bad”! I said to the ugly triumvirate of neo-conservatives, evangelical fundamentalists and militant Zionists that rules my country’s foreign policy today. Too bad that, your desperate and last ditch effort to make America turn against its Muslim citizens and to cow the Muslims into a cowardly silence on Palestine had finally failed. Now, in this war of public opinion, the tide will finally change. Churchill had said about the battle of El-Alamein that before it the allies won no battle and after it they lost none. This could be our El-Alamein, our Midway, I thought. In a democracy once the people start to campaign against an injustice there can be no stopping to them.
Today, American Muslims were not only out in great numbers, they were also not alone. Tens of thousands of our fellow Americans who were earlier in the day demonstrating for their pet causes from anti-globalization to exploitation in Latin America came together to express solidarity with the Palestinians and the besieged Muslim-Americans. The International A.N.S.W.E.R (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) had given a call for this rally. We had been trying to mobilize the Muslims for many weeks but were running into fear and apathy. Then on the 54th anniversary of Deir Yassin massacre, the Jenin massacre took place at the hands of the much reviled, Sharon. Kibya (probably Dubya had never heard of it) in 1953, Gaza in the 60s, Sabra and Shatilla in the 82were all committed by this monster mass-murderer and their memories were already open wounds in the psyche of Muslims. Suddenly the Mosques and Islamic Centers all throughout the Northeast and even as far as Dallas, Detroit, Chicago and North Carolina were arranging buses for the rally. The national organizations had already endorsed it.
Earlier that morning a moderate size earthquake, the biggest in recent years had shaken the Northeast United States. We heard it on the radio en route from NewYork to Washington. I thought to myself that it was a good omen, even though I do not believe in omens. All along the way from New York we saw buses, minivans, trucks and cars with banners and Palestinian flags. The ugly triumvirate should be trembling too, I thought, as its foundations build on the Goebblian strategy, and propaganda has only one object – to conquer the masses. Every means that furthers this aim is good; every means that hinders it is bad, must be shaking byt his show of America’s awakening. What must be disconcerting to these false prophets of oppression was the fact that most non-Muslim supporters of Palestine were young. America’s future was with us today and it was so eloquently disowning and condemning the injustices perpetrated by America’s recent past.
There were so many huge Palestinian flags that it was not clear if it were the clouds or the flags that were not letting the sunlight through. Then there were a zillion banners, many unique, many hand painted by little children while others a witness to the expertise of the youth in creative graphic designing. Many years ago, at a hastily arranged rally in Chicago, to gain the media attention, I had suggested that we paint Hitler’s toothbrush mustache under the nose of Milosevic. Today there were tens of banners that had painted the war criminal Sharon in similar telling fashion. Then there was a “new” Israeli flag, with a blue Nazi swastika in place of the Star of David in the center and many that were equating Israel with apartheid and Zionism with racism.
The slogans were varied too. And yet, just like the banners, they were eloquently and clearly united in their message. “Free Free Palestine”, “Hey hey Ho ho The occupation got to go”, “Long live the Intifada”, “The people United – will notbe defeated”. When someone put the megaphone in front of my face I chanted “Sharon, Sharon you shall see – Palestine will soon be free”. “Serbia Serbia you shall see Bosnia will soon be free” was a popular chant from the 93 rally for Bosnia, the biggest ever rally of Muslim-Americans when 75,000 Muslims marched on the same route. Many did not believe then that this prediction would come true. But it did. It will again. It is the nature of the human spirit that it cannot be enslaved for long. The free countries of Asia and Africa bear testimony to this fact. It is a just a matter of time before this colonization will also end and this apartheid will also be dumped into the dustbin of history. And marches like today’s will expedite the demise of this horrible and brutal occupation. So we shall march again and again till we shall have overcome.
Shaik Ubaid is a physician and a former media adviser to various national Muslim organizations. He was one of the rally organizers for the Muslim community in New York area. He can be reached at: Su204@aol.com