Saturday, July 29, 2006

NOLA Stands Against Israeli War Crimes

New Orleans Organizations Stand Together Against Israeli War Crimes
by Jordan Flaherty

July 21, in downtown New Orleans more than a hundred demonstrators protested US diplomatic and financial support for the Israeli seige of Lebanon and Gaza. The demonstration linked local issues with the current horrors in the Middle East. "Gaza, New Orleans and Lebanon, People die while Bush looks on," was one of the chants.Representatives of the community appeared on almost every local TV station and also local radio, as well as in the Times-Picayune newspaper (see below for links). The demonstration clearly got the attention of local authorities. Volunteers from the ACLU of Louisiana and National Lawyers Guild reported that they had never seen so many law enforcement agents at a demonstration.During the demonstration - outside the Hale Boggs federal building in downtown New Orleans, where local congressmen and Senators have their offices - members of the community took a letter to the representative's offices.

The letter read, in part, "just as we, the people of New Orleans, deserve equality, human rights and fairness under the law, so to do the civilians of Lebanon and Gaza. As our elected representative, we ask that you commit to hold Israel to account for its killing of civilians and destruction of civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip."The protest was organized by a wide coalition of Arab and Muslim groups, standing together with local grassroots social justice organizations. Muslim and Arab organizations that sponsored the event included the New Orleans Shura Council, New Orleans Muslim American Society, Palestine American Congress of New Orleans, Tulane Muslim Student Association, and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee of New Orleans.

Amr Ahmed of the Muslim American Society led the rally in chants and spoke to the assembled crowd, defending Islam against media bias and calling the crowd to action. Local antiwar groups, including Pax Christi New Orleans and New Orleans Palestine Solidarity were also sponsors. Representing Pax Christi, human rights lawyer Bill Quigley spoke out against US complicity in Israeli war crimes. Jews, Christians and Muslims stood together at the rally. Dana Kaplan, a local organizer on criminal justice issues who has been to Palestine, told the assembled crowd, "As a woman of Jewish descent, its especially important to stand here and say, no, not in New Orleans, and not in the middle east...No to racism and militarization."Grassroots organizations that co-sponsored the event included New Orleans INCITE: Women of Color Against Violence, The New Orleans Women's Health & Justice Initiative, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, and C3/Hands Off Iberville. INCITE representatives shared their organization's statement in solidarity with the palestinian struggle. Lauren Bartlett of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights linked US racism in its domestic policy - particularly in New Orleans post-Katrina - and US policy in the Middle East.

This was perhaps the largest demonstration the Muslim community of New Orleans has had, and the first time such a wide coalition has come together to protest US suppoort for Israeli aggression. Many in the assembled cord said that this was just the beginning. From the stage, Amr Ahmed of the Muslim American Society told the crowd, "A lot of people have seen the news and felt despair. I didn't feel that. I felt that I had to act."


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