Demonstrators marching at Thomas and Central in Phoenix.
When I got word that End the War Coalition, Code Pink, Women in Black, and other lefty, peacenik groups would be holding a vigil at Thomas and Central calling for an end to Israel's attack on Hamas in Gaza, I was skeptical there'd be more than a handful of people present, and even then, all the usual suspects. Boy was I wrong.
A young girl from yesterday's demo.
By the time I arrived around 5:30 p.m., towards the tail end of the demonstration, there were a little over 200 participants walking from corner to corner at the intersection, carrying signs such as "Stop Funding Genocide," "Free Palestine," or just "Stop War." There were numerous women and children of middle-eastern descent waving Palestinian flags, large and small. And many wore black and white headbands or scarves, versions of the traditional keffiyeh, itself symbolic of Palestine.
More pro-Palestinian marchers...
Generally, the crowd was animated, but peaceful. One guy with a small bullhorn led them as they marched around the four corners of Thomas and Central, chanting "1-2-3-4, Stop the violence, stop the war," and "Free, free Palestine...Stop the violence, stop the crime." The most extreme rallying cry compared Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Adolf Hitler: "Hitler-Olmert are the same/Only difference is the name."
The Family Alhoch: Racan Alhoch (far left), and brother Kinan (second from right).
Later, when I suggested to chant-leader Kinan Alhoch that the comparison between Olmert and Hitler was kinda out there, he and his brother Racan backed off it a bit, stating that the intent was symbolic and not literal. Both are Syrian, though their whole family lives in the Valley now. Alhoch told me has a degree in political science from Marist College in New York, and he sounded less radical than his brother on the topic of Israel.
"We're here to protest against the violence, to protest the war," he said. "We understand the Israelis need a place to live, but so do the Palestinians."
A sign from yesterday's demo.
When I asked if Israel had the right to defend itself against the Hamas missile attacks coming from Gaza, sometimes scores of them a day, which have been reaching deeper and deeper into Israeli territory, both young men conceded Israel could do something about it, but that Israel's current response was out of proportion to the threat.
This was a point reiterated by most of the demonstrators, including Dan O'Neal, AZ state coordinator for the Progressive Democrats of America, who was there with his wife Sharon. I wondered at what threshold he thought Israel's right to self-defense should kick in.
"Defense is not killing civilians," he insisted. "If civilians are killed on either side, I think that's wrong."
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SHOW ME HOW
The "Women in Black": Shrouded and holding the placard is Sheila Ryan, on the far right, Sharon O'Neal.
Of course, that would preclude most war, even when responding to attacks or acts of terrorism, and I'm not sure that's very realistic. But, hey, I'm not an idealist. I'm a cynic. And I'll be the last one to proffer a solution the Gordian knot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The protesters said there would be more demos like these to come. I'll keep my eye open for 'em.