Wednesday, March 19, 2008
By Greg Butterfield
Hundreds of Palestinian people and their supporters gathered outside Manhattan’s luxurious Waldorf-Astoria Hotel March 18 to protest a fundraiser for the Friends of the Israeli Occupation Forces (officially “Israeli Defense Forces” or IDF). Inside, wealthy patrons supped on $1,000-a-plate dinners and toasted Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, dubbed the “Butcher of Gaza.”
The crowd of women, men and children held signs demanding the right of return for Palestinian refugees and waved large Palestinian flags in the chilly late-winter air. Besides people of Arab descent, there were African American, Latin, Asian, Native and white supporters, including anti-Zionist Jewish activists.
Protesters cheered when International Action Center co-director Sara Flounders offered her wish to the “Friends” that they “choke on their dinners.” She was echoed by other speakers who said their plates were caked in the blood of dead and suffering Palestinian children in Gaza.
The protest was organized by Al-Awda NY-The Palestine Right of Return Coalition and the General Union of Palestinian Students, among other groups. Speakers at the rally included Samia Halaby of the Defend Palestine Coalition and Al-Awda NY, people’s attorney Lynne Stewart, Larry Holmes of Troops Out Now Coalition, Michael Letwin of New York City Labor Against the War, and Charlotte Kates of New Jersey Solidarity-Activists for the Liberation of Palestine.
On March 11, 13 human rights and anti-war organizations had called on the Waldorf-Astoria management to cancel the event. “The human rights violations committed by the Israeli military over the past 60 years are severe,” said the groups’ statement. “Last week the respected Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem reported that, ‘From 27 February to the afternoon of 3 March, 106 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip. Contrary to the [Israeli] Chief of Staff’s contention that ninety percent were armed, at least fifty-four of the dead (twenty-five of them minors) did not take part in the hostilities. In addition, at least forty-six minors were wounded.’
“Furthermore, during last week’s fighting, Israel’s Deputy Defense MinisterMatan Vilnai threatened Gaza’s people with ‘a bigger holocaust.'”
Israel has blockaded Gaza, cutting off electricity, fuel, water, food, and medicines. Hundreds of people have died in vicious Israeli military assaults. Meanwhile, U.S. politicians–Republican and Democrat alike–and the corporate media continue to label heroic Palestinian resistance as “terrorism” and U.S./Israeli state terrorism as “self-defense.”
The Zionist settler state, Washington’s loyal attack dog in the oil-rich Middle East, receives more than $5 billion in U.S. aid annually, almost half going directly to the military. President Bush’s proposed 2008 budget calls for a further 9-percent increase in direct military aid.