August 9-16, 2006

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Santa Cruz demonstrators

Competing for Air Time: A demonstrator with the 'Shame on Israel' group (left) and a demonstrator for solidarity with Israel (right), engage in a not-so-neighborly attempt to out-sign each other.

A City Divided

Conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, Lebanon and Palestine inspires tension in Santa Cruz

By Laura Mattingly

The streets and sentiments of Santa Cruz were clearly divided on Friday evening as demonstrators responded to Israel and its tumultuous relationship with Hezbollah, Lebanon and Palestine. At the Clock Tower intersection, organizations and individuals clustered on each of the sidewalk corners, sometimes singing, sometimes chanting back and forth, but never reaching a point of cohesive dialogue.

"It's been very interesting, the divide," says Santa Cruz resident Tim Rumford, pointing to the different corners of the intersection. "I belong to a peace organization over there; I have neighbors over here; I have neighbors over there."

David Espinosa, a self-proclaimed longtime peace activist working with the Students Against War (SAW) organization, says the only demonstration where he's ever sensed that level of tension and animosity was at a pro-choice demonstration.

"The problem is, people, at least from my perspective, are seeing this in terms of a black and white issue. [As if] this is Israel vs. Hezbollah, and for me, people have to step back and look at it as this being an issue of violence, and an extreme level of violence," said Espinosa.

About 25 people showed up on the corner of Front and Water streets for the vigil and speak-out, organized by SAW, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and Racism). Their demonstration was titled "Shame on Israel," in reference to Israel's recent violent retaliation against Lebanon which has resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths so far.

About 40 people showed up across the street under the Clock Tower, summoned by the local chapter of Stand With Us, an organization in solidarity with Israel. Many emphatically waved blue and white Israeli flags, maintaining that Israel's actions have been defensive, in response to Israeli soldiers being kidnapped and killed by Hezbollah. They focused on Israel, rather than Lebanon, as the victimized state. One man crossed the street with his flag, pacing to and fro along the sidewalk in front of the SAW, ISO and ANSWER activists, squinting his eyes and pronouncing dramatically, "Shame on you."

"What do we want? Cease-fire! When do we want it? Now!" chanted the group of SAW, ISO and ANSWER activists with the assistance of an ear-piercing bull horn.

The Israeli supporters responded shouting "Disarm Hezbollah" and "No cease-fire!"

On a third corner, on Pacific Avenue, stood members of Women in Black, a coalition against violence specifically in Iraq, and Code Pink, an organization advocating women's rights and international peace. SAW, ISO and ANSWER invited Women in Black and Code Pink to join them on their corner, but most members declined, stating that the title "Shame on Israel" was too radical for their purposes.

Midway through the demonstration a representative of Women in Black crossed the street, a dark cloth over her head, to convene with activist Espinosa, a SAW affiliate who'd been on the bull horn. After a short discussion between the two, the Women in Black member was handed the bull horn, and she began to lead the group in singing "Peace, Shalom, Shalom," inviting the advocates of Israel to join in, attempting to create a common ground between the two groups.

The flag holders in solidarity with Israel not only declined, but seemed irritated and flustered by the notion, waving flags more emphatically, and continuing their own chants with increased volume.

One man, having crossed over to the SAW side of the street, said that his Israeli flag had been stomped on. Another said that the flag had been stomped on only after he had held it in the face of an irritated U.S. veteran.

The SAW, ISO and ANSWER coalitions organized Friday's demonstration to be a preview for a teach-in being hosted by the same organizations, along with the support of the Brown Berets and the Central Coast Workers Against War on Thursday, Aug. 10, at 7pm at the Louden Nelson Center, 301 Center St., room no. 5.

Amelia McDonald, a member of the Youth and Student ANSWER and the newly formed Santa Cruz Anti-Imperialist League, says that both these local events were planned to bring attention to the "national call to emergency action" initiated by ANSWER, the National Council of Arab Americans and the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation. Marches are planned for Saturday, Aug. 12, in New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles, denouncing Israel's violent actions against Lebanon and also criticizing the United States for its role in arming Israel.

Bruce Thompson, a Jewish studies professor at UCSC, anticipates further demonstrations and teach-ins on campus during the coming school year, and hopes that demonstrators will remain respectful of the university as an environment for learning. "They should try to articulate their views without assuming the posture of moral absolutism," says Thompson. "It's a temptation because the Lebanese bear the brunt of the suffering. There's a temptation to make that suffering the barometer of one's response; the more suffering one sees, the more one feels justified in condemning the Israelis as the source of that suffering. But I feel it's important to see Israel's perspective."

Thompson says he's not certain whether Israel's tactics against Lebanon--air strikes and significant damage to infrastructure--will achieve what he believes is Israel's goal: to deter further offenses from neighbors. Neither is Thompson certain that Israel's degree of response was justified. But in any discussion of the topic, he encourages demonstrators to include Israel's perspective without being too quick to demonize the country.

"I think it's important for us to ask ourselves how would we respond if within one of the countries on our borders, say Canada or Mexico, there's a very large group of people that desires our destruction, and it's arming itself with very large missiles, and what if soldiers from that group came over the border and killed some of our soldiers. How would the U.S. respond? We'd respond so that group would think twice about coming over the border again," says Thompson. "There are very few states in the world whose neighbors desire their outright destruction. And there are very few states whose neighbors house nonstate militias that pose thousands of missiles. I can't think of another state that's faced something like that."

Thompson also mentions an issue that many demonstrators in support of Israel expressed as well. "Something that can't be forgotten is that Hezbollah is a tool of Iran and Iran is a state that has spoken openly in genocidal terms about the Israelis. Obviously that triggers memories of the 1930s when Hitler said similar things and nobody took it seriously," says Thompson.

SAW activist Espinosa views the negative sentiments toward Israel from surrounding states as a symptom of longtime struggles over land rights, and not as a substantial threat to Israel.

"They say some very nasty things. But there's a huge difference between being rhetorically belligerent with Israel and understanding the military capabilities, because Israel has and can whoop any of those countries [with the help of U.S. support] on one foot, blindfolded, with one hand tied behind their back," says Espinosa. "Ultimately both sides need to come to a mutual understanding over borders, and in the bigger picture, I'd say, over violence."

UCSC student and ISO member Alessandro Tinonga hopes Friday's demonstration and the teach-in on the Aug. 10 will stoke the embers of what he considers a waning nationwide antiwar movement.

"Overall we think that the antiwar movement, at least in Santa Cruz, is a little stagnant," says Tinonga, "so what we're going to try to do is revitalize it, at least on a local level, so that we can focus and make those connections internationally."

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