Saturday, June 9, 2012

Introducing....Seattle Solidarity

Tonight I saw Richard Falk speak at one of the Methodist churches at the University of Washington. Here's the description for the event.

  Richard Falk is a Princeton professor of international law and the UN Rapporteur for Palestine. He talked about the relationship between the U.S. and Israel and global security. The audience seemed to really like him, when he said, "then there's the myth of Israel being the only democracy in the Middle East" there was actual laughter. I was wondering if there were any people there who ardently opposed what he said, but I didn't hear any reproachful questions at the end...some weren't even questions, just comments like "don't worry, the BDS movement is alive and well, and you can check out a local chapter at _______ (I forget what the link is, this is the closest I could find, and I did learn that BDS can also mean British Deer Society)

Another questioner went up and said, "as an old Jew, I can tell you that it's not just the younger generation that is losing touch with Zionism..." and people chuckled at that. It was surreal. I've never mixed Seattle life with Palestine life, aside from chatting up the employees at Aladdin's Falafels. I've never really had an opportunity to, since my post-college life was all in New Orleans and I worked through the summers. I didn't get into activism until the School of Americas protest in November 2009. So there was Fort Benning, Georgia, New Orleans, and Palestine/Israel for activism. Seattle wasn't mixed up in any of that.

  But after the talk I found myself in the foyer going around to tables and signing up for e-mail lists for the UW Palestinian Rights group and Voices of Palestine. As I was collecting brochures and stickers and DVD's I mentioned that I knew a StandWithUs guy who's been in Seattle for the last six months or so...the kid at the table smiled and nodded, "yyup." He knew him. I wasn't surprised.

My friend Larry introduced me to a girl named Emma, who's involved in the local Jewish Voice for Peace chapter. She was volunteering as security for the event, since JVP was one of the sponsors. Aside from speaking events they also do retreats, demonstrations, and flash mobs. I got her number.

The folks at the Voice of Palestine table told me they did a Saturday night vigil in Westlake every two weeks. Sometimes they get some angry reactions but mostly the response has been positive, people asking questions, showing their support. I told them I knew a StandWithUs guy who'd been in Seattle, and the man said, "yeah, Ran, we've been talking to him," and he referred me to a Palestinian man standing nearby. I went over and introduced myself. His name was Amin. He asked me who I went to the West Bank with, and I said I went alone, and he said lightheartedly, "something's wrong with you. I have a number of someone you can call, the first two sessions are free.." and we laughed.

We ended up talking to Amin for about an hour. He's from Bethlehem, from Aida camp. He moved to Seattle 21 years ago.
"I was doing a talk at a high school in Kenmore..."
"-you mean Inglemoor?"
"yeah, Inglemoor!"
"That's my school..."
I tried to imagine myself as an Inglemoor student listening to someone talk to me about Palestine. I didn't even know about the conflict until college.

Amin does speaking engagements with high schools, universities, etc. I didn't know there was anyone doing work like StandWithUs, on the Palestinian side.
"There was this guy from StandWithUs-"
"-yeah, I met him."
I had to explain that Ran had found a blog post that I'd written about his request to speak at my dad's school, and we'd been corresponding/Facebook arguing for months. Amin said that Ran's been reaching out pretty far, even made it to Alaska and California. He was impressed with Ran’s approach, but said he thought kids might see through it, the buddy-buddy bonding, “hey, I’m just like you, I listen to the same music and know about this….”
I’m just like you, and we are not like them….that seems to sum up my understanding of StandWithUs. But I left with a burning curiosity. Amin said that StandWithUs was going to be upping their number of “ambassadors.” Apparently Seattle was seen as tough ground for Zionism, so the advocacy was going to be amped up. I want to capture the dialogue that’s happening in Seattle, the different directions these voices are coming from, and what the effects have been.

We’ll see where this goes…