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THE NATION

Causes Merge in Support of Palestine

Protest: Tens of thousands gather in the nation's capital, with attention focused on the Middle East conflict.

April 21, 2002|MEGAN GARVEY and BOB DROGIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Myriad protest causes developed into a massive and peaceful show of support for the Palestinian people Saturday, as tens of thousands of demonstrators jammed Washington's downtown streets to criticize the Bush administration's Middle East policy.

Scores of Palestinian flags waved above the crowd, and many marchers--representing a range of races, religions and ages--wore stickers proclaiming: "We are all Palestinians."

The day was designated as an "extravaganza" of protests by activists who came from throughout the country. It began with four distinct rallies in the morning that merged into one march near the White House that filled Pennsylvania Avenue all the way to the Capitol.

Police presence was heavy, particularly near the World Bank headquarters, where anti-globalization activists protested international monetary policies. While such protests have been trouble-prone in the past, with Washington police arresting nearly 1,300 two years ago during International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings, there were no reported arrests and little trouble Saturday.

By early afternoon, the anti-globalization forces were joined by a pro-Palestinian contingent that had marched from the Washington Hilton, the site of this weekend's annual conference of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israeli lobby.

A short time later, two rallies taking place on The Mall--one pro-Palestine and the other a student-led antiwar demonstration--folded in as well. As the groups became a single mass of people, passions centered on the conflict in the Middle East.

An oversized papier mache puppet depicting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dripping in blood rose above the marchers, and placards equated him to Adolf Hitler. One group of men hoisted a wooden coffin high on their shoulders and a young child rested aloft to represent Palestinian children killed in the ongoing fighting.

Some marchers pounded a rhythmic beat on plastic buckets with sticks, providing a bass line to the occasional cacophony of whoops and shouts emitted by the crowd.

Others chanted: "Free, free Palestine!" and "Bush, Sharon what do you say? How many kids have you killed today?"

Some antiwar protesters commented on the irony of banners emblazoned with the peace sign juxtaposed with the chant, "Viva intifada!" in support of the Palestinian uprising.

Brandon Smith, 27, an artist from Oakland, said he came "just to stand together in solidarity. Stand together for peace. No more escalation of war."

Saturday's march was described by one organizer as the largest demonstration for Palestine in U.S. history, and it came less than a week after the largest pro-Israeli demonstration in Washington since 1987. Organizers of a pro-Israeli march, which took place Monday on the same grounds near the Capitol where Saturday's march ended, claimed more than 100,000 people came on less than a week's notice.

Federal and District of Columbia authorities do not give crowd estimates in an effort to avoid political controversy. But both rallies were clearly substantial.

Absent Saturday was any speaker approaching the political prominence of those who appeared at the pro-Israeli rally, such as House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) and President Bush's deputy Defense secretary, Paul D. Wolfowitz.

Pro-Palestine voices were also heard in San Francisco, where about 15,000 demonstrators sprawled across a lawn in front of City Hall, chanting "Free, free Palestine!"

At a counterprotest Saturday on The Mall, dubbed the Patriot's Rally, U.S. flag-draped men guarded the portable toilets at their sparsely attended event. A handwritten sign directed "cowards and traitors" who had come to protest the war on terrorism to go away.

Elsewhere, there were anarchists in black bandannas walking near a group of Jews opposed to Israel's occupation of the West Bank. Muslim mothers in traditional burkas carried babies in their arms, sweating in the summerlike heat. Students in tie-dyed shirts and brightly hued hair marched alongside aging peaceniks who recalled the massive antiwar demonstrations 30 years ago.

Organizers acknowledged the broad range of issues made it difficult for everyone to be heard.

"From a P.R. perspective, it can confuse things," said David Levy, a member of Mobilization for Global Justice, whose anti-World Bank event was overshadowed by Palestinian sentiment. "But from a movement-building perspective, it's great, because you feel this tremendous burst of political awareness and empowerment."

And many who came for other reasons said they were comfortable with the direction the day took.

Chris Zbrozek, 18, who came to the rally from Sterling Heights, Mich., with his father, said the pro-Palestinian cause was aligned with the antiwar sentiment. "The Israelis say their justification for their massacres is that they're fighting terrorism. It's the exact same justification we use in Afghanistan, that we're going to use against Iraq."

Daniel Zbrozek, 49, who was attending his first such demonstration, said, "It only causes more terrorism. And it only endangers more Americans."

Tariq Ali, a Pakistani playwright, was among the speakers addressing the pro-Palestine rally. He told his listeners that the "rogues are in the White House and the rogue state is Israel."

"The real problem in the world is state terrorism," Ali said. "And the people who organize that terrorism are in Tel Aviv and their backers are in the White House."

*

Times staff writers Alan C. Miller and Warren Vieth contributed to this report.

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