On Friday afternoon nearly twenty young Jewish persons gathered outside the offices of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island on the East Side of Providence to “demand… a statement condemning the actions of the Israeli government and military in Gaza.”

The group was not only reacting to the March 30 killing of of 24 people and the injuring of over 1000 more in a confrontation along Gaza’s border with Israel. In an Open Letter to the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island Regarding Violence in Gaza the protesters write:

“March 30th, 2018 was the single deadliest day of the occupation since 2014. But this violence is not new. In fact, Friday’s demonstration commemorated Land Day, a protest that took place on March 30, 1976, in response to Israel’s confiscation of 2,000 hectares of Palestinian land, and resulted in the murder of six unarmed Palestinian citizens of Israel by the Israeli Defense Forces. The violence of the occupation is not new, just as the stories of oppression we tell each year on Passover are not new. But as young American Jews, along with others concerned with justice for Palestine, we are newly appalled and called to action by both. As we tell and retell the story of our liberation, we stand firm in our belief that the Jewish people were not led out of bondage so that we could inflict the same violence upon others.”

The protest outside the Jewish Alliance was entirely peaceful. The weather was cold and a combination of snow and rain was falling. The small group huddled under an awning to the side of the doorway of the Jewish Community Center where the Jewish Alliance has its offices.

The protest began with a song and then continued with statements from organizers.

The protesters told me that they were “intentionally making the protest a place of mourning for Palestinian lives lost. We were engaging in Jewish ritual so we can use the platform to elevate the Palestinians who lost their lives. The central feature of the action was saying the Mourners’ Kaddish.”

Then three cars carrying six officers from the Providence Police Department arrived. The officer in charge plucked a piece of paper a young person was reading from out of their hand and told the protesters that they could not block the entrance. (They were not blocking the entrance.)

The officer then insisted on talking to “Who’s in charge” and then insisted that there is only “one person” in charge.

Turning to me, videoing the event, the officer said, “You’re being videoed as well, buddy, thank you.”

The officer then proceeded to explain his interpretation of the law to two of the protesters who stepped up to be identified as the leaders. “Don’t interrupt!” ordered the officer. “You do that all the time? Don’t interrupt me.”

The officer then insisted that there’s “one person in charge” despite the claims of the two persons he was talking to. “That’s a BS answer,” said the officer when told that there was more than one person in charge. “I want one person in charge.”

“You guys know you shouldn’t do this, you did it anyway,” said the officer.

Eventually the protest was moved to sidewalk. “If you block the sidewalk, in any way, you will be arrested,” said the officer.

The protest finished without incident.

“We were in touch with the group prior to the protest in response to an open letter they sent to the Jewish Alliance,” said Adam Greenman, President & CEO of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island. “Unfortunately, our offices were closed the day of the protest in observance of Passover. I will be meeting with representatives from their group later this week. I appreciate their passion and thoughtfulness, and look forward to continuing the conversation.”

In their letter, the protesters wrote,

“Now, our generation says Dayenu. Enough. Enough to the violence of occupation, enough to American Jewish complicity, and enough to the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island’s implicit support of these crimes. In light of these recent events and in the spirit of Passover we demand that the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island release a statement condemning the actions of the Israeli government and military in Gaza, and reconstruct its planned “Rhode Island Goes to Israel” trip this coming fall to properly educate participants about the realities of the occupation. In addition, we demand that the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island divest from Birthright and cease any support for their programs, and that the Alliance discontinue or heavily modify its Shaliach Israel Emissary program to accurately reflect the violence of the occupation.

“This Passover, we stand on the side of liberation. We ask you to stand with us.”

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It’s legitimate for police to enforce the law that the entrance to the facility and the sidewalk can’t be blocked by protesters — otherwise they’re subject to arrest. That’s fairly standard. So the fact that police showed up to tell the group to move away from blocking the entrance and to not block the sidewalk is completely legitimate as far as I’m concerned. Even the ACLU would agree with that. But… the manner in which this police officer chose to engage the group was unnecessarily abrasive and confrontational. Is this how the City of Providence trains its officers to de-escalate situations? All that office did was to foster animosity against police by a group of people who, if he had behaved appropriately, might have fostered respect for police instead. These are clearly young people and probably haven’t had much experience in civil protest. The officer squandered an opportunity to educate… Read more »

Christopher Samih-Rotondo
Christopher Samih-Rotondo

I’ve been to many small demonstrations and this response by the police is quite disproportionate. Also, didn’t the Alliance respond to the group saying they weren’t open that Friday due to Passover? Whom were they blocking from entering or exiting the building? It’s not unreasonable to point out that this response from the police is contextual to where the protest took place and who would be calling the police to the scene. And to avoid a misrepresentation of what I’m saying – I mean they were in a wealthy, predominantly white neighborhood, where the police are eager to defend property rights, as well as racial and class privileges, often described as “quality of life.”

Beer Baron
Beer Baron

The protest by these misguided Jews is based on my observation of how the Left generally views things–without context.

Gaza’s Hamas leadership has a sworn intent to destroy Israel. That is a religious imperative for fundamentalist Islamists. Israel has no choice but to defend itself against large groups of Israel hating protesters from a people that has demonstrated it willingness to kill and maim innocent Israelis; their own innocents; and even martyr themselves for the cause. A breach of Israel’s border by a group like this surely qualifies as a threat to innocent Israelis who rely on protection from its security forces.

Christopher Samih-Rotondo
Christopher Samih-Rotondo

Beer Baron, that’s a wild and baseless accusation that those killed in this peaceful demonstration were Hamas militants intent on crossing the “border” (also hard to justify given that this is an occupation, and an arbitrarily and violently established boundary). Your poorly coded fear-mongering strikes me as race-baiting about Palestinians in general. It’s your claims that are “without context.” Why is there a Hamas, or any militant group, for that matter, including massive, non-violent demonstrations like the ones going on now in Gaza, who oppose the policies and practices of the Israeli state? Context means an understanding of the history of a place, and in this case, that means violent displacement, occupation, and land-grabbing settlers brazenly violating internationally established laws and human rights. In addition, how easily you would dismiss “misguided Jews” and blame the Left. How would you justify your claim that these folks are of the “Left?” How… Read more »