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.”
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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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