About 75 people gathered in front of the White House Wednesday evening to protest the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and an Israeli plan to evacuate troops from some heavily populated Palestinian areas.
Sharon met with President Bush earlier in the day to discuss the unilateral withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip. Bush endorsed the plan, which would also allow the Israel to keep some of its settlements in the West Bank territory and prevent Palestinians from settling in Israel proper.
But protesters said the plan was unfair because it allows Israelis to keep West Bank settlements that Palestinians claim are on their territory. They called on Sharon to completely pull out of Gaza and the West Bank and permit Palestinians to establish a state on those territories, which Israel has occupied since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
“Sharon and Bush are going against international law,” said Jamilah Shami, president of the local American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
“Israel needs to withdraw all settlers out of Gaza and the West Bank. They need to implement democratic values,” she added.
Amna Arshad, former president of GW’s Muslim Students’ Association, said the plan would prevent Palestinians from settling on Israeli land that they fled during Jews’ fight for independence in 1948.
“That’s denying the rights of Palestinians to return to their lands,” she said.
Standing quietly in the rain, Palestinian and Jewish protestors held large signs reading “Freedom for Palestine,” “End U.S. aid to Israel” and “Sharon Must Go.” Metropolitan Police reported no arrests during the two-hour demonstration.
The event, organized by D.C. Palestine Solidarity, also included the unrolling of a red banner that protestors said was Sharon’s “war criminal resume.” Protesters said the baner listed the names of people who died during the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
While protesters said the plan stifled Palestinians’ quest for statehood, GW professor Walter Reich said in an interview Wednesday that the evacuation of troops from Gaza could eventually lead to a revived peace process. Efforts to implement the American-backed “road map,” which envisions the creation of a Palestinian state, have been thwarted by the recent escalation of violence between the two sides.
“This Israeli withdrawal, which Palestinians are, oddly, protesting, could become the nucleus for a resumption of a real peace process,” he said. Malka Fenyresi, a member of Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel, said there needs to be a “peaceful coexistence” between the two factions.
“It’s our responsibility as American Jews to be vocal about opposing the oppression of the Palestinian people,” she said.