Vigil for Peace in Gaza Fills Street Corner

A collection of photos

Scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. last Thursday, a vigil organized by Michigan Peaceworks and the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice had people filling all four corners of Liberty and Main streets in downtown Ann Arbor. The vigil was organized to call attention to the military violence in Gaza, with organizers calling for an immediate ceasefire. When I arrived around 6:45 p.m. it was apparent from the signage and the shouts that some of the demonstrators had taken a more strident position than the vigil organizers had likely hoped for.

One smaller event that unfolded almost immediately was embedded in the larger one. It was a changing of the guard: one vigil participant handed off their sign to another as the one arrived and the other departed. But by this time several participants were beginning to filter away without being replaced. One estimate floated by a participant put the peak number of participants at around 200.

Some of the demonstrators on Thursday had responded to the scheduled vigil in order to make a more partisan point than the organizers were making. But at least one of them had no prior knowledge of the vigil, and had been demonstrating in her usual spot on weekday evenings at Liberty and Fifth – in front of the Federal Building. Seeing the activity just west of her, and already equipped with a sign, “US-RAEL, biggest rogue nation,” she decided to join the larger group.

A group of young men were collecting signatures for a petition (calling for a ceasefire) to be sent to elected representatives in Michigan. Chatting with them, they recognized the name, Ann Arbor Chronicle, and let me know they were in agreement with comment number [5] about a previous article published here on an earlier demonstration. The comment was critical of the inclusion of an interaction between a demonstrator and a passerby, who questioned the motivation of the demonstrators.

On Thursday, I shared with them the same sentiment with which I ended that comment thread: we try to describe what unfolds in front of us. But in some ways that skirts the issue. Because we don’t describe everything that we see. It would be impossible to write, or to read, something that detailed. Every inclusion or exclusion is an editorial decision. A good photograph offers that level of detail, but the photographer has to point the camera somewhere. And that entails a decision about what direction to point it. Once you have the photograph, you have to decide if and how to crop it. That’s another editorial decision.

Below are some photographs from Thursday evening’s demonstration. The captions consist of commentary intended to provide some insight into what I thought was interesting enough about the image to offer them to Chronicle readers.

First shot of the evening. Many of the demonstrators carried the "Ceasefire Now" sheets, which seemed to be the preferred signage for those who'd responded to the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice request that participants should, "Please bring signs that support a peaceful end to the conflict in Gaza."

I like this one for the way a single candle and a single sign drew the whole huddle of people together.

The irony of the news hotline number: If I'm reading this number, I don't need to call you ... you're already here.

Given the sides represented among the demonstrators, the Channel 7 slogan on the truck prompts the question: "Really?? You're on MY side?? Which side is that, exactly?" (The photograph's angle makes it somewhat unclear what the demonstrator is holding. It's a rectangular sign – edge view.)

What was interesting to me about these signs was the split into two fields of black and white with reversed field lettering, which mirrors the stark contrast in viewpoints on the conflict. Also the pairing of "received" with "rocket" struck me as somewhat odd, making me wonder if the understatement was intended.

The woman next to the sign-holder was energetically wiping her feet on an Israeli flag, which I took to be the sign-holder's point of view as well. I took the sign to be an allusion to an Iraqi journalist's recent attempt to throw his shoe at President Bush – that is, a call to stand up and do something, whatever it might be. But the ambiguity is intriguing.

I liked this one for the contrast between everything that said "warm" (the glove, the candle, the fur-edged hood) against the shivering exhale.

I wondered if this guy was smiling about anything in particular, or if wearing a smile was part of his way of keeping warm.

This photo was cropped to include the signage on the restaurant, because I think it brings out how routine "background" messages would fill our visual field, if demonstrators on street corners did not occasionally offer a different message.

As someone who in many ways "goes green," the sign, in some sense, spoke to me.

This photo demonstrates that photos by themselves don't tell an accurate story. It might appear to show a confrontation between the sign holder and the person wearing the dark hooded coat. In fact, it was chat between friends.

This one, I thought, captured nicely the span in ages of participants.

These photographs give some idea of what happened on a street corner on a cold evening in a sleepy little midwestern U.S. college town. But they don’t give much real insight into events happening half a world away. Most of us, I suspect, don’t make conscious choices about how we want to be informed about far-away places. I sure don’t. We randomly sample from the ubiquitous stream of TV, radio, newspapers, and wire reports that permeate our modern life.

But there’s bound to be some Chronicle readers who aren’t as lazy as that, and who consciously use a specific news source to get information about the Middle East. If so, kindly provide a link (if possible) and a brief description why as a comment below. Feel free to leave other comments as well, bearing in mind our commenting policy.

[Editor's note: HD is Homeless Dave, a.k.a. Dave Askins, editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. ]

Section: Govt., Opinion

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  1. January 10, 2009 at 10:37 pm | permalink

    Regarding the “Take your shoes off” picture, showing someone the soles of your shoes is an insulting gesture in the Arab world, like flipping the bird here. That, I think, is the intended symbolism behind both throwing the shoes at Bush and stomping on the Israeli flag.

  2. By Anonymous
    January 11, 2009 at 9:54 am | permalink

    There were also loud chants, and at least one sign, that demanded “Boycott Israel”.

  3. By Jeff Gaynor
    January 11, 2009 at 11:35 am | permalink

    I start with the assumption that everyone who was at the vigil, did so in good faith. My question: Why did people attend? For whom or for what? What did they hope to accomplish? I am not asking about political viewpoints, but why attend this event? Implicit in this question is why did others not attend.

  4. By Jeff Gaynor
    January 11, 2009 at 11:42 am | permalink

    Regarding News Sources: President Nixon went on national tv in 1970 and declared we were not bombing Cambodia. Those who read the underground press knew this to be false and were incredulous that he could get away with this statement. Well, few knew – or perhaps wanted to know – the facts. Even with the internet, are we any better informed now? Do people read, watch or listen to the information that only confirms their views?

  5. By Anonymous
    January 11, 2009 at 12:20 pm | permalink

    There was pretty much one reason to attend. To tell those who have now killed close to 1,000 Palestinians to STOP. And to tell the U.S. government to STOP funding their massive army, navy, and air force.

    It is simply not credible that the rally was equally concerned with the 3 Israeli civilians who had been killed. Nor should it be!

    That would be like, in the 1940′s, begging both the German army and the Warsaw Ghetto to please “stop the violence”, when 99% of the “violence” is committed by the German army, crushing the occupied ghetto inhabitants.

  6. By Jeff Gaynor
    January 11, 2009 at 2:52 pm | permalink

    To anonymous: I’m not arguing your viewpoint, but does standing downtown ‘telling those … to stop’ have any effect? And if so, on whom? Certainly not on Israel (apparently) – and for that matter, for those arguing the other side, not on Hamas.

  7. By Dogman
    January 11, 2009 at 7:44 pm | permalink

    Homeless Dave,
    Pandering to a group that forces their women to cover themselves up doesn’t bode well for AA Chronicle. It’s fashionable to take the side of the pooooor palistaniains, bummer. Rethink your editorialisms.

  8. By Anonymous
    January 11, 2009 at 9:07 pm | permalink

    Mr. Gaynor makes a rather determined argument for never demonstrating for anything. I’m glad that the Montgomery civil rights movement of the early 1950′s didn’t read his remarks.

    They (actually, just one woman, Joanne Robinson) kept pushing the Montgomery city council for better treatment of Black bus passengers. The council acted as if she were crazy, and ignored her.

    Then in 1955-56, the Montgomery bus boycott destroyed bus segregation nationwide.

    I expect the current Palestine vigils to lead to something similar, like the end of apartheid, the end of occupation, in the entire Middle East. That will also end the racial profiling, and the public humiliation, of American Muslims and Arabs.

  9. January 12, 2009 at 1:03 pm | permalink

    HD — in response to your call for news sources, i would suggest that readers rely on the atlas, fundamental national statistics ( is not bad), and Biblical and Koranic (sic?) history for their understanding of the Gaza crisis.

    Even the best newspapers produce a pointillist, now-focused “he said, she said” view that is not especially helpful.

    1) Gaza is a very small territory with a population of 3 million people who a) feel disenfranchised b) have only a rudimentary military c) are relatively poor next to Israel, which looks like a giant next to Gaza in each of these dimensions. Yet, in the atlas, Israel also looks small and surrounded by enemies.

    2) The land known as Israel and Palestine is the ancestral home of both the Jewish and the Palestinian peoples.

    3) The Holocaust of European Jewry occurred and must never be repeated, and the people of Israel have the right, and the responsibility to ensure that, by both force and justice.

    4) The only rational, and humane, endgame for Israel and Palestine is a program of constructive engagement which creates a thriving, inclusive, tolerant, mutually dependent civil society in the region.

  10. By Anonymous
    January 12, 2009 at 4:46 pm | permalink

    This is a new approach. Simply state a list of irrefutable facts, such as, the Holocaust must never be repeated, a thriving civil society is good, and the smallness of the land involved, compared to big places.

    So ends the discussion of nearly 1,000 Palestinians, buried forever by Israeli aerial bombardment in just 2 weeks. (Israel has now lost 3 civilians, and 10 invading soldiers.)

    Yes, that ends the discussion if Holocausts are things that only happen to Europeans. Otherwise, someone is bound to ask for the end of the Holocaust against Palestine.

  11. By Jeff Gaynor
    January 12, 2009 at 7:40 pm | permalink

    “Mr. Gaynor makes a rather determined argument for never demonstrating for anything.” Actually, I didn’t; rather, I asked questions. (Besides, don’t jump to conclusions. I have participated in a fair share of protests over the last 50+ years, organizing some of them.)
    I am glad to know, Anonymous, that you feel your voice can be effective. I am perhaps feeling skeptical at the moment, not because you are out there – but because so many are not.

  12. By Margaret Hunter
    January 12, 2009 at 11:38 pm | permalink

    Israel is continually demonstrating cruel and excessive violence. It is hard to hear about. Numerous people in Kalamazoo have been protesting the actions of Israel’s government. Many protesters are Jewish and do not agree with what the Israeli govenment is doing – just like many American’s did not agree with Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Unfortunately, the world is not going to see Jewish citizens as any different than the government in Israel. The irony is; the agression of Israel (in the name of never letting the holocaust be repeated) is resulting in an increase in antisemitism and anger toward Zionists. This is not good. The US government is obviously caught between a rock and a hard place with this current crisis- and doesn’t Obama have enough problems? Israel need not amp up the problems in the Middle East. This divides the world and US will become the victim. Think about it.Not to mention all the Palestinians and Israli citizens who will be killed.
    We desperately need new leadership and we need leadership in Israel that understands compromise, bringing all people together, and moving in the direction of world peace. Otherwie, more will die clinging to the allusion that they are stopping violence with violence. That is pathetic, ignorant and wasteful. Dr King would have something to say about it – as would Ghandi.

  13. By Anonymous
    January 13, 2009 at 6:17 am | permalink

    A former Ann Arbor City Councilmember, Tobi Hanna-Davies, was among the Women in Black in Kalamazoo, protesting massive Israeli violence against Palestinians. I hope she’s doing OK.

  14. By Anonymous
    January 13, 2009 at 6:21 am | permalink

    Cambridge City Council Resolution, approved last night, against Israeli bombardment of Gaza:

    Cambridge Resolution

    Tonight, the Michigan Student Assembly will also be the scene of Gaza resolution discussion.

  15. By Joan Lowenstein
    January 13, 2009 at 11:29 am | permalink

    Interesting how few protests and vigils there have been condemning the tens of thousands of Hamas missiles aimed at Israeli civilians over the past five years. Maybe all those protesters and vigilers thought it was OK if “only” five or ten missiles a day headed towards the citizens of Sederot and Ashkelon, even during what Hamas called a “lull.” Ask yourself, if a gang in Ypsilanti was firing missiles randomly at Ann Arbor, maybe only five per day, would you send your child to school? The only reason more Israelis have not been killed by missiles is because the Israeli government mandates safe rooms in homes and bomb shelters in all public buildings. When a siren sounds, children, old people, handicapped people — everyone — have 15 seconds to take cover. Contrast this to those who occupy Gaza — Hamas. They have booby-trapped homes, stockpiled weapons in mosques, and located their military command center under a wing of Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest hospital. Peace is easy. Just stop the missiles.

  16. By Abeer Hamzah
    January 13, 2009 at 2:16 pm | permalink

    Gaza is openly and viciously being slaughter by US and Israel. Everyone in the world can see it.

    These barbaric acts are telling the rest of the world “there will be more wars get ready for them”.

    A vulgar expression of imperial and immoral aggression is before our eyes; and despite the fact that I have been an outspoken advocate of boycotting Israel, I still feel ashamed to know that the murderers who are slaughtering innocent people of Gaza are my flesh and blood in an evolutionary sense.

    Israel is pounding Palestinian people with a devastating kind of a bomb called a dense metal explosive. This tool for extermination creates a massive wave of deadly force that releases billions of tiny metal particles into a small area. This force, combined with metal particles, rip human flesh off the bone leaving wounds that have never been seen before; and horrific amputations of people’s limbs.

    The wounded do not survive long and are at high risk of developing weird cancers in only a few years.

    Silence is a crime at a time like this. I invite you to join us at Michigan Student Assembly and support a university boycott of the monster of Israel.

  17. January 13, 2009 at 2:41 pm | permalink

    as the comments after mine suggest, the solution has to lead to the desired outcome — thriving, mutualistic civil society — despite unending violence and finger-pointing. Moreover, the solution has to work despite conscious efforts to stop it by numerous opponents on both sides.

    the only social system that humans have ever devised that, in the long run, produces consistent improvements in median quality of living, despite regular outbreaks of violence in, around, and throughout the system, is the scientific method, accompanied, usually, but not always, by Enlightenment values of tolerance, skepticism, and inquiry.

    Patient, long-term investments in education and tolerance are the only sensible solution–and those investments must, tragically, be undertaken in the full consciousness that ongoing violence from factions on both sides is consciously intended to tear down the foundations of civil society in both Gaza and Israel. Yet there is room for optimism. The historical record is that societies can survive great trauma to their infrastructure (the Thirty Years War, 1789, Japan 1945) once the commitment is made to the path of science, tolerance, and inquiry.

  18. By Anonymous
    January 13, 2009 at 2:51 pm | permalink

    “Thriving, mutualistic civil society”?

    The Gaza death toll is about 1,000 now.
    The Israeli civilian death toll stands at 3.

  19. January 13, 2009 at 3:22 pm | permalink

    Anonymous — a thriving, mutualistic civil society is the *goal.* To be sure, neither Palestine nor Israel are playing their role in that society yet.

    What I am suggesting (in reply to HD’s original question about news sources) is that an episodic news-cycle-driven focus on transient episodes of factional violence will solve nothing … whereas a long-term focus on education, modernization, and and tolerance will actually solve the problem by, eventually, making the violent factions irrelevant.

    I share your anger and grief at the needless loss of many innocent people on both sides in the long history of this conflict. Everybody is somebody’s baby.

  20. By Anonymous
    January 13, 2009 at 3:46 pm | permalink

    It’s not “many innocent people”.

    It’s 3 Israelis, and 1,000 Palestinians.

    That’s the death toll. Plus 10 Israeli soldiers.

  21. January 13, 2009 at 3:54 pm | permalink

    Anonymous — it is indeed “many innocent people” over the last 60 years, which are filled with acts of aggression and, if you will, “terror” by ruling factions among both sides.

    I am sure you would be the first to agree that the recent events in Gaza are not an isolated event, but part of a long history of related events.

  22. By Margaret Hunter
    January 13, 2009 at 4:07 pm | permalink

    I hope the individuals who keep pointing to Hamas will be capable of looking at the reason(s) for Hamas’s moves. You can’t keep pointing at Hamas as the problem. Israel (and the US) have the BIG guns. Hamas is clearly the victim here. Jews WERE the victims – and the horror of the past is not to be disputed. It is time to look at a Humanistic Judaism approach. Jewish leaders in Detroit have understood the value of the humanistic view for decades now.

    What if the African Americans in this country bombed the caucasians? What would that prove. Did the Palestians create the Holocaust?

  23. By Lynne
    January 13, 2009 at 6:00 pm | permalink

    Wiping their feet on an Israeli flag? That is the action of an intelligent enlightened protester? That is as intelligent an arguement as flipping someone off. Ann Arbor is the most anti semetic and hateful city I have ever lived in. I came here because I was deluded by the beautiful parks and great little downtown area. Fortunately I have met some very fine people here, but there is a very ugly underbelly of Jew haters here who do not respond to reason and feed on hatred of anything relating to Israel. Well, Israel is here to stay and you have all the little flag stamping hissy fits you want.

  24. By Scott
    January 14, 2009 at 1:44 pm | permalink

    Pretty simple:

    1.If the Palestinians would lay down their weapons, there would be peace in the Middle East.

    2.If Israel would lay down their weapons, they would be wiped off the face of the earth.

    3.The Gaza civilian casualties are a direct result of HAMAS hiding amongst the innocent population. HAMAS is to blame for the civilian deaths.

  25. By Jeff Gaynor
    January 14, 2009 at 3:59 pm | permalink

    I’m pretty sure that if each side keeps self-righteously blaming the other side – as good as that may make you feel – the strife will continue indefinitely.

  26. January 15, 2009 at 9:42 am | permalink

    margaret hunter suggests that we examine the reasons for hamas’ actions.

    the hamas charter states the group’s goal quite plainly: the obliteration of the state of israel and its replacement by an islamist state.

    i’m not sure how this advances margaret’s argument that hamas’ unbridled campaign of hostility and violence towards israel makes the group a victim.

    clearly, innocent palestinian people are victims, but their greatest oppressor is hamas.

  27. By Anonymous
    January 15, 2009 at 11:22 am | permalink

    But it’s Israel that just killed 1,100 Palestinians, in the last few weeks alone. Today, Israel shelled the U.N. headquarters in Gaza, then set it on fire.

    Israel’s total losses through all of this: 3 civilians, 10 soldiers.

  28. January 15, 2009 at 3:23 pm | permalink

    people on all sides of the issue mourn the innocent lives lost in the conflagration, and i join them.

  29. By Anonymous
    January 15, 2009 at 4:46 pm | permalink

    Which side are you on? “All sides”?

  30. By Steve Bean
    January 15, 2009 at 9:21 pm | permalink

    By the “logic” that believes that Hamas is responsible for the deaths and injuries in Gaza, the deaths and injuries in Israel would be the responsibility of the Israeli government. Doesn’t hold up, does it? So maybe the discussion can be elevated a bit? Thanks to Jeff and Fred for your efforts along those lines.

    “The only reason more Israelis have not been killed by missiles is because the Israeli government mandates safe rooms in homes and bomb shelters in all public buildings. When a siren sounds, children, old people, handicapped people — everyone — have 15 seconds to take cover. Contrast this to those who occupy Gaza — Hamas. They have booby-trapped homes, stockpiled weapons in mosques, and located their military command center under a wing of Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest hospital.”

    The more direct contrast would be to recognize that the people in Gaza don’t have those safeguards in place, in which case the bombing of their neighborhoods is an even less defensible act. Note that I wrote “even less defensible”–I don’t believe that the missile launches from the other side are defensible either. I wonder how it feels to rationalize mass killing within one’s mind. Must be painful.

  31. January 15, 2009 at 10:44 pm | permalink

    steve, as you note, hamas, which governs gaza, does not provide its citizens with rudimentary safeguards. i agree that is indefensible to put them in the line of fire.

  32. By Steve Bean
    January 16, 2009 at 11:15 am | permalink

    There’s no agreement, Peter. You’re in denial–to the point of trying to speak for me (put words in my mouth.)

  33. By Joan Lowenstein
    January 17, 2009 at 6:06 pm | permalink

    During WWII, the Nazis bombed England and the total British civilian casualties were around 50,000. German civilian casualties in the subsequent Allied bombing raids are estimated at around 600,000, with one night’s bombing of Hamburg equaling the total British civilian deaths during the 8-month Blitz. See link. Proportional? When a country’s population is threatened by terrorist attacks, that country’s government must take steps to end the terror. Israel’s show of force is meant to show Gaza that attempts to destroy Israel through terrorist attacks are futile. Unfortunately, it seems impossible to convince either Hamas or the residents of Gaza that this is true without massive destruction. It is both sad and defensible.

  34. By Abeer Hamzah
    January 17, 2009 at 10:29 pm | permalink

    For a City Council member and judicial candidate to justify Israel
    killing up to 600,000 Palestinians, and then to somehow equate
    Palestinians with Nazi Germany, is… monstrous.

  35. By Steve Bean
    January 17, 2009 at 10:44 pm | permalink

    “Unfortunately, it seems impossible to convince either Hamas or the residents of Gaza that this is true without massive destruction”

    Now there’s a serious demonstration of lack of imagination. ‘Hmm, how do we convince them that their attacks are futile?… I know! Let’s attack them! Brilliant!’

    So it’s not self defense, it’s ‘sending a message’? And that’s not terrorism?

    Anger and sadness are rooted in fear. Fear arises from confusion. There’s a whole lot of confusion going on.

    How do we overcome confusion? Practice inquiry. Examine reality. Do The Work that Byron Katie developed.

  36. January 17, 2009 at 11:10 pm | permalink

    Joan Lowenstein, she’s once, twice, two times an apologist for war crimes. She justifies Israel’s war crimes in Gaza by reference to British and American war crimes in WWII. Both Telford Taylor in *Nuremberg and Vietnam* and Robert S. McNamara in *The Fog of War* have indicated that the main reasons why Axis leaders were not prosecuted for indiscriminate bombings of civilian targets in WWII is because 1) Allied leaders were equally culpable for similar or worse conduct and 2) The Allies wanted to be able to engage such bombing in the future.

    As one commentator noted in the NYRB in a 1993 discussion of a review of Taylor’s memoir, *The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials*:

    “The terror bombings of civilian targets such as Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, and Hiroshima arguably all constituted ‘devastation not justified by military necessity.’ Not only did they violate the customary maxim against targeting noncombatants, these bombings also failed to achieve their advertised utilitarian objectives—German morale did not crumble immediately after Hamburg and the Japanese did not surrender on account of Hiroshima. The devastation was indeed violative of ius in bello, that is, the principles of just combat.”

    Likewise, Israel’s attack on Gaza is criminal and it will fail to break the morale of Palestinians. Further, even Lowenstein inadvertantly admits that Israel’s attacks are terrorist attacks not aimed at a military objective but rather to use “massive destruction” to “convince” Hamas and/or “the residents of Gaza”–to teach them some lesson. It’s a “show,” as Lowenstein admits, a bloody, criminal “show” but a show nonetheless. Let us all work to bring the criminals that Lowenstein defends to the bar of justice and to hasten the impending demise of Apartheid Israel.

  37. January 21, 2009 at 11:20 am | permalink

    This is partly in response to posts 3 and 10. There are still some important differences between the Holocaust of European Jews and the situation in Gaza.


    W/r/t 37, it’s both absurd and uncivil to brand Joan Lowenstein as an apologist for war crimes when there has been no adjudication. If you believe in the idea of war crimes, you must also believe in the concept of adjudication, i.e. it’s not a crime until it has been adjudicated. At worst, she’s arguing the case for the defense, which is a fundamental element of fair jurisprudence.

    As for the question of war crimes, I would agree that, if there were a supranational government, there might be a plausible case against Israel (as there undoubtedly would be a plausible case against Hamas, Syria, and Iran, the United States, North Vietnam, Argentina, and the UK, to name only a few modern offenders). Until there is a world government, the concept of war crimes is merely emotive finger pointing.