For 10 days, smack in the middle of Rome's shopping district, a 12-hour daily vigil was held calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Organized by several Italian and Palestinian groups, with the support of our group of U.S. citizens, the daily presence sought to break through the silence and indifference surrounding Israel's attack on Gaza.
And the silence was indeed broken, if for no other reason than the presence of Gianni Novelli's legendary Comiso-era mega-megaphone, which blasted out the voices of activists calling for a ceasefire, an end to the siege and protection for the civilian population.
Through rain and shine, we collected hundreds of signatures and handed out thousands of flyers. We had copies of ‘A Call from Within,' the letter signed by over 500 Israeli citizens who called “on the world to stop Israeli violence and not allow the continuation of the brutal occupation” and to “condemn and not become an accomplice in Israel's crimes.” The letter was delivered to embassies in Tel Aviv on January 5, 2009.
We also distributed the appeal from Pax Christi, which began with the words of the Catholic parish priest in Gaza, Father Manuel Musallam: “What is going on in Gaza is not a bombing, but a massacre. It is a war crime and, once again, no one utters these words.”
Women in Black brought a number of flyers, including a letter from women in Haifa which expressed their opposition to "the view that these attacks are defending us in any way," and instead see the attacks as "deepening of the bloodshed and war and as a threat to the hope for peace and quite in our area." Women in Black also brought banners, which attracted the attention of by passers, as did their beautiful maps illustrating the tragic loss of Palestinian land over the decades.
On one evening, a group of young people created scenes of war, with smoke bombs, leftover fireworks and recordings of combat blaring from a loudspeaker. 30 people then threw themselves down in the street, splattered with red paint. The performance stopped traffic – even on the sidewalks!
But for the most part, we simply talked with the tourists and shoppers on one of Rome's busiest streets. Conversations ranged from informing a group of university students from the U.S., who were completely unaware of what was happening, to heated yet civil discussions with Israelis on holiday in Italy.
Many stopped by to offer solidarity, but we also had our share of people contesting what we were doing and there were also a few tense moments. The negative comments and insults, however, were usually simply shouted out as people walked by, their positions limited to talking points.
The most common question was “Why aren't you condemning the rocket fire from Hamas?” And, of course, we were. But there was also a sign saying it is disingenuous to equate the rocket fire to the death and destruction taking place in Gaza, which will only serve to increase support for Hamas.
There has been much talk of equidistanza, or equidistance, in Italy, with regards to the assault on Gaza; in other words for the need of “balance” in any talk of Palestine and Israel. But as Giovanni Franzoni, who is also on a hunger strike for Gaza, said, “We shouldn't be distant at all! That's the problem. Enough with equidistance, we should be equi-involved!”
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