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Israel annexation: Protesters in Washington urge accountability

Demonstrators gather at Israeli embassy to denounce plans to annex parts of occupied West Bank
Protesters call for solidarity with Black Lives Matter movement, end to global oppression (MEE/Ali Harb)
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About 100 protesters gathered near the Israeli embassy in Washington on Friday to denounce Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank amid growing opposition across the United States. 

Several speakers at the rally called for solidarity between Palestine solidarity activists and other social justice campaigns in the United States, particularly the Black Lives Matter movement, amid renewed nationwide protests for racial equality.

Osama Abu Irshaid, national director for American Muslims for Palestine, which organised the protest, said US politicians who claim to stand for racial justice at home must also seek accountability for Israel's system of oppression against Palestinians.

"We need to continue this fight, not only in Palestinian, not only in America; we need to continue this fight for human dignity and human equality world wide," said Abu Irshaid. 

Protesters called on US politicians to end military aid to Israel, not just denounce annexation with words.

"Not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Israel's crimes," the demonstrators chanted.

Israeli plan

Earlier this week, 13 Democratic members of Congress vowed to push to condition aid to Israel, worth $3.8bn annually, if it goes through with annexation. A dozen senators also introduced legislation that would prohibit American assistance from facilitating the Israeli plan.

But the bulk of the Democratic Party, including presidential candidate Joe Biden, have rejected the idea of imposing conditions on the aid , while Republican President Donald Trump appears to be on board with annexation. 

Christian Tabash, a 21-year-old Harvard student, said neither party in the United States  "represents the needs of the people", but he stressed that Trump "needs to go".

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"Donald Trump has taken what is already an extreme status quo and pushed it further right with further fascism and further racism and further anti-Palestinian prejudice," he told MEE.

But the alternative - Biden - is "unsatisfactory", Tabash added. "It's someone that we will have to push in the next four years." 

Real change, he said, is always achieved from "the bottom-up", not from the top. 

Israel was set to start the process of annexing parts of the West Bank on 1 July, after forming a unity government under Netanyahu's leadership earlier this year, but it appears to have postponed its plans amid a global outcry.

Still, Jonathan Kuttab, a human rights lawyer, stressed that annexation did not start with Netanyahu and was not postponed by the Israeli government; rather, it is an ongoing process that has been going on for decades.

He said Jewish settlers in the Palestinian West Bank already live fully under Israeli laws and enjoy the protections, benefits and subsidies offered by Israel; they even have exclusive roads and educational systems. 

"The only thing that was about to happen was an almost foolish deceleration that this will be a de jure, not a de facto situation, so let us not be fooled; annexation is already here... Annexation has taken place, is taking place," Kuttab said.

The lawyer added that Israel only fears the possibility of real consequences for its actions, so those who claim to be against annexation must go beyond verbal condemnations. "What are you doing about it? Are there going to be consequences? Is Israel going to have to pay a price or is it just words?"

Solidarity with Black Lives Matter

Protesters marched near the Israeli embassy and chanted the names of Ahmed Erakat and Iyad Hallak, two Palestinians who were recently killed by Israeli forces, mirroring the chants of Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

Reverend Graylan Hagler, a prominent African-American civil rights advocate in Washington, said while the world is going through deep injustices, "it is the darkest before the light shines".

With a keffiyeh covering half his face as a makeshift mask, Hagler said Americans are starting to realise that those in power seek to create a hierarchy for different groups of people in defiance of equality, and that liberation must come for all people, not just one particular community. 

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"It's not about any one issue. That's what we all have got to understand. It's not about Palestine versus Black Lives Matter versus what's taking place with the immigrants versus what's taking place with Native Americans. It is all the same thing," Hagler told the crowd, drawing cheers. 

"So when I say black lives matter, because Black lives does matter, I'm also saying Palestinian lives matter. I'm also saying indigenous people matter. I'm also saying women matter. I'm also also saying LGBTQ lives matter."

Shahed Abukari, a business student, said it was vital for various communities to stand together against injustice. 

"It's important because everyone is facing the same oppression. We're not going to progress if we don't stand with each other," Abukari told MEE.

As demonstrators walked by the neighbouring Bahraini embassy on Friday, they also turned their wrath against the Arab kingdom's rulers, who hosted a conference launching an economic plan as part of Trump's so-called "deal of the century", which has been a catalyst for Israel's annexation plan.

"Al Khalifa can't you see, Palestine will be free," the protesters chanted, referring to Bahrain's royal family.