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November 19, 2012
The Quiet and the Hamas Sides of the Street
A woman walking past us on San Francisco's Montgomery Street stops to yell at me, though she is standing inches away. "What's the difference, this side and the other side?" She points across the street.
And before I can speak, she answers herself: "There's no difference! Right? Right?"
We are standing in the rain near the Israeli Consulate, and the woman is shouting amidst the chorus of shouts from the other side of the street. Here on the quiet side, there are maybe fifty of us to their hundred and fifty. They keep pushing against the police barriers and screaming, "Viva, viva, intifada!" and "From the river to the sea, Palestine must be free!"
We just stand there, quietly holding American and Israeli flags and signs that say "Hamas: stop using Gaza as a launching pad" and "We stand for Israel; We stand for peace." The increasingly raging mob screams threateningly from across the street, many of the screamers presenting the backs of their hands to us with their middle fingers extended, others hiding their faces in their keffiyehs but shouting chants at our much smaller group. Sometimes they just scream unintelligibly.
Surely the woman who has chosen me to question can see or at least hear the difference.
"What?" she yells. "What's it about?"
And although I have talked about this for years -- I am even writing a book on this very topic, which means that I have struggled through thousands of words to show what I know and have learned about Israel's situation -- this moment seems to demand the fewest possible words. I blurt out: "We think Israel should live; they want to kill us."
"Ha! You don't want to kill them?"
"Heck no," I say, just as the crowd across the street roars, "Zionist scum, your time has come!"
She stands with us for a minute. She even takes the flyer that Stand With Us and San Francisco Voice for Israel have made reporting on the years of rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, the current escalation, and Israel's recent response.
It's raining harder, and our side of the street just stands there with our wilting flags and our co-existence signs while the other side rages on, calling us "scum" and screaming into the faces of the police who are scattered sparsely along their protest line.
As she walks away, the woman actually smiles at me, and gives a little wave. Did she really change her mind so quickly?
It is really that simple. If no rockets were fired into Israel, it would become quiet in Gaza and in Israel. It is "complicated" because Hamas does want "the river to the sea"; that is, they want Israel not to exist. But Israel is a sovereign country here to stay.
There are Palestinian flags on the Hamas side of Montgomery Street. No American ones, though -- certainly not.
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