VIDEO: Peace Is for Suckers

At a Free Palestine rally, Ben Kawaller meets the war protesters who’d rather give violence a chance.

I went to my first Free Palestine protest this month. I’ll start with the good news: at no point did I, a poster child for the Ashkenazim, feel unsafe. Sure, one of the speakers, Frank Cardenas of the Peace and Freedom Party, drew cheers and applause with the line, “Do I condemn Hamas? Hell no!” But he also assured the crowd that the current conflict was not about Jews versus Arabs, but about colonizers versus the colonized. Not having colonized anyone lately, I managed not to take it personally. 

A co-production of the Los Angeles Movement for Advancing Socialism, the East L.A. Brown Bears, the L.A. County Peace and Freedom Party, and an organization called Centro CSO, the demonstration on November 4 attracted maybe two or three hundred participants and began with a series of mostly Latino speakers at Boyle Heights’ Mariachi Plaza. It then migrated across the L.A. River to the steps of City Hall, where there was more shouting into megaphones about the need for both a cease-fire and the destruction of Israel. 

There was also a call for an alliance between Palestinians and Chicanos, who “face harassment, violence, and murder by the occupying forces of LAPD. . . and other police departments.” Lost in the fervor, of course, was the detail that the “occupying force” in Gaza is not Israel, but a gang of Islamists who would have happily slaughtered every merry Christian at this gathering. (The situation in the West Bank, I maintain, is another story, and it sure would be nice if we could say with a straight face that Israel’s current government has pursued nothing but peaceful coexistence with its Palestinian neighbors.)

Decolonization was the word of the day, and there was much talk of a “one-state solution” that would turn over all of Israel to the Palestinian people. I asked some folks what this would mean for the Jews of Israel, and responses ranged from the evasive (“I don’t think it’s for me to guess”) to the delusional (“Before Israel became a nation, everybody lived peacefully side by side”) to the blithely genocidal (“The Jewish people in Israel [will] always have to look over their shoulders because. . . the hatred that Palestinians have for them is justified.”).

Look, no one said decolonization would be easy, but what’s the alternative, trying to live in peace? 

Peace, it would seem, is for suckers. What’s hot right now is “liberation.” What’s really righteous is to promulgate a fundamental loathing of anyone belonging to the “oppressor” class. 

It’s a mindset attractive even to the upwardly mobile. I spoke, for instance, to a CalTech engineering student who confidently asserted that a “global intifada”—by which he meant the overthrow of capitalism—“is a desire shared by all working people across the world.” What would that look like? “It’s gonna look bloody,” he shrugged, as if describing a traffic jam.  

The sixties this is not. Remember “make love not war”? That ethos is evidently far less appealing than the chance to cosplay as a revolutionary and give voice to bloodlust.

I would like to think that those ostensibly standing for “peace and freedom” are capable of rejecting the allure of such bitterness and rage. And there are doubtless people—there must be—organizing for Palestinian dignity who aren’t playing in that sandbox. 

But I didn’t meet any of them that Saturday.

Ben Kawaller is an L.A.-based writer and contributor to The Free Press. Watch his Free Press video about the Democratic Socialists of America.

This video was produced by Ben Kawaller and Sam Dier.

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