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The Daily Tar Heel

Locals Protest Israeli Actions

Friday's protest included the Coalition for Peace With Justice and various Christian church congregations.

A lone man waved a large Israeli flag and carried a homemade posterboard sign reading, "Nuke Arafat," while the crowd of 30 to 40 donned all black and held their own signs in relative silence.

Some protesters carried picket signs with slogans such as, "Jews to Israel: Human rights for Palestinians."

Others held pictures of Jewish settlements in the West Bank area they believe is being developed to put a stranglehold on the Palestinians still living in this volatile region.

Mary-Lou Leiser Smith, a member of a local organization called the Coalition for Peace With Justice, coordinated the local protest.

"This is a worldwide event taking place in more than 121 different cities," Smith said. "We are here to protest the illegal displacement of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government."

Smith worked with several groups, including Triangle Middle East Dialogue and various Christian church congregations to organize the event.

The event comes at a time of especially high Arab-Israeli tension.

On June 1, an Islamic extremist detonated a bomb strapped to his chest and murdered a crowd of teenagers at a popular Gaza disco. Israel responded with military strikes before a tenuous cease-fire was called.

The reality of tragedies occurring on both sides was not lost on the crowd of protesters. Many expressed their dismay over recent terrorist actions.

"The bombings are horrible, but they are small potatoes compared to the day-to-day atrocities of the Israeli government," said Henri Picciotto, 51, a Jew from Lebanon.

G.R. Quinn, 49, a member of a local conservative group, was the lone counter-protester.

Quinn argued vehemently with nearby protesters and often compared Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to Adolf Hitler.

"Arafat wants nothing more than to exterminate the state of Israel," Quinn remarked.

Since its foundation in 1948, Israel has been in constant conflict with neighboring Arab countries.

In 1967, Israel fought a war against several Arab nations, touched off by Egyptian military activity along its southwestern border.

The territories Israel claimed after the 1967 conflict include the much-debated Gaza and West Bank areas.

Howard Machtinger, 55, director of UNC's Teaching Fellows Program, attended the protest in support of the Palestinian people.

"The War of 1967 was an illegal seizure of foreign territories," Machtinger said. "We now need to give Palestinians land not divided into 50 pieces."

Machtinger was also critical of the tactics of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "I don't feel that Sharon believes at all in the rights of Palestinians," he said. Andrew Silver, a Jew who lived in Israel for 13 years, left in 1980 because he disagreed with the country's policies toward Palestinians.

"I felt Israel was on a course to national suicide," Silver said.

"They live in a sea of Arabs, but they insist on depriving them of fundamental freedoms."

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The majority of protesters attending Friday's demonstration maintained only faint hopes of a U.S. foreign policy shift.

"It is simply too lucrative a process to ever end," Picciotto said. "The U.S. is like a 500-pound gorilla on the Israeli side."

Haywood Alexander can be reached at

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