On Tuesday, a group of activists organized by Jewish Voice For Peace, a grassroots organization of Jewish-Americans against the Israeli occupation of Palestine, filed into the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces offices in New York City’s Times Square.
“We would like to talk about donations,” one of them said to the woman working the front desk.
“Oh, great — with all of these people!” she replied, immediately ushering them inside of the offices.
Once the activists were inside, they unfurled banners that called out Friends of the IDF’s complicity in the assault on Gaza, and began reading a list of the names of the dead. As one of the Jewish charities that collects donations to fund the Israeli army, the activists at Jewish Voice for Peace saw the organization as directly implicated in the assault on Gaza.
The staff at Friends of the IDF immediately and frantically called the police, who arrested nine activists.
“We felt very strongly that given everything that has been happening and the level of massacre in Gaza, the numbers of civilians who have been killed, it was time to step it up to the next level,” said Rebecca Vilkomerson, one of the nine activists who was arrested. “We wanted to put a little bit more on the line to broadcast the message that the war and siege on Gaza has got to stop.”
Since Operation Pillar of Defense began 21 days ago, Israel’s air strikes and ground invasion of the Gaza Strip has killed more than 1,000 Palestinians and injured over 6,200. Meanwhile, thousands of homes have been destroyed or damaged, and tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced. Ceasefire negotiations have not progressed and the Israeli air force — claiming that it is targeting Hamas — has moved on to bombing hospitals and UN schools, where many civilians have taken refuge. It is the third major Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip in 10 years.
“I think it’s particularly important that we do this as Jewish activists, and show that the Jewish community is split on this issue and that there are a lot of Jews in the United States who don’t support what Israel is doing right now,” Vilkomerson said.
Despite the expected backlash from Israel supporters, Jewish Voice for Peace says the response to their action and organization has been overwhelmingly positive.