At the steps of the University of Texas Tower, one of the tallest buildings in Austin, supporters of Gaza organized a counter-rally today that surrounded, foiled and ultimately overwhelmed a pro-Israel demonstration supporting the Gaza siege.Though pro-Gaza events in Austin have drawn crowds of a few dozen over the past month, today’s event drew hundreds.
Though the location had been officially reserved by the pro-Israel demonstrators, UT policy allows counter-rallies so long as interruptions are not constant. The pro-Israel rally featured a number of speakers, some associated with Texas Hillel and some with religious institutions. However, as the pro-Palestine demonstrators grew in number and volume, at first standing behind and then surrounding the original rally, all of the pro-Israel speakers grew increasingly hesistant to and even unable to speak. Several became outright red in the face, because despite having microphones and speakers, they could not be heard over the the unequipped voices of Palestine’s supporters. The speakers often gave up and waited until the chants of "Quit killing children," "Free Palestine," and "End the Occupation" subsided. Pro-Israel supporters physically prevented their members from speaking back to the other demonstrators, and more than a few men at the pro-Israel rally were glaring behind them.
As the two rallies progressed, enclosing an island of Israeli flags with waving Palestinian ones, the two events showed remarkably different character. The pro-Israel rally, an orderly series of speakers "wishing for peace" and introduced by students, constrasted sharply with the organic, angry and vibrant crowd of Palestinian allies of all ages and colors. Pro-Palestine numbers grew, outnumbering the other by two or three to one at the most crowded time. By the pro-Israel rally’s end, its speakers could not be heard for the constant chanting and booing coming from all directions. I myself lost my voice after so much yelling.
Pro-Israel demonstrators began to leave, eventually dwindling down to about ten surrounded by several hundred supporters of Palestine. At this point, the remainder began speaking directly with the other demonstrators. A male group of Israel supporters men began to listen to women in headscarves behind them, and I watched as the most enraged of the men changed his expression to something sad, akin to a child near tears. I don’t doubt he did cry afterwards.
Here are some of the phrases on posters I saw:
–How can you justify killing 419 children? Shame
–Stop Israel’s slaughter in Gaza: cut off US aid
–The true peace rally is over here
–1315 Palestinians dead, 13 Israelis dead: who is really losing their right to exist?
–Don’t fear the return of the refugees
–End the war crimes: free Gaza
–Free Palestine: end the Occupation
–Jews for Justice: end the Occupation. Save Palestine!
–Your tax money goes to Israel to kill Palestinians
–End the siege of Gaza
–Stop Israeli terrorism
–Over 300 dead children does not equal peace
–Blockades are acts of war
–End Israeli Apartheid now!
–Iraq vets say: We are all human! No more killing
–Shame on you for justifying killing innocents