"Racists go home! Racists go home!"
You could not actually hear the Palestinian counter rally from the heart of the pro-Israel rally held in front of the Israeli embassy, in the middle of Madison Street, just west of Canal, at noon on Tuesday.
But if you skirted the edges, as I did — less crowded — their amplified chants became clear.
"Racists go home!"
Which almost made me smile, because we were home. I suppose they meant in Israel, though it sort of is a universal directive to any situation where Jews find themselves living on a spot. The Germans didn't think they belong there either, and they had lived there for 500 years.
"Racists go home!" the Palestinians across the street chanted.
Meanwhile, the pro-Israel side sang "Am Yisrael Chi" — "The nation of Israel lives."
The official noontime demonstration had broken up and I gravitated along with the mass of blue and white flag wavers across Canal to the unofficial post-demonstration standoff, where the two groups stood shouting at each other, while cops on horses and on foot stood in the street between.
"Terrorists go home!" the pro-Israel side started up, reactive as always. If there was one major mistake Israel has made in this whole process, is they let the Palestinians, however ill-led, call the shots. Its policy is to wait, see what they do, then respond.
"Terrorists go home."
"Racists go home."
It wasn't lost on me which side I was on, literally. I had gone over to the Palestinians earlier. But their protest was a hotter, more condensed knot of about 150 people on the corner, and I hadn't had the fortitude to insert myself among them. Instead, I snapped a few pictures, talked to one person, and skedaddled away.
The Israeli gathering was much larger--say 1,000 over a much greater area than the Palestinians': that seemed apt. Not that size matters: Pro-Palestinian rallies have been going on all week, and this was more of a hastily arranged, let's-spoil-their-party kind of thing. I noticed that the police screened the bags of people entering the pro-Israel rally; the unspoken assumption being the Palestinians were safe from bag-carried bombs.
The "You want war, we want peace," chant threw me a little. Really? And on what do you base that claim? Like much in the Palestinian rhetoric, it had a mere words quality. They way the rockets randomly fired into Israel are called "defensive" or "resistance." Like Republicans, they seem to feel that if they find the right label for something it'll then be okay. The truth is, I've never actually hear anyone in authority on the Palestinian side laying out a map to peace that doesn't involve them magically regaining the country. Even the two-peoples-existing-together rhetoric—the latest and-then-you-give-us-your-country argument—doesn't have a lot of on-the-ground evidence to back it up. If the Palestinians are trying to establish their ability to exist peacefully within a secular state of Israel, they're doing a botch job of it.
Israel, on the other hand, has a 20 percent non-Jewish minority actually living in peace within its borders. Maybe rather than fighting the Israeli settlers the Palestinians should embrace them and wait. But then that would involve long-range strategic thinking, something the Palestinians are even worse at than the Israelis, which is really saying something.
"You want war, we want peace," the Palestinians chanted. Others in the pro-Israel faction reacted similarly. Being Jews, they argued, even though the other side couldn't hear. A lady next to me was actually talking to them, almost muttering--even I couldn't hear what she said.
Eventually the pro-Israel side, again, reflected the Palestinian chant, this time identically, "You want war, we want peace." A little embarrassing, if you ask me. So much for Jewish creativity. But they were improvising on the spot, and the results of that are seldom good, as the situation in Israel shows.
There was something extra ludicrous at that point, ludicrous about the whole thing. These two groups, screaming their desire for peace at each other. Then get to it, idiots. The idea of protests is to make beliefs known -- the public, telling its careless leaders what the real situation is. If only the czar knew... Though Jews supporting Israel is not exactly an epiphany, nor is Palestinians supporting their own brethren.
What's the point of protest if nobody but nobody is listening?
Maybe that's better. Is there a conflict in history where the divisions are not insanely petty and local? Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants, Serbians and Croatians, Sunnis and Shiites. I couldn't tell a Tutsi from a Hutu if you put a gun to my head, and neither could you.
Both sides seemed set on proving something to some imaginary impartial arbitrator. The United States? The world? God? They don't realize they're by themselves. The world is not going to bail out the Palestinians. It sure hasn't up to this point. Nor are they going to go away. Both sides are stuck relying on a losing strategy in a game where they both lose, year after year.
So sad and, if I may, stupid. Maybe that's the path to peace, the message that the world needs to convey back, loud and clear. Not parse the bottomless grievances of both sides. I think there is more validity to Israel's, but then, I'm on their side, and at some point being right doesn't really matter anymore. It's just another road to folly. Maybe that's the central, unsaid fact of the stand-off: it's stupid. That could be concept strong enough to counter-balance the rebellious zeal of the Palestinians, the military pride of the Israelis. A simple chant back, shouted by the world: you're stupid. You're both stupid. The whole thing is stupid. Why don't you stop being stupid and go figure it out, at long last? Because you're blocking traffic, the both of you, on Madison Street.