A group of activists protest outside the Washington Convention Center where American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is holding its annual meeting on March 01, 2015
Five activists were arrested Sunday in the American capital for demonstrating outside the Washington Convention Center where the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a well-known pro-Israeli lobby, was holding its annual policy conference.
Believed to be one of the largest pro-Israeli gatherings, the AIPAC policy conference kicked off on Sunday, and will last for three days.
A group of protesters mobilized by an anti-war group known as CODEPINK or Women for Peace on social media under the hashtag #ShutDownAIPAC tried to block the entrance to the convention center. Several civil society organizations, including Jewish ones, joined the demonstration.
Some protesters were waving flags of Hezbollah, a Lebanese resistance movement against Israel which is listed as a “terrorist organization” by the US.
Israel occupied parts of Lebanon for 22 years until 2000 and the two countries are still technically at war.
The latest Israeli war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006 killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, most of them civilians, and 160 Israelis, most of them soldiers.
“The purpose of the rally was to draw attention to this organization’s role as a special interest lobby that maintains a dangerous stranglehold over US policies and diverts US tax dollars from American needs and into Israeli militarism,” a statement by CODEPINK read.
The activists were violently removed by police from the front of the Washington Convention Center while chanting: “Netanyahu, War Criminal! Free, Free, Palestine!”
“We’re here to say that this organization is on the path of war,” one of the protest organizers, Medea Benjamin told Anadolu news agency.
“In a time when delicate negotiations are under way with Iran, it’s irresponsible and dangerous for this organization to be pushing for more sanctions on Iran, which would completely derail the nuclear talks,” she said.
A member of an orthodox Jewish organization, Jews United Against Zionism, Rabbi Israel David Weiss told Anadolu: “We came here to let the world know that, although this organization presents itself as representative of American Jewry and of course, the state of Israel, the so-called Jewish state,” he said. “It doesn’t represent Judaism in any manner, shape and form.”
He added that Zionists have gone against Judaism by killing and oppressing Palestinians, as well as by seizing their lands in the name of Judaism.
The roots of the Israel-Palestine conflict date back to 1917, when the British government, in the now-infamous Balfour Declaration, called for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”
Jewish immigration rose considerably under the British administration of Palestine, which was consolidated by a League of Nations “mandate” in 1922.
In 1948, with the end of the mandate, a new state – Israel – was declared inside historical Palestine.
As a result, some 700,000 Palestinians fled their homes, or were forcibly expelled, while hundreds of Palestinian villages and cities were razed to the ground by invading Zionist forces.
The Palestinian diaspora has since become one of the largest in the world. Palestinian refugees are currently spread across the region and in other countries, while many have settled in refugee camps in the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israel then occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank during the 1967 Middle East War. It later annexed the holy city in 1980, claiming it as the capital of the self-proclaimed Zionist state – a move never recognized by the international community.
Meanwhile, Sierra Ramirez, who was among those arrested, said that she was there because she opposed the continual flow of American tax money to Israel and this organization’s influence on the US foreign policy.
The conference is taking place at a time when the US, accompanied by five other world powers, have been negotiating for an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program, with a deadline in March.
It also is taking place ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at a joint session at the US Congress.
The speech has been hotly debated both in the US and Israel, as Netanyahu was invited by the Republican House Speaker John Boehner rather than the White House.
President Barack Obama attended to the conference himself last year, but he will not join it this year. White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the United Nations, will attend the conference.
Dozens of Congresspeople as well as Vice President Joe Biden, as the president of the Senate, will not attend Netanyahu’s speech.
“With the politicization of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech and the growing divide between Democrats and Republicans over Speaker Boehner’s invitation to the foreign leader, now is the time to confront the influence of the Israel lobby,” CODEPINK organizer Anna Kaminski said.
More demonstrations were expected to take place on Monday and Tuesday during Netanyahu’s tour in Washington DC.