Two Jewish men protested inside a Connecticut synagogue that was hosting a fundraiser for the Israeli army on Tuesday, prompting a security lockdown in area schools.
Gregory Williams and Daniel Fischer were arrested after being forcibly restrained inside Temple Israel in Westport, where they had come to read a statement at a luncheon for Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF).
The fundraiser featured Brigadier-General Gila Klifi-Amir as keynote speaker and provided attendees a chance to “meet IDF officers and hear them talk about their important roles in the Israeli army.”
“Brave Temple Israel staff, rapidly followed by Westport police, quickly apprehended two individuals who terrorized a woman’s FIDF luncheon at Temple Israel, with screaming and banging attempting entry,” the Town of Westport said on its official Facebook page. “Many of the terrified women at the luncheon sought cover under tables while other terrified women fled from another door.”
“Because we are Jews”
In a letter to local media, Williams says that he and Fischer were violently assaulted after they entered the temple and explained that they wanted to read a “testimony by Nabila Abu Halima, a Palestinian woman who lives in the Gaza Strip, who watched her son be murdered by the IDF during Operation Cast Lead [in 2008-2009], and who had to flee her home during last year’s Gaza massacre.”
After they were violently restrained, the pair started to read their statement anyway and began to shout “Free, Free Palestine!”
“Our intention was simple: to read the statement at the FIDF’s meeting,” Williams writes, “which was hosting a brigadier general in the occupying, colonizing army that is responsible for her suffering, and the suffering of so many other indigenous Palestinian women.”
“We were there, first and foremost, because we are Jews,” Williams adds, “and we wanted to take responsibility for the racism in our community that fuels Jewish American support for the Zionist Apartheid regime’s continued occupation of Palestinian land.”
“To say that the IDF empowers women is to say that Palestinian women don’t matter,” Fischer told synagogue security as they tackled him to the ground, according to a press release from him and Williams sent to The Electronic Intifada. “Events like this normalize the brutal occupation.”
According to the local CBS affiliate, four local schools were put on lockdown after reports that Williams and Fischer had guns. Police confirmed that the men were unarmed, but arrested them for breach of the peace. They were released on $1,500 bond.
Temple Israel president Steven Phillip confirmed in an email to members, posted online by local blogger Dan Woog, that contrary to overheated reports, “at no time was anyone in physical danger.”
As he was being detained by synagogue security, Williams told staff members, “I am a Jew coming to a synagogue today. I want to be part of a religion based on emancipation and democracy, not one based on colonialism, white supremacy and apartheid,” according to the pair’s press release.
Williams said he was shocked to learn after his release that several schools had been put into lockdown after attendees at the talk made what he called a “false report to police that he and Fischer were armed.”
“We were nonviolent,” Williams said. “The real threat to children is the IDF. If people felt so threatened by two protesters chanting ‘Free Palestine’ and reading testimony from Gaza that schools went into lockdown, imagine what it is like for one of your community’s schools to become a bomb shelter during an IDF raid.”
Fundraising for war crimes
FIDF raises millions of dollars each year to support the Israeli army. It helps fund “lone soldiers,” young American Jews who travel to Israel to participate directly in military occupation and other activities involving gross breaches of Palestinian human rights.
FIDF recently released a video publicizing its support for a sniper from Texas who took part in Israel’s assault on Gaza last summer that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians including at least 547 children.
Here is Gregory Williams’ statement in full:
“Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children; the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnal house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise, for we are sick at heart; our hearts give us no rest for thinking of the Land of Burning children.” - Daniel Berrigan, S.J., 1968
At around 1 pm on Tuesday, 12 May, my colleague, Dan Fischer, and I calmly walked into into Temple Israel, where the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces was holding a lunchtime meeting. So as to appear as non-threatening as possible, we had no bags, no literature – I had even left the small pocketknife I usually carry at home.
We were armed only with a written testimony by Nabila Abu Halima, a Palestinian woman who lives in the Gaza strip, who watched her son be murdered by the IDF during Operation Cast Lead, and who had to flee her home during last year’s Gaza massacre.
Our intention was simple: to read the statement at the FIDF’s meeting, which was hosting a brigadier general in the occupying, colonizing army that is responsible for her suffering, and the suffering of so many other indigenous Palestinian women.
We were there, first and foremost, because we are Jews (additionally, I am a scholar of religious ethics), and we wanted to take responsibility for the racism in our community that fuels Jewish American support for the Zionist Apartheid regime’s continued occupation of Palestinian land.
Growing up, I remember hearing my mother and grandmother telling stories about members of our family who were killed during the Holocaust. One of the lessons that I learned from those stories was the lesson of collective responsibility.
History remembers kindly those Europeans and Americans who took responsibility for the racism in their community which had bred Naziism by protecting Jewish people, by lifting up their voices, and by working to build a political resistance movement to dismantle fascism.
I entered Temple Israel on Tuesday because I feel that, as a Jew living in the United States, the time has come to take responsibility for my community. Zionism is no less racist, no less hateful, and no less violent and threatening to human life and dignity than Naziism. Like Naziism, Zionism seeks to build a nation upon an ethnocentric vision which erases the lives of people it considers “undesirable.”
When Dan and I reached the second floor of the synagogue, we told staff exactly why we were there. We said that we had come to read a statement from a Palestinian woman at the FIDF event, and that we would leave voluntarily when we were done, or when we were ordered to do so by a police officer.
The staff immediately assaulted us, and tackled us to the ground. We did not take any physical action against them. Instead, we started to read the statement that we had come to deliver and, since we were still outside the door of the meeting room, we did so loudly so that as many people would hear us as possible. The staff kicked our phones away, we began to say “Free, Free Palestine!”
Even though we had told the staff what we were doing, and had made clear that this was a nonviolent political demonstration, they turned around and, over the phone and in our hearing, filed a false police report, claiming that we were armed. “We’re unarmed!” we said, “Tell them we are unarmed! We are Jews coming to a synagogue!”
Because the staff (and apparently several others) filed this false police report, we are told that several schools were put on lockdown – this is one of the dangers of filing a false report or making a frivolous 911 call.
Since then, people from senators to judges to newspaper reporters have called us “violent,” “criminals,” even “terrorists.” I ask you, who is the terrorist? Someone who reads a statement from a Palestinian woman, or the general who helps murder that woman’s child?
What is violent, to protest that general, or to hold a public event to support her and the illegitimate armed force that she serves? There are those who say that they felt threatened by our action. I ask, what does it say about your community that you feel threatened by two nonviolent protesters testifying to the violence of that racist hate-ideology called Zionism?
Could this mean that your community is committed to racism and hatred? There are those who say that they felt threatened by our volume. I respectfully submit that there are times, especially times when children are being murdered by a colonial regime and a racist ideology, when it is an act of violence not to yell and scream.