It’s been a long time coming but two weeks ago several ads created by Imagine Life began airing in Boston. Many Boston area groups coordinated raising the money and arranging the airing. As in other markets — 80 cities around the country — it was very exciting to see honest portrayals on American television of the grotesque and oppressive circumstances under which Palestinian people live. These ads ran on CNN and MSNBC. Bostonians were jubilant. There was hope.
But then this is Boston. This is home to the David Project, CAMERA and Alan Dershowitz. Everything is a struggle here. That is precisely why the people in search of justice and peace for Palestine/Israel in Boston are very well organized, motivated, committed, and most of all — persistent.
There are a few Bostonians who have been active on this issue in since the early 80s and have been tested many times. But last year a real battle played out over divestment in the City of Somerville MA. a local suburb of Boston. The presence and organization of the peace and justice community shocked the opposition, as reported in Somerville Divestment Failure is Bittersweet, The Electronic Intifada, 20 December 2004 (opens in new window). But the Jewish Community Research Council (JCRC) recovered with a full display of political power which ultimately defeated the resolution. It is now a ballot initiative. Persistence!
And so it was not a surprise to Bostonians that Boston was the first city where opposition to the Imagine Life ads had actually gained some ground. JCRC went into full attack mode as soon as they aired. Their emails claimed “these ads depict Israel in the worst possible light, showing violence and telling lies about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”
Far from telling lies, the ads simply introduce the subject of occupation. They barely expose the surface of the horrors of the occupation. But it is a surface that Americans desperately need to see. It is a surface that the JCRC and the Israeli lobby desperately want to keep hidden.
I had seen and read much before traveling to the West Bank and Gaza in 2003. I thought I was completely prepared. But nothing can prepare you for the cruelty and brutality of the occupation. Similarly, nothing prepared me for the hospitality, the integrity, the resilience, or the sheer determination of the Palestinian people. The ads touch on a little bit of both but lie about neither. They don’t have to.
Before supporters of the ads knew it, JCRC was announcing success. Their campaign had paid off and the ads had been pulled — so they said. Next they were asking their minions to thank Comcast for doing the right thing. According to Nina Ghannam, president of Imagine Life, “we were still unclear at that point as to whether their claims were correct or not. We did not believe so”.
Several days later it became apparent that there could very well be a decision made to pull the ads. Bostonian supporters then implemented their own plan of action. Several supporters that I spoke to admitted that failure here would not only have affected Boston but other cities as well by domino effect. They had to make a very strong stand and hold their ground.
The Imagine life ads are about Palestinians. They are about human rights and life under occupation. They are produced by Imagine Life, an organization in DC whose partners include Jewish Voice for Peace and the Israeli Refuser Network. Dozens of groups all of the country support Imagine Life, and many of those are Jewish. The opposition did not seem to have a lot of ammunition. According to a Boston Globe article on the issue: Comcast: Group can air Mideast spots, Jenn Abelson, 27 April 2005: “Alan Ronkin, deputy director of JCRC, said his organization objected to the ads because they were being promoted as public-service announcements and because they had factual errors and misrepresentations, including allegations that every home in Gaza had a tank shell through it and that whole villages of Palestinian Christians had been vacated.”
The factual error and misrepresentation that he was referring to was a line in an email written by Rachel Corrie and read by her mother. “I don’t know if many of the children here have ever existed without tank shell holes in their walls” Not exactly a declaration that ‘every house has tank shell holes’. I would go so far as to say that every house in Rafah that has not been demolished is at the very least pockmarked with bullet holes.
As for the vacated villages, literally hundreds of Palestinian villages have vanished since the establishment of Israel in 1948.
Hundreds of Bostonians called and wrote to ask Comcast not to cave in to the demands of a special interest group. “It would amount to censorship on their part and deprive us of our freedom of speech”, claimed Munir Germanus of Friends of Sabeel, New England. “We informed Comcast about the human rights campaign that the ads represented and challenged them to find a lie. But mostly we stayed on our own message and for once we won”.
The ads are about human rights. They are about occupation and they provide a glimpse into the Palestinian people and the conditions under which they live. And for now at least in Boston, they will continue to run.
I would strongly encourage other communities to begin organizing to air the Imagine Life commercials. You can view them at the website: www.imagine-life.org. For those of you who will not be able to air them, I suggest you donate to help them continue to air. Visit the website and click on donations.
Tom Wallace is the Executive Director of MidEast Focus, a communications awareness project.