As diplomatic efforts moved Israel and Hezbollah closer to a ceasefire in Lebanon, thousands of demonstrators gathered outside the White House in Washington Saturday to protest the fighting and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
Several thousand demonstrators gathered in Lafayette Park just across the street from the White House Saturday. A coalition of U.S.-based Muslim groups organized Saturday's event and many in the crowd wore burkhas and carried Palestinian and Lebanese flags as well as American flags, along with placards saying "Occupation is a crime."
One group carried what appeared to be small caskets draped in black, which they said represented the innocent civilians killed in Lebanon.
The protest was organized before the U.N. Security Counsel adopted a resolution calling for a cessation of hostilities and deployment of an international peace keeping force in Lebanon. But event coordinator Eugene Puryear says passage of the resolution did not address what he considered the more fundamental problems of the Middle East. "I think what we hope to accomplish in the demonstration today is to provide sort of a different view of what's going on in the Middle East from what's in the corporate media and in addition to that, to provide people in the United States an opportunity to come and voice their opposition to Israeli aggression and really, to open up the dialogue on this issue and sort of open up in this country a dialogue on justice for the people in Palestine and in Lebanon," he said.
Iad Mubarak, a U.S. citizen of Jordanian descent, traveled to Washington from Jacksonville, Florida with several members of his family. He said he believed it was important for him to be there. "Well, to show everybody that we are against what's going on in the Middle East - you know, killing children .... It's a bad excuse, we can't accept it," he said.
At least 15 speakers addressed the group. All condemned what they called U.S.-sponsored aggression by Israel and sharply criticized U.S. foreign policy in general. Most prominent among the speakers was former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark. Clark, who served under President Lyndon Johnson in the late 1960's, told the crowd, the United States has gained "more enemies during the presidency of George Bush than in the rest of our history combined."
Following his speech, Clark spoke to reporters and gave his assessment of Friday's U.N. Ceasefire resolution. "It's weak. It favors a prolongation of the conflict. Anyone who really wants peace knows you stop conflict right now. Because every day just makes it a lot more difficult. You got more pain more anger, more hatred, more suffering. And we already prolonged it a month," he said.
In a statement Saturday, President Bush welcomed the U.N. resolution saying it would bring about an immediate end to the fighting. He said the U.S. and its allies have been working hard since the beginning of the conflict to create conditions for a lasting peace in the region and to prevent terrorist groups - like Hezbollah - from sparking another crisis. The president also blamed Iran and Syria for sponsoring Hezbollah and bringing an unwanted war to the people of Lebanon and Israel. Mr. Bush urged the International community to support the ceasefire and help bring peace to the region.