Clashes Break Out Over Middle East Conflict, Colombian Civil War
by Steve Twomey, Washington Post
Four days of multi-cause street actions in
Washington culminated yesterday in twin demonstrations
rooted in conflicts overseas, the first a morning
march centered on the Colombian civil war and the
second an evening gathering of pro-Palestinian
marchers that closed Connecticut Avenue and led to
angry exchanges with supporters of Israel.
Kept apart by barricades and scores of police,
sympathizers from both sides of the Middle East
impasse traded accusations last night outside the
Washington Hilton, where the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee is holding a three-day conference
that includes speeches by three former Israeli prime
Several hours earlier, 37 people were arrested as
part of the Colombian march, in which a vocal corps of
demonstrators snaked from the Washington Monument to
the U.S. Capitol to protest U.S. aid to the South
American nation, which they allege exacerbates its
The morning and evening protests capped a string of
news conferences, workshops, processions and park
gatherings that began Friday and featured an unusual
amalgam of groups, all gathering on the same long
weekend in a quest for solidarity and maximum media
During the four days, demonstrators excoriated the
World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and
multinational corporations, and raised banners
highlighting numerous other alleged political and
environmental problems around the world. The largest
rally, a Saturday gathering estimated by police at
75,000 people, was dominated by pro-Palestinian
Although there were more than 100 arrests over the
four days, no violence broke out as local and federal
police responded with an overwhelming presence of
officers on foot, on horses and on motorcycles and
bicycles, even drawing upon departments from the
Anticipating the pro-Palestinian gathering, police
closed Connecticut Avenue from Florida Avenue to
California Street, forcing afternoon commuters to find
other ways home, but said they would reopen
Connecticut in time for this morning's rush hour.
"Overall, the protests are going, I think,
smoothly," said Executive Assistant Police Chief
Terrance W. Gainer. "We just have to make sure tempers
Several times outside the Hilton, though, passions
did rise, and there were moments when the crowd of
several hundred pro-Palestinian marchers surged toward
police lines in anger, only to recede.
At one point, several people arriving for a dinner
at the Israeli conference waded into the
pro-Palestinian group to admonish marchers for what
they said was teaching hate. That touched off a
scuffle in which one pro-Israel man said he was spit
upon, and another said the pocket of his suit was
ripped. Police separated the sides and chastised those
from the Israel conference for provoking the crowd,
one of them said.
At the rear of the Hilton, Avi Zemelman, 48, an
Israeli Web-site operator who lives in Silver Spring,
stood among 75 pro-Palestinian marchers and waved a
small Israeli flag. That sparked a debate with a
protester wearing an Arab kaffiyeh and a poster that
read "Shame on Israel."
"Go live in Saudi Arabia, go live with Arafat,"
Zemelman said, referring to the chairman of the
"He's a killer," the protester replied, "just like
Ariel Sharon," referring to the Israeli prime
"That man is a patriot," Zemelman said.
Earlier, a pro-Israel protester held up a placard
that read, "Invest in peace" and "divest from
terrorism." The protester wasstanding no more than
five feet from a pro-Palestinian marcher brandishing a
sign that said, "Stop using God as an excuse for
"Sharon is a coldblooded murderer, and the United
States and its vast wealth is providing finances for
the mass slaughter of Palestinian people. Doesn't the
United States or Israel have a speck of conscience?"
said Eric Brim, 29, a Muslim American from
Referring to Israeli operations at the Jenin
refugee camp, he added: "Israel is again in the
business of conducting wholesale massacres, and its
big bully buddy the United States is right there
lending a helping hand. These unspeakable acts must
stop, and that's why we are here."
Standing two yards away, Danny Krifcher, 40, a
Jewish American business executive from Potomac, said
that he was "trying to send a message of support for
President Bush's war on terrorism and the moral
clarity he brings."
"What the United States felt and saw on Sept. 11,
Israel has felt and is feeling on a daily basis,"
During one of the evening's most tense moments, a
line of protesters carrying a fence made of chicken
wire and PVC pipe advanced toward police lines at
Bancroft Place and Connecticut Avenue NW about 8:30
p.m. Soon, they were face-to-face with D.C. police in
riot gear, as observers holding up video cameras
strained to capture the confrontation and the crowd
chanted, "The whole world is watching."
D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey and Gainer
walked between police and protesters, talking quietly
with the demonstrators and with a "legal observer" on
the front lines. Soon, police in riot helmets were
replaced by those clad in windbreakers, and the
"You have to go in, and just kind of [say] 'Whoa.'
Just talk to them," Ramsey said afterward. As both
police and protesters stepped back, the crowd
The Colombian march, which stepped off at 7:15
a.m., held the potential for commuting chaos downtown,
because organizers had not obtained a march permit and
had suggested there would be acts of civil
That led police officials to express concern that
the final day of protests would be the worst. But a
show of force by District and U.S. Park Police
officers -- and the brisk pace of the walkers -- kept
traffic disruptions minimal and temporary.
Another factor, Ramsey said, was that many downtown
workers apparently heeded pleas to take Metro instead
of drive, and indeed train ridership was about 19,000
passengers greater than it is on a typical Monday,
according to the agency.
Shoving broke out sporadically in the early morning
mist as police officers tried to block and rechannel
the march at various points. Organizers complained
bitterly after police surrounded the demonstrators in
a park near the Capitol and temporarily kept them from
leaving for another park where they had planned to
The 37 people were arrested in two separate
incidents after they sat down in streets near the
Capitol, held hands and sang. One group said it came
from the Oberlin (Ohio) College Rainbow
Revolutionaries and the other from various Catholic
All but one were released after being charged with
obstructing traffic. They will appear in D.C. Superior
Court at a future date, said Lt. Dan Nichols of the
Capitol Police. The only one not released refused to
give her name, police said.
"It was not confrontational," Nichols said. "These
were acts of civil disobedience. We're prepared to
deal with it."
In all, Ramsey said, there were about 2,000 people
in the march, whose organizers had envisioned it as a
kind of public service announcement about Colombia
aimed at the federal government. In addition to U.S.
military aid, protesters focused on a school in
Georgia at which the U.S. military has trained Central
and South American officers; and on operations in
Colombia intended to destroy drug crops but that
organizers said destroy food supplies.
"Today is another day to fight for peace and
justice!" shouted protest organizer Gordon Clark, of
Silver Spring. "Are you ready to fight for the poor,
and the dispossessed and the other victims of U.S.
military aid to Colombia?"
Organizer Carol Richardson, 58, an Iowan from a
group called Witness for Peace, said she was sorry "if
people are inconvenienced" by the march, but "we do
want people to pause a minute and understand that
their tax dollars are being used in a way that they
would not support."
Marchers expected to wend their way from the
Washington Monument to Upper Senate Park, near the
Capitol. But at a smaller park at C and Delaware
streets NE, they found themselves surrounded by
District and U.S. Park police and unable to leave.
Richardson told the crowd to remember their pledges of
nonviolence, and that people in Colombia suffer worse
repression every day because of U.S.-financed
"The police are falsely imprisoning children,
adults, peaceful activists," said Mara
Verheyden-Hilliard, a lawyer for the District-based
Partnership for Civil Justice. "This is illegal and
About 8:50 a.m., the police lines relented, and the
crowd was allowed to reach Upper Senate Park.