Protest to Encircle White House

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 11, 2006

The nation's capital is becoming a stage where passions on both sides of the Israel-Hezbollah conflict are being played out with a series of protests, vigils and rallies in Washington in recent weeks, with more to come.

The largest demonstration -- billed as a protest of the "U.S.-Israeli war" -- is expected to draw "tens of thousands" of people who plan to surround the White House tomorrow, said Tony Kutayli, communications coordinator for the Washington-based American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee, one of the groups helping coordinate participants arriving from across the country.

In the last few weeks, the National Park Service has issued several permits for demonstrations tied to the conflict, said spokesman Bill Line.

This month, groups of women dressed in somber black slowly circled in front of the White House holding candles in a silent tribute to those killed in Lebanon. Across the region, groups have held small meetings to raise almost $7 million in aid for those killed and injured in Israel.

"Somehow, the story of what is really going on is being lost," said Misha Galperin, executive vice president and chief executive of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. "We need to try and counter that to the extent possible, to demonstrate our support."

Galperin's group helped organize a rally of more than 1,500 people in Freedom Plaza last month to support Israel in the conflict. Teachers, lawyers, members of Congress and a governor spoke on behalf of the Jewish state.

The group is not planning a counter-protest tomorrow, and Galperin said he believes the event was purposely scheduled on the Jewish Sabbath to thwart any response on its part.

But protest organizers said that most of their massive mobilizations, such as the antiwar gathering in September last year, are held on Saturdays to accommodate travel schedules for out-of-town participants.

Organizers of tomorrow's event are coordinating bus transportation from as far south as Tampa, as far north as Connecticut and as far west as Michigan. They are posting ride-share arrangements online and urging communities to donate cash for bus rentals.

"This is the largest mobilization of the Muslim community since the 2002 Palestinian rally," said Mahdi Bray, director of the Washington-based Muslim American Society, one of the co-sponsors.

Bray said many of his group's supporters are coming to protest what they consider the feeble U.S. pursuit of a cease-fire in the conflict. "It has not been pursued with due diligence," he said.

Beyond the nation's stance on the conflict in Lebanon, many of the participants will be people frustrated with the domestic stance on civil liberties and harassment of Muslims across the country, Bray said.

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