By: Marcy Winograd
On Thursday night, 10/19/23, an estimated 150 protesters in the small city of Santa Barbara, CA., converged at the busy intersection at State and Las Positas to unfurl a ceasefire banner, shout Free Palestine and demand an end to US-Israeli genocide in Gaza. Sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace-Santa Barbara, CODEPINK, and the Central Coast Antiwar Coalition, the two-hour vigil-announced only 48 hours ahead of time– lasted into the night with the crowd holding candles, waving Palestinian flags and cheering as drivers honked in support. The vigil brought out a diverse crowd of Santa Barbara residents and students from the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), Boston visitors in town on vacation– Muslims, Jews, members of the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, a woman in a wheelchair, couples with children in tow, an older resident with a cane.
Across the street, a small group of Israel supporters waved an Israeli flag, and held up a poster of Israelis kidnapped by Hamas during the October 7th attacks on military command posts and civilians in Israel. Intermittently one of the Israel supporters would walk across the street to confront the Ceasefire in Gaza protesters to videotape them and to scream and start a fight, but a fight was not to be had, as the crowd stayed focused on the message: Solidarity with Palestine. Ceasefire now.
One protester, Mauri from Palestine, shared his relief at leaving Jerusalem to come to the United States in his teenage years, leaving behind a life of constant interrogation by soldiers with the Israeli Defense Forces. Another participant, Jwan, a Jordanian activist with UCSB's Students for Justice in Palestine, told CODEPINK the university climate is dangerous for Palestinian students and pro-Palestinian students subject to harassment, such as being called terrorists or being made to feel as though Palestinians have no right to exist.
Still another Palestine Solidarity participant, Ferris, a Santa Barbara City worker of Syrian descent, objected to a flurry of pro-Israel Jewish Federation flags flying in downtown Santa Barbara as part of the city’s State Street Flag program. Traditionally, the city celebrates festivals, cultural attractions and local non-profits with weekly flag displays the full length of the downtown Santa Barbara State Street corridor. Sponsoring organizations pay hefty fees to fly their flags on State Street. Ferris said he rides his bike to work every day, only to be triggered by the flags flying from lampposts. "Those 125 flags that are being hung on State Street, where a lot of tourists come to see our city, I think is abhorrent," said Ferris, "It's only showing one side of the conflict. It's only commemorating the deaths of one side when there are so many people dying on the other side." His voice breaking, Ferris added, "there are so many lives that are gone."
The Jewish Federation of Santa Barbara contributes tens of thousands of dollars to the Jewish Federation of North America (JFNA) that “partners with Israel” and spends millions of dollars lobbying U.S. state legislatures and Congress to suppress debate through laws aimed at criminalizing support for the boycott of Israel. Such laws label supporters of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) anti-Semitic—a claim backers of BDS reject as defamatory and dangerous in its potential to shut down activists on university campuses, including UCSB where Students for Justice in Palestine have erected a mock Israeli apartheid wall.
For the Jewish Federation, support for Israel and indoctrination into Zionism begins as young as five, with the local chapter’s support for a pro-Israel Jewish day camp, Camp Haverim, in Carpinteria. The camp hosts “Israel Day” to decorate the gym with posters of Israel and Israeli flags.
Earlier in the week, the UCSB chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine held a teach-in on campus to honor Palestinians and their struggle for liberation and to discuss the role of students in supporting Palestine. Organizers shared a Google form to anonymously report incidents of harassment.
Students said they were afraid to speak up in classrooms and felt unsafe on campus after the postings of pro-Israeli posters along Pardall Road leading to the campus.
Meanwhile, local UCSB academics for justice in Palestine published an OpEd in The Santa Barbara Independent to denounce the targeting of civilians, both in Gaza and Israel. The OpEd called for an end to Israel’s relentless bombing of Gaza, home to 2.3 million people, half of them children. The OpEd from academics comes as a Santa Barbara based non-profit Direct Relief pledges a million dollars for humanitarian efforts in Israel–Academics for Justice in Palestine says stopping potential annihilation in Gaza is a moral responsibility for all of us. "Whether by drawing an analogy to the South African experience of apartheid or to the Native American experience of dispossession in North America, the time is now"… reads the OpEd … "to place Palestine in a broader historical struggle for social justice."
Marcy Winograd volunteers as the Coordinator of CODEPINK CONGRESS and a co-producer of CODEPINK Radio. A long-time anti-war activist, Marcy also volunteers as Co-Chair of the Peace in Ukraine Coalition, advocating for a ceasefire and diplomatic resolution to the Russia-Ukraine war.