Skip to comments.When Protesters Attack
Posted on 10/16/2003 10:07:04 PM PDT by JURB
For weeks, the Palestinian solidarity conference planned for Rutgers University caused controversy. The conference, the goal of which was to force the university to sell holdings in companies that do business in Israel, was originally to be held on the Rutgers campus itself. But after someone spray-painted swastikas on the buildings of some Jewish organizations on the state-run campus, the conference became a political hot-potato that eventually involved the governor of New Jersey. Some in the campus community feared that the conference would be a hate-fest that would only inspire more anti-Semitic acts.
In a series of developments that aren't entirely clear--the university says that the Palestinian group missed a filing deadline to use campus facilities--the organizers had to find other space for their three-day conference. (A rally sponsored by the conference organizers was still permitted to use university grounds.) For a while, it appeared as though the conference would be cancelled, but in the end it was relocated to a Ramada Inn a few minutes from campus.
During this time, readers of this website kept me apprised of the status of the on-again-off-again conference. When I received definitive word that the conference would in fact take place, I recruited a couple of production assistants--Alexis and Tim--to help me film. Tim lives near New York City, so he and I planned to drive to Rutgers together. Alexis is local to the Rutgers area, and would be able to help us navigate.
At 11:00 AM on Saturday, I fetched Tim at Grand Central Station and drove through the Lincoln Tunnel on our way to the event. We got to the Ramada Inn shortly after noon, and waited in the parking lot for Alexis. She arrived a few minutes later, and we decided to go into the hotel and check out the conference. We weren't planning on filming yet; we just wanted to scope the terrain to figure out the best place to set up the camera.
There was a registration desk at the front of the main conference room charging $10 per person for admission. We were unprepared for the fee, and needed to go to an ATM to cover it. We told the people at the desk that we'd be back later.
After leaving the building, we noticed a number of people in the parking lot standing around taking pictures of the cars. Oddly, none of these people--most of whom were dressed in T-shirts that announced their support of Palestinians--had been in the parking lot a few minutes earlier when we entered the hotel lobby. As we got into our car, we saw one person looking at the car and writing in a small notepad; previous experience led me to suspect that our license plate number was being copied down. (If so, it was a futile exercise: the car I drove was a rental.)
Driving off, we passed a woman who was taking a number of pictures of us leaving. I smiled and waved, thinking that an unfriendly response on out part would immediately draw suspicion. I didn't want our cover blown, because people would be much less likely to talk with me openly and honestly if they saw us as the enemy. In retrospect, though, it was probably already too late. We were marked.
I still have not been able to figure out what tipped them off. Were they familiar with my previous work? Did they become suspicious when we left the entrance without registering? Did we look conspicuous for some reason? Or was it just because they didn't recognize us?
We drove over to the Rutgers campus to get a few shots of the flyers promoting the rally later that day. As we did, we puzzled over the strange reception we got in the Ramada parking lot. After stopping for lunch, we returned to the hotel. Alexis and I started setting up the camera outside. Tim went inside to register for the conference.
Before we had a chance to interview anybody, one of the organizers came outside and demanded to know whether we were Zionists. He said he didn't want us talking to anybody, but I pointed out that if people wished to speak with us, they were free to do so. A little while later, the operations manager for the Ramada came outside said that the conference organizers had asked that we leave the grounds of the hotel. He apologized, saying that he was just following the wishes of his paying guests. Clearly, this poor fellow did not want to be in the middle of this; we did not want to cause him any trouble, so we packed up the camera and moved into the parking lot of an adjacent strip mall. (Yes, New Jersey apparently has strip malls.)
Our new position allowed us to talk to people who were walking between the hotel and the mall. While there was much less foot traffic at our new location, a few conference attendees were walking by, on their way to and from the T.G.I. Friday's next to the hotel. We were still optimistic that we could conduct a few interviews, but that optimism soon smacked head-on into reality. Some of the event's organizers started hanging around the camera, calling us Zionists and warning people not to speak with us.
By this time, it was 3:30 PM, and we had only gotten a few seconds of usable footage. I was getting a little discouraged, and was beginning to regret the fact that I would miss most of the Yankees/Red Sox playoff game.
Realizing that we weren't going to get anywhere at the Ramada, we decided to take a break and check out the area on the Rutgers campus where the rally would be held. Along the way, we stopped for coffee and sat outside to enjoy the nice weather and kill some time; the rally wasn't scheduled to start for over an hour.
We got to the rally grounds about thirty minutes early. For the most part, the area was empty except for several police cars and a handful of news vans: NBC News, WCBS-TV, and Channel 12 New Jersey were preparing to cover the event. A few of the organizers began to set up their loudspeakers, while we looked for an optimal spot to place the camera.
Even before the first speaker addressed the rally, people walked among the attendees, once again pointing us out as "Zionists". One protester came up to the camera and started blocking it with his sign. When I moved the camera several feet away, and the protester followed and again obstructed the view. I moved again, and he followed again. I tried raising the camera above the sign, but he just raised his sign.
We started asking him why he was trying to censor us. (One of the complaints made by the protesters was that the university tried to censor them. But if they were so sensitive to censorship, why were they trying to do it to me?) He didn't have an answer. I asked again while moving the camera, and again, no response. The commotion attracted a group of protesters, who surrounded me and blocked the camera's view in all directions.
Once again, I tried to move, but I was now completely encircled. When I tried to escape, the protesters then started smacking the camera with their signs, while others were shoving me from different directions. I started retreating, pushing my way back from the loudspeaker, all the while leaving the camera running and asking the protesters why they weren't letting me film. One man tried to prevent me from getting audio by unleashing a high-pitched squeal into the microphone. Another man asked me whether my camera was expensive, a question that--under the circumstances--I interpreted as a veiled threat.
Alexis and Tim also had cameras and were able to snap some stills and shoot few seconds of video. But they, too, were set upon by protesters. When they tried to use their cameras, protesters would put signs in the way. They dodged and weaved like basketball players, but at each turn, they were stopped. One protester with a masked face lunged at Alexis, threatening to break her camera and telling her, "I'm gonna kick your fucking ass." She was also hit by signs.
Meanwhile, the scuffle between me and the protesters seemed like it was about to take a turn for the worse. As I tried to get out of the mob, one protester kept asking me if I was going to hit him, but I knew that escalation would probably result in a broken camera, and maybe much worse. Remembering that there were some cameras present from a few mainstream media outlets, I started yelling, "Why are you trying to censor me?"
The idea was to attract the other cameras, thinking that the protesters would back off if their actions were captured by the news media. The gambit worked. Shortly, we were surrounded by big cameras, and soon one of the organizers came over to tell the other protesters to disperse. They did.
For a brief time, I was able to tape the rally speakers without intimidation. But then someone came up behind me and whispered a question in my ear. "Are you nervous?" he asked. He pointed out how many people were at the rally, and continued to ask me whether I was afraid. Again, under the circumstances, I took this as a threat.
When I turned the camera around, I asked him if I had anything to be nervous about. He said nothing, staying perfectly still and staring straight at me. I kept pressing him, asking him whether I should interpret his questions as some sort of threat. Again, he kept quiet, and didn't say anything more to me, although it turned out later that he was one of the speakers at the rally.
From that point on, I didn't have any trouble with the crowd aside from having to endure various verbal taunts without reacting. And it wasn't just the protesters lobbing linguistic bombs my way; by this point, I had become a favorite subject of the speakers as well. They pointed me out and announced to the crowd that I was a "small-minded" "agent provocateur," a "Zionist," a "fascist," an "arrogant" "grinning idiot" and even "an agent of the [Israeli secret police]."
A dozen or so speakers and several "Long Live the Intifada" chants later, the rally was over. I regrouped with Tim and Alexis while the protesters boarded their buses bound for the Ramada. Because of the treatment we faced throughout the day, we thought it'd be best to stay near the police until the crowd dispersed. While I felt relatively unthreatened at that point, one never knows what to expect from people who can rationalize blowing up busloads of innocent civilians.
Adrenaline pumping, we walked back to the car cautiously, keeping our eyes on our surroundings, prepared for the possibility of getting jumped. We got to the car without incident, and I drove back to the city listening to the last two innings of the Yankees game. They won.
Because the question was tooooo hard.
The university doesn't have a class on that question! He....he needs more time to ask his liberal professors and friends.
That does it! I'm joining the Amish!
Why don't reports of the antisemetic acts of these people lead the domestic news converage? Shine the light of cameras on them and expose their hate.
We heard more about "mysterious" church fires when Bill Clinton was president (and needed the media to carry his water) than we will ever hear about this.
I guess that only Southerners hate and are racists. < /sarcasm >
I can feel the hatred pumping through MY veins when I read this. These pro-terrorists are cowards, bullies, monsters, scum.
Rachel Corrie attacked a bulldozer (she lost).