20/04/2009

At Durban II: A brief encounter with three clowns

At Durban II: A brief encounter with three clowns

Although Monday's opening events at the Durban II conference are now old news, let me tell you what you did not see because Monday was a day that brought a brief encounter between three "clowns" (i.e. Ahmadinejad and the courageous French students).

It all began at 8AM this morning. After a quick breakfast, a large group of EUJS students hurried to the Plaza de Nations to protest the Second Durban Debacle before it officially began. Arriving at the Plaza, we took hold of our signs, placed a black piece of masking tape over our mouths, and stood in unity - silently.

PHOTO: Our silent protest

Then, two Darfurian passerbys asked to partake in our protest (the woman wore a hijab), placed the tape over their mouths, and stood with us - silently. And we continued to stand there, in silence, in front of a building whose ambassadors have for too long remained silent when confronted by the world's pressing issues.

PHOTO: The two Darfurians who joined us

As the UN ambassadors and cameramen walked by, I can assure you that they felt our presence. It was impossible for them not to see our posters' graphic depictions of the serious human rights violations around the world; problems that must be addressed, that must be solved, but which can only be resolved by an effective United Nations. This was our message, and we think it resonated within the bones of the many ambassadors who passed by us, the same ambassadors who walked out in protest of Ahmadinejad's farcical address.

Empowered by our early morning success, the day continued. After several meetings attempting to prepare us for what was to come, I walked with a small group of new acquaintances to get my UN accreditation. Before I even entered the tent, I was face-to-face with a massive poster protesting the Gaza war in Arabic letters: the Iranian NGOs had arrived.

As I approached the man with the sign, ready for a verbal confrontation, I was interrupted by a group of Muslim Darfurian refugees. Prior to my uttering a single word, the Darfurians began emotively interrogating the Iranian man: "You say you care about the Palestinians because they are Muslim, but why are you silent when it comes to the genocide in Darfur! We are all humans.

The Darfurian refugee, whose entire family was massacred because of the state-sanctioned genocide, told everyone around him his heartrending tale about the plight of the Darfurians, while he continued to lambast the Iranian man for his myopic beliefs. He told us that just the other day, a refugee camp was sprayed with poison disguised as insecticide, killing children and forcing pregnant women to have spontaneous abortions. There are few times in my life that I have been so affected by a personal story.

Walking from the accreditation tent to the UN compound where our first meeting would be held, I heard the wail of sirens. Turning the corner, a convoy of police cars, motorcycles, and vans with police bearing heavy weaponry rapidly approached. And then I saw it: the Iranian flag on top of the black Mercedes.

The group I was with froze and watched as the President of Iran passed by (inches away!), waving, smiling, and, ironically, holding up the peace sign. He did not know which group we represented because if he did, I am sure he would have offered a flagrantly different hand-gesture. Appalled that my eyes just gazed upon this man, I continued to walk.

To my relief, in the distance, I caught sight of Ahmadinejad's antithesis, Elie Wiesel, whose image calmed my boiling blood. He was walking side-by-side with Alan Dershowitz. After introducing myself to the both of them, I found out that they would be joining the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS) delegation in the NGO conference room for Ahmadinejad's speech.

Together, we entered the massive UN room and saw many other NGOs, including the Neteuri Karta (Dovid Weiss, the head of this sickening organization, received his accreditation from the Iranian Republic of course), several Iranian NGOs, and others representing Palestinian causes. We took our seats all over the room, stationing ourselves in front of the large television screen at the front of the room. Then, we waited.

The screen turned on just as Ahmadinejad was being introduced (with the title of "His Excellency"). The introducer comically mispronounced his name, which was received by a loud roar of laughter within our NGO room. After this blunder, we were told that the speech would be translated on the UN headphones...but there was no sound. Ahmadinejad continued to speak, and yet there was no sound...no translation. Alan Dershowitz, in the back row of the NGO room, stood up and boldly announced that it was in violation of our rights as UN delegates not to have a translation. Before the UN guards rushed to silence him, the French Jewish students dressed as clowns took over the television screen, causing the guards to rush into the other conference room. The Jewish members in the NGO room (and other non-Jewish NGO groups appalled by Ahmadinejad's presence) rose in applause, laughter, chants, but most importantly, unity as we together staged the first walk-out!

The NGO conference room was in disarray and over the commotion, Ahmadinejad's insidious voice could not be heard. As we left the NGO room and made our way over to the main conference room, the official ambassadors began following suit, led by the honorable French Ambassador Jean-Baptiste Mattei.

And so it was, the first day of the Second Durban Debacle.

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