A group of pro-Palestine Fremont County, Wyoming, residents have been gathering at least weekly to protest Israel’s counterattack on Hamas-controlled Gaza and to urge for an instant ceasefire.
They gathered with “Demand Justice” signs Wednesday morning near Lander’s Centennial Park.
From his home in Jerusalem, longtime Wyoming attorney and Israeli citizen Mike Krampner — who holds a Ph.D. in Jewish history — laughed at the protesters, saying they don’t understand what’s happening half a world away from them.
“You don’t understand this neighborhood. This is not like Fremont County,” he said Thursday via a video call.
Krampner unfolded a history of the connection between Jewish people and the land of Israel and the struggles that plague the region now, then took on the protestors’ claims one by one.
And Those Are …
Fremont County Ceasefire Now protest groups range from about seven people to 30, Sam Dahnert, lead co-organizer of the group, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.
Some Landerites are receptive or respectful. Some have responded harshly, Dahnert said.
The group’s ideal outcome is an instant ceasefire, according to a statement on the group’s website.
But underpinning that are bold claims about Israel’s history and philosophy, and the protestors’ refusal to condemn the Hamas terrorist attacks of Oct. 7 that sparked the war.
“We understand that Zionism is a colonial project that co-opts a carefully fabricated Indigenous Jewish identity to justify the mass killings and displacement of Indigenous Palestinians,” reads the statement, which Dahnert wrote along with other group members.
The group condemns “Zionist violence,” but says its call to end violence in Palestine “is not about condemning Hamas, but instead condemning the violent colonial forces that created the organization in the first place.”
Hamas is the elected and long-ruling government of Gaza. Both the U.S. and Israel classify it as a terrorist group.
A Rocky Marriage With This Land
“Oh boy,” said Krampner after reading the group’s statement.
Zionism isn’t a 20th century colonial project, he said. Scattered and displaced Jews prayed for 1,800 years to return to their land after the Roman government kicked most of them out of it starting in about 135 A.D. as punishment for Israelites’ revolts against Roman oppression.
The Jews’ history is a long story of fighting to reach, possess and retain Israel starting in about 1400 B.C.
“There’s a long tradition between Israel and the Jews. As a matter of fact, in about 10 days the world — the Christian world — is going to celebrate the birth of a Jewish guy, in Bethlehem. Which is in Israel,” said Krampner. “And yet the people who hate us say there were no Jews here until 1948. Do you understand how stupid that is?”
Dahnert, however, said he’s a Jewish American. He told Cowboy State Daily he is not ashamed of his faith, but is “ashamed of the things people do in the name of my faith.”
He also specified repeatedly that his opinions are not the same as the group’s as a whole. For the purposes of this story, Dahnert’s quotes reflect his opinion and the ceasefire group’s statement reflects the group.
Krampner said if Dahnert is Jewish, that makes his group’s attacks on “Zionism” appear incongruous.
“If he ever picked up a Jewish prayer book – I don’t know what he reads – but the ones in Hebrew constantly call for a return to Zion,” said Krampner. “For 1,800 years they prayed for return to Jerusalem along with other things like a little bit of rain in the summer and food to eat, and not being murdered, things like that.”
Violence Fueled By War Lords
Fremont County Ceasefire Now (FCCN) asserts that the Israeli state is a product of violent colonial forces from the 20th century, a British land grab, and animosity against “Indigenous Palestinians.”
“We cannot be complicit in the genocide of Palestinian people, just as we cannot be complacent in the racist and colonial war against Black, Indigenous and migrant populations occurring right here on North American lands – violence that is fueled by the intermixing of the United States and Israeli military industrial complexes,” says the group’s statement.
The Ottoman Empire ruled much of the Middle East for Centuries, until the Allied Powers of World War I broke the land up starting in 1918.
Speaking for himself, Dahnert was reluctant to say what he would have done differently from the Allied Powers, but that, “The British and Colonial powers that divided up the land following the fall of the Ottoman Empire probably didn’t have the people’s best interests in mind.”
Krampner’s retort came as a history lesson.
Even before the empire’s fall, well-to-do European Jews started buying up lands in the region of Israel in the late 1800s, Krampner said, adding that many landowners in the region were wealthy Syrians and Turks who had land there to sell, but lived elsewhere.
In the 1920s and ’30s, Jews flooded into the then-British-controlled region.
On the heels of the booming economy the Jews caused with their influx, Arabs also came from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt to find work.
“A lot of people say, ‘I’m a Palestinian,’ (yet) their people came here the same time Jews came here from Europe,” said Krampner.
The U.S. took up the Israelites’ cause after the Holocaust. Britain, harrowed from World War II and from conflict that followed it, referred the problem of the Palestine region to the United Nations, which voted in 1947 to partition the area.
The UN gave the Jews Israel, and it carved out Jordan as an Arab state.
When the British Army withdrew May 14, 1948, it did so to the rumbling of gunfire from immediate fighting between Jews and Arabs.
“What did the Arabs say? ‘You’re out of your mind, we don’t want these stinking Jews in the Middle East,’” Krampner said.
So, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq invaded. “To the surprise of the whole world, Israel fought them off,” he said.
Many Arabs fled Israel following its victory, he said: “They refused to be ruled by Jews. To them that was like, the height of degradation.”
When Egypt rejected them, the fleeing Arabs settled in Gaza, Krampner added.
Krampner said Israelis want to live in peace with their neighbors, but they want to be recognized, reckoned with, and respected as a people who have a right to occupy their state, and to survive.
FCCN is calling Israel’s severe response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack “genocide.”
Reuters reports that at least 17,487 Palestinians have been killed since Oct. 7, while Hamas’ invaders into Israel killed 1,200 people initially.
“A humanitarian disaster in Gaza is worsening by the hour with most of its 2.3 million people homeless and trapped in a tiny, embattled coastal enclave, with little food, water, medical care, fuel or secure shelter,” says the Dec. 9 Reuters report.
These statistics are not about valuing certain lives over others, says FCCN’s statement, adding: “Instead, it is about critically naming that a colonial, war-based society breeds this violence for everyone; and Israel embodies this colonial violence in mentality and practice.”
Krampner said the retaliation campaign and the effort to rescue 140 hostages trapped in Gaza’s underground tunnels, including a 10-month-old baby, are not genocide attempts, but an unfortunate reality of war and of shattered trust between neighboring states.
He also said most Americans cannot comprehend the hatred that Hamas, the more radically antisemitic of the two main Gazan political parties, has for Jews.
He said that rather than use its foreign aid to cultivate infrastructure and care for its people, Hamas has diverted much of it into fighting Jews. Hamas launches a couple thousand missiles into Israel each year, he said.
“It’s funny how some people want a complete ceasefire just as Hamas leadership is being surrounded and about to be killed,” said Krampner. “If there’s a ceasefire now, that allows Hamas to rebuild, doesn’t it?
“We cannot live with Hamas on our borders. If Hamas would all pick up and go to Algeria or something, maybe (ceasefire would be possible).”
Krampner pointed to a sentence in FCCN’s statement that reads: “We demand an end to the Israeli occupation of Indigenous Lands.”
That means ejecting Jews from the Middle East, he said, which means “get those stinking Jews out of Israel.”
A key tenet of FCCN’s statement is linking Israeli conflict with Palestinians with American racism and the American Indian reservation system, which the statement likens to a “colonial war.”
Being complicit in “the genocide of Palestinian people” is unconscionable, as is being complacent “in the racist and colonial war against Black, Indigenous and migrant populations occurring right here on North American lands,” says the statement. It attributes violence in both arenas to dishonoring of some groups’ sovereignty, and specifically references the American Indian tribal members in Fremont County, which include the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribes of the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Zionism thrives upon “blatant racism and Islamophobia against Palestinian people,” the statement says.
His Beautiful English
Israel is a liberal democracy with freedom of speech and religion and no official discriminations against Arabs who are Israeli citizens, Krampner said.
Arabs who are not citizens and seek entry (which thousands did daily for work before Oct. 7) are subject to strict border control measures, he said, adding that’s because Jihadi suicide bombers kept coming into Israel in the early 2000s.
“But Israel is the least racist country in the Middle East,” he said. “If you’re Black in Lebanon or Jordan or Syria, you’re going to have a tough time.”
Krampner went with a friend to pay a municipal court parking ticket in Jerusalem the other day. The judge was Black, an Ethiopian Jew.
His favorite teller at his bank is an Arab who speaks “beautiful English.” Krampner speaks Hebrew but, a Brooklyn-raised Jew, prefers English for complicated transactions, he said.
The war, he reiterated, is not due to race, but to perpetual tensions and Hamas’ jihad.
Some FCCN members are “LGBTQ2S,” the group’s statement says, arguing that Indigenous and LGBTQ2S people endure violence daily in Fremont County.
While LGBTQ-related violence is rarely reported in the county, the Wind River Indian Reservation does have a high violent crime rate.
The “2S” in the initialism stands for two-spirited, a term some American Indian tribes have used to describe gay and gender nonconforming people.
Again, Krampner pointed to Israel’s law compared to those of the military states and dictatorships around it.
“There’s only one country in the Middle East where it’s not a crime to engage in gay sex,” he said. “And that country is Israel.”
Iran sentenced two LGBTQ activists to death last year. CBS news gave a rare firsthand account in 2015 of the Syrian government throwing two gay men – blindfolded, bound, weeping and repentant – off a hotel building. Egyptian investigators hunted down and arrested homosexuals this year via fake social media accounts, DW reported.
Movements like Queers For Palestine and other pro-LGBTQ, pro-Palestinian groups have inspired a dark wartime joke in Israel. It hinges on reports of Hamas throwing spies or homosexuals from tall buildings.
“Some Israelis joke … we’ve done the gay people a favor with the disruption of Gaza, because now there’s not enough high buildings left to throw them off of,” Krampner said.
FCCN’s rise is simultaneous with numerous pro-Palestinian groups all over the Western world.
Thirty-three Harvard student organizations dispatched a statement Oct. 10 – just three days after Hamas’ attacks, blaming Israel for the violence. The events “did not occur in a vacuum,” the statement said, adding that they came from Palestinians in Gaza having to live in an “open-air prison.”
Israel’s strict border control may give people the impression that Gazans, wedged between Israel, the sea, and Egypt, are confined, Krampner said. But he called it “a deliberately told lie.”
Rather, the lack of services to people in Gaza before the war were due to Hamas’ war-hungry and irresponsible governance style, Krampner added.
Gaza’s population swelled from about 200,000 in 1948 to 2.1 million this year. Hamas has a military of 35,000. It runs its own schools and hospitals and receives foreign aid.
“If we’re committing genocide, we’re doing a very bad job of it,” Krampner said.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.