Protesters decrying US role in Gaza siege set flag afire outside McGovern’s office

Nick Mottern and Dodi Melnicoff burn an American flag in front of U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern’s Northampton office on Tuesday to protest the government’s complicity in the destruction of Gaza.

Nick Mottern and Dodi Melnicoff burn an American flag in front of U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern’s Northampton office on Tuesday to protest the government’s complicity in the destruction of Gaza. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Dodi Melnicoff, left, and Nick Mottern  burn an American  flag in front of Congressman Jim McGovern's Northampton office Tuesday to protest the U.S. government’s complicity in the destruction of Gaza.

Dodi Melnicoff, left, and Nick Mottern burn an American flag in front of Congressman Jim McGovern's Northampton office Tuesday to protest the U.S. government’s complicity in the destruction of Gaza. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By JAMES PENTLAND

Staff Writer

Published: 05-29-2024 10:46 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Protesters angered by Israel’s most recent deadly attack in Gaza brought a metal trash can and an American flag to the sidewalk outside Rep. Jim McGovern’s Pleasant Street office on Tuesday.

As passersby honked in support or shouted disagreement, Nick Mottern and Dodi Melnicoff began setting the flag on fire.

The flames stayed small, but the vocal group, numbering about a dozen, made their message clear in chants and speeches.

“It’s a sad day when we have to do this,” Mottern said. “For me, it means our government is gone. Any expectation of democracy or decency is gone.” The group targeted the office in their protest as representing the federal government. No one was apparently at the office at the time.

Israeli strikes on Rafah in southern Gaza on Sunday ignited a fire in a tent camp for displaced people that killed 45 people, many of them women and children, according to Palestinian health officials. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu termed the strike “a tragic mistake.”

The protesters accuse the U.S. government of violating its own laws, notably the Leahy Law, which prohibits the government from supplying military aid to foreign armies engaged in gross violations of human rights.

“We are unwillingly complicit in genocide in Gaza,” the group said in a statement. “We are seeking to send a message to the U.S. government: You are lawless. You are guilty of war crimes. You do not represent us.”

The Israeli assault on Gaza, prompted by an Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that killed 1,200 Israelis, has killed an estimated 36,000 people, displaced 80% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million and pushed parts of the territory into famine.

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“As a Jewish American, this is not keeping Jews safe,” Deborah Yaffe said. “Silence makes us complicit in genocide.”

University of Massachusetts student Noah Sigel, who happened to be passing along with friend Iris Earl, was one of 134 people arrested on campus May 7 for protesting U.S. complicity in the Gaza bombardment. The protesters face charges including failure to disperse from a riot, but the protest wasn’t a riot.

“We were brutally suppressed by State Police,” Sigel said. “The police charged at the protesters.”

Earl, who also was one of 57 UMass students arrested in an occupation of the Whitmore administration building in October, said it was good to see an older generation of protesters.

“We will not stop until we have justice,” Earl said.

Mottern, 85, said the U.S. government is under the control of gangsters and he called for President Biden to be impeached.

As the microphone was passed, Northampton police and firefighters arrived on scene, and a firefighter extinguished the smoldering nylon flag.