BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Commuters in cities across the United States were surprised this month to find their daily trips to work adorned with posters and banners calling on their government to end military support to Israel.
The posters were rolled out in seven cities for the entire month of March, and are part of a broader awareness campaign by the US-based Palestine Advocacy Project, an activist group also known as Ads Against Apartheid focused on raising awareness about American complicity in the Israeli occupation.
Messages decrying Israel's demolition of Palestinian homes, its incarceration policies targeting Palestinian children, and its construction of Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are among the themes tackled by the ad campaign, whose launch was timed to coincide with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to the country earlier this month.
"American tax dollars help the Israeli government maintain a brutal military occupation of Palestinian territory, which has denied Palestinians their basic rights for decades. These ads show what Israel's occupation and apartheid really look like, and it is important for Americans to see that," project board member Jake Chase-Lubitz said in a statement released by the group.
The campaign is part of a broader push to ensure that Palestine remains on the radar of the US public, particularly as attention has shifted following the end of Israel's massive assault on Gaza last summer.
By targeting Americans with the messages in public spaces, the group is hoping to expose ordinary people to the reality of US support for Israel and what it means for Palestinians.
"The media in the United States generally presents Palestinians as Israel's problem rather than presenting Israel as a problem for Palestinians. But Israel is an omnipresent problem for Palestinians -- it negatively impacts almost every part of their lives -- and we think it is important for the public discussion to reflect that," Chase-Lubitz told Ma'an in an email interview.
The posters will be hosted in subway stations as well as on trucks, buses, and billboards, ensuring tens of thousands will be reached in the cities targeted, namely Los Angeles, New York, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.
The campaign, however, is not without controversy, and the group's earlier poster blitzes across US cities have been met with vandalism and even lawsuits.
The group was forced to pull down ads in Boston after what Chase-Lubitz deemed "political pressure from well-established and well-funded Zionist organizations" against the local transit agency. Billboards in Los Angeles, meanwhile, were vandalized.
This month the campaign had been met yet again by attacks, and the group said that on March 9, the driver of a truck emblazoned with the poster was confronted at gunpoint in Los Angeles by an individual angered by the message.
"To suggest that it is actually the Israelis who are wrong and the Palestinians who are victims is to suggest that maybe we are wrong, and that some of the people we 'defend ourselves' against our victims. That is uncomfortable for a lot of people," Chase-Lubitz told Ma'an, commenting on the pushback the campaign has faced.
Indeed, in a world where pro-Palestinian sentiment is shared widely across continents and pressure against Israel to end the occupation has racketed up quickly in recent years, the United States stands out as one of the few overwhelmingly pro-Israeli countries on Earth.
A Gallup poll of the US public in February showed that around 62 percent of respondents said they favored Israel while only 16 percent said they favored Palestine. Pro-Israel support tends to be much higher among older White Americans and Evangelicals, however, while young people and people of color are increasingly leaning toward Palestine.
The Palestine Advocacy Project believes that a broader shift in public opinion is underway, buoyed by activist work across the country dedicated to exposing the realities of Israeli control over Palestinian life.
The latest ad campaign was rolled out with the help of half of a dozen local partners, including Northern California Friends of Sabeel, American Muslims for Palestine, Bay Area Jewish Voice for Peace, LA Jews for Peace, Jewish Voice for Peace -- San Diego, and San Antonio for Justice in Palestine. The organizations involved reflect the diversity of the growing pro-Palestinian movement across the United States.
"We are a very small part of a movement that is centered in Palestine. That movement has grown significantly over the past five to ten years in the United States because of the inspiring work of young Palestinian-Americans who are sick of their friends and families being attacked, Jews who are disgusted with what has been done in their names, and other people of conscience who fight for what is right," Chase-Lubitz told Ma'an.