Martin Fletcher

When a faux rally for peace came to my Mexican town

Slogans that followed a bigoted playbook – ‘apartheid,’ ‘genocide,’ and ‘ceasefire now’ – betrayed the protest for the sham it was
A protestor at the San Miguel de Allende rally. (Photo courtesy of author)
A protestor at the San Miguel de Allende rally. (Photo courtesy of author)

Travel magazines routinely call my hometown of San Miguel de Allende one of the most beautiful small towns in the world. In the high desert of central Mexico, it stands out as a center of culture, admired and much visited for its architectural beauty, revolutionary history and enlightened present.

So I wasn’t surprised to see that a rally for “Peace in Palestine and Israel” was advertised in this quiet town. If not here, where? In most places, the Gaza war has provoked violent emotions: For or against Israel or the Palestinians, leaving no room for debate. But here was a rarity: a rally for peace for both communities. I’m all in.

So I daubed my face with sunscreen, took my red cap and bottled water, and looked for the crowd set to gather at 10 am on the street corner opposite the regular Saturday organic market.

Sadly, there were no Mexicans and only six people, all North Americans, sheltering in the shade of a scraggly ficus tree. Hundreds walked by with nary a glance at the flags, posters and signs. One person said they would come back and buy a T-shirt. Two people accepted a flyer. A bus honked as the driver made a rude sign.

And I thought: I guess the people here don’t care much about a war 7,500 miles away. They must care more about inflation, education, jobs, crime, the new government, just like most people in most places.

And I was glad because the balanced and fair rally I thought I was attending was anything but. It turned out not to be a rally for peace for all, but just for Palestine. I also want peace for Palestinians, but I want peace for Israel, too. I want the war to end and the Jewish hostages to be allowed to go home.

That didn’t go down very well. Instead, I was assaulted by slogans that followed the playbook: “apartheid,” “genocide,” and “ceasefire now.”

I pointed out that if Israel really wanted genocide, they hadn’t done a very good job of perpetrating one. Gaza’s population has gone from 200,000 in 1948 to around 2.5 million today. Apartheid? Arabs in Israel have the same rights as Jews. Different story in the West Bank but that’s what peace talks would be all about. Ceasefire now? Yes, please! If only Hamas would say “yes,” too.

I have many conversations with Mexican friends and acquaintances about the war. Most have little information but much interest, and are eager to hear both sides. It is my duty to present different perspectives to people trying to understand. After all, I have visited Gaza at least a hundred times, and always tried hard in my work as a journalist to be fair to everyone. My wife has her own perspective: a left-winger who works for peace, yet had three extended family members murdered on October 7 and eight kidnapped.

Mexicans listen and care; the North Americans I met at the rally did neither. Instead, they expressed deep ignorance. My wife had the following conversation with the organizer, a clueless fellow called Ron Ignatius:

Hagar Shur: “Where should the Jews go?”

Ron Ignatius: “They are welcome to stay in Palestine.”

Hagar: “But Hamas says they will kill them.”

Ron: “Hamas is not a monolith.”

Hagar: “Oh yes it is!”

Hagar asked the key existential question for Jews in Israel. Ron’s answer showed ignorance and arrogance, while ignoring Hamas’ explicit and oft-stated goals: to destroy Israel and to kill as many Jews as possible.

I tried, too:

White-haired woman: “We must save the children of Palestine!”

Martin: “Yes, we must. And the children of Israel?”

White-haired woman: “Get out of my space.”

And so it went. The only good news from this bigoted event was that only six people turned up, eight including my wife and I. It showed either apathy or disagreement on the part of the Mexican citizens. I’ll take both over ignorance and vapid sloganeering. As for the hundreds of Americans and Canadians who visited the neighboring organic market, they ignored the tiny rally.

A Mexican friend of mine happened to walk by with his shopping bags and smiled. When I told him what was going on, he laughed and said, “What do you expect? This weekend is the Festival de los Locos.” It’s the Festival of the Crazies when thousands of native Mexicans descend on San Miguel dancing in wild and crazy costumes.

I love that about Mexicans. They find the bright side of everything, there is always something to laugh about, something to celebrate. And in San Miguel de Allende, a place of culture and discourse, I found it apt that only six people showed up for a rally of hatred and ignorance.

About the Author
Martin Fletcher served as NBC News Mideast correspondent and bureau chief in Tel Aviv for 28 years, winning almost every award in television journalism, including five Emmy’s. He has written seven books. Walking Israel won the National Jewish book Award in America for non fiction and Promised Land was a finalist in the fiction category. He is the only author to be honored in both categories.