On Saturday, Utican Palestinians and others around the nation rallied to support the Palestinians of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza which are currently in conflict with Israel. Here’s why:
Early this month, during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, the Israeli government began evicting Palestinian Arabs out of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in east Jerusalem. Considering the evictions to be part of an effort to clear all Arabs out of Jerusalem, Palestinians began protesting. Also during Ramadan, the Israeli Police prevented many from attending the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the most important Islamic sights. To make matters worse, Israeli forces raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque using stun grenades and rubber bullets. The Israeli police claim this was in retaliation to Palestinians rioting against Israeli settlers. Palestinian militant factions in Gaza threatened to launch rockets if the Israeli government continued in this manner. Rockets were eventually fired into Israel and the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) responded with a massive bombing campaign, claiming to only be targeting terrorist networks, but nevertheless killed hundreds of civilians in the process. After 11 days of conflict, a total of 232 Palestinians, including 65 children and 39 women, were killed during Israeli attacks on Gaza. The Israeli Military claims that 12 Israelis have been killed since the conflict started.
“Of all the cities in the world, Jerusalem has the most troubled past, and the most troubled future. To the Jews, it is the sight of the great temples of Herod and Solomon. To Muslims, it is where Mohammed ascended to heaven. To Christians, it is the place where their messiah was crucified.” -The History Channel: The Crusades. Crescent and the Cross
Israel is where the Jewish people originated thousands of years ago. After many failed uprisings against the Romans, the Jews began scattering across Europe, Africa, and Asia. Muslims and Christians fought for control of the area for hundreds of years before Muslims became the dominant religion there for practically the past 1,000 years. In the early 1900’s, the British empire seized control of Palestine (what is now Israel). In that period, Many Jews were escaping persecution in Europe and fled to Palestine. After WW2, the British and Soviets backed the idea of creating a nation for the Jews called Israel. It just so happens that the country they settled on was already inhabited by the Palestinians which were largely displaced with the official creation of Israel in 1948.
Throughout the mid 20th century, the surrounding Arab nations repeatedly went to war against Israel and lost. With each conflict, Palestinians living in Israel lost more and more of their land to the state of Israel until there were only two areas remaining for them; the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Both regions have been sealed off by the IDF for decades now. Commerce, travel, and even medical access in Gaza and the West Bank are heavily restricted by the Israeli Military. Furthermore, Israeli citizens have been settling on land in the West Bank, further encroaching on Palestinian land. The Israeli settling of the West Bank has been condemned repeatedly by the UN, but still proceeds unincumbered.
Recently, the total control that the IDF has over Gaza and the West Bank, has become too impossible to deny, and so the international community has become increasingly outspoken against the tactics and policies of Israel regarding Palestinians. But while the international community generally opposes Israel’s policies, the US government has always supported them as a key ally against potential Middle Eastern threats, a noted example being Obama donating $38 Billion to Israel to aid their military. However, some commentators believe that now public support swings mostly towards Palestinians, and that may result in international intervention.
International intervention was exactly the goal of the rally at Oneida Sqaure here in Utica. Roughly 120 protesters, mostly Muslim, showed up to demand an end to the US’s military funding of Israel. Many Burmese, now regulars to Oneida Sqaure, supported the Palestinians as did several Africans and Americans. Even a police car gave a friendly honk as it passed by.
An organizer, Haneen Alsaad, kept reiterating that the issue in Palestine is about ethnic cleansing, and not religion. She and her brother Yosuf, both grew up in Iraq because their grandparents were among the first Palestinians forced to leave their homes in the 1950’s, and like many others lived as refugees in neighboring Arab countries.
“It’s ethnic cleansing. We are Palestinian. We have Muslim, we have Christians and Jews. We have been living there together for hundreds of years. We have no problem.” The two maintain that they have no issue with Jews, but rather Zionists (Israeli Ultra-Nationalists).
For more details on the matter, see the press release below.
In his speech at the rally, Imam Tom Facchine stated that while Palestine may be on the far side of the world, America is the ideal spot for protests as he believes it’s America that stands in the way of Palestinian liberation.
“The United States is the only government in the world that’s stopping this issue from getting solved. The UN and the other nations around the world…they want to have a cease-fire, they want to stop arm sales to Israel when they violate international law, they want to stop illegal settlements in the West Bank, they want to lift the blockade upon Gaza, but the United States has shot down these resolutions in the UN over and over and over again. So, right now, we have an unfortunate consensus in congress where all of our representatives support this kind of thing, and we believe that they should be held accountable and the representatives that are supposed to represent us should take a stand for what’s right-actually start holding Israel accountable for its actions.”
A Free Palestine rally will be held today at 4:00pm in Utica’s historic Oneida Square at the foot of the Civil War monument. The rally was organized by local Palestinian and other activists and is endorsed by the Muslim Community Association of Mohawk Valley and the Copper City Collective.
We called the peaceful demonstration in response to the recent military attacks and bombings on the Palestinian people by the Israeli military, the ethnic cleansing of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem, and the assault on al Aqsa Mosque in Old Jerusalem. Although there is currently a ceasefire in place, the quest for freedom and equality is far from over. During the 11-day bombing campaign of Gaza, the Israeli military killed 243 Palestinians, including 66 children. This is terribly tragic.
This rally comes on the heels of the 73rd anniversary of Nakba (or “catastrophe”), which is the period in which over 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forcibly displaced from their homes, and estimates of 600 Palestinian villages were destroyed. Since then, Palestinians, were forced into exile, faced discrimination, and made into refugees. Gaza, which has been under siege and under blockades for years, is considered the world’s largest open-air prison.
This is not a “conflict” between two equal powers, but a war of occupation, and a form of apartheid targeting an oppressed, impoverished indigenous population. Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and other South African freedom fighters rightfully called Israel an apartheid system based on ethnic and religious discrimination. Desmond Tutu once stated that “I have witnessed the systemic humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces. Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government.”
This is also not an age-old struggle between Jews on one end and Palestinian Muslims and Christians on the other. This is a problem of settler colonialism that only started in the 20th Century. Many Jewish organizations and activists also support this movement, including Jewish Voice for Peace, B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, If Not Now, and others.
We also want to point out that historically, and today, the movement for a free Palestine has overwhelmingly been a non-violent movement that echoes the best of the Civil Rights Movement here in the US. This can be seen most recently in the mass general strike launched by Palestinian workers and unions this past week.
We are encouraging people to not see this protest as a one-time event, and to get involved with the campaign for an end to apartheid, and support for a free Palestine, with guaranteed rights for people of all religions and ethnicities. Speakers at the rally will read a list of the names of children killed recently by the Israeli military. Activists are also encouraging people to support the following demands:
- Pressure Congress to block the $735 million in precision-guided weapons to Israel from the US.
- End US military aid to Israel.
- Dismantle the apartheid wall in Israel / Palestine.
- Support the right of return of displaced Palestinians and refugees to their homes and properties, as stipulated in UN Resolution 194
- End the occupation and colonization of all indigenous Palestinian lands.
- Support Palestinian workers and unions on strike.