Photo by Julio Rodriguez, The Ybor City Stogie

On April 14, traditional Palestinian music could be heard at Tampa’s Joe Chillura Courthouse Square as young Palestinians of the diaspora danced and a crowd of supporters gathered for the Great Return March. The demands of the march were:

1. The right of return for all Palestinians

2. Stop U.S. aid to Israel

3. Stop U.S. police partnership and training in Israel

“This summer will mark 20 years since I’ve stepped foot in Palestine. Since I walked the streets of my ancestry, of my mother, and of my late father. My family is one of the oldest families in Mount of Olives, Jerusalem! Yet I have not been home in 20 years.” This was the testimony of Lara, one of the many Palestinians present at the march, speaking about their desire to return to their ancestral home, and for the occupation to end.

The year 1948 is known as “Al-Nakba” which translates to “the catastrophe.” It was during the Nakba that about six million Palestinians were displaced from their homes. Today there are over seven million Palestinian refugees worldwide. “UN resolution 194 says that any Palestinian refugee wishing to return to their home should be allowed to do so at the earliest practical date however the Zionist regime is blocking Palestinians from exercising this right.”

Downtown Tampa was decorated in memorabilia celebrating the Tampa Bay Lightning, a beloved local hockey team that was playing that day, and the streets were filled with Lightning fans. What these fans and other passersby did not expect to see was a militant, resilient, and empowered crowd of protesters, demanding that the voices of all Palestinians be heard and their demands be heeded.

The march was over 50 people strong with protesters chanting slogans like “Resistance is justified when people are occupied!” and “Gaza, Gaza don’t you cry! Palestine will never die.” Indeed, this local act of resistance came at a time when just in the past month, at least 45 peaceful demonstrators have been killed and thousands have been shot by the IDF during Land Day marches in Gaza.

“I want you to take a moment and imagine yourself going on a journey with me, a journey down a road full of oppression and constant suffering on the streets of Gaza, where your reality is not 24 hours of clean water and electricity. Now you only have two hours of electricity and no clean water, and your sibling, a child who is only nine years old, has already lived through three wars, losing their friends and family throughout. And every time you see them you dream of the day that their eyes would see anything but war and terror.” These were the powerful words of Palestinian organizer Diana Halum, who grew up in the West Bank.

This is the reality not only for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, but for oppressed peoples in every country touched by the terror of Western imperialism, from Syria and Libya, to Yemen and Afghanistan. This is the reality of oppressed people here at home, from Ferguson, to Flint, Michigan, to what’s left of the Native American reservations.

“The American Indians are the Palestinians of the Western hemisphere and the Palestinians are the American Indians of the Middle East,” said Sheridan Murphy, an Indigenous man and a member of the American Indian Movement. “What they do to Indigenous peoples here, from sterilization, the stealing of children, the running of pipelines, the uranium, it’s the same thing that’s going on over there.”

It is capitalism, the economic system based on exploitation and profit, that leads to this oppression. The U.S. provides aid to the Israeli military every year, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, because Israel and its survival is instrumental to the imperialist interests of the United States. Without this funding, Israel would not be able to maintain its occupation of Palestine, and the U.S. would lose its imperialist stronghold in the Middle East, a region which it seeks to dominate and exploit.

The people say no more! We will not stop until the funding to Israel ceases, the occupation ends, and Palestine and all oppressed peoples are liberated. Everyone has the human right to be housed, fed, educated, loved, and connected to their ancestral homeland. United, we will win this fight against imperialism, and the racism, dehumanization and exploitation that comes along with it.

In the words of Lara: “[My father] would end each story with ‘if only I could return’, and I would promise my father that I would take him back. I did not fulfill that promise in his life, but I will fulfill the promise because I will take him home in spirit, in the Palestinian spirit that he instilled in me. Our grandparents survived Al-Nakba, and they instilled that strength in us! We have been surviving these horrors and denials of our basic human rights for 70 years. Not only surviving, but thriving amidst all the hardships and the terrors these colonizers throw our way! It shows we are strong and we are resilient, and we are ready to return Palestine to how are grandparents left it.”

Long live Palestine!