On the afternoon of May 14, as Israeli snipers were killing and wounding thousands of Palestinians participating in the Great March of Return, Philadelphia city officials along with the pro-Israel Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia put on public display their complete and total support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine. In celebration of Israel’s so-called Independence Day, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and other politicians participated in a ceremonial hoisting of the Israeli flag over City Hall.
In addition to the massacre in Gaza, on May 14 a high-level delegation of Trump administration officials traveled to Jerusalem — the historic capitol of the Palestinian people — to open the U.S. embassy in the city, which had been moved from Tel Aviv. The embassy move is one more attempt to eradicate the Palestinian people.
A day of action in solidarity with Palestine began when protesters organized a counter-action at the raising of the Israeli flag. Demonstrators called out the names and ages of the Palestinians, many of them children, who were being gunned down as the city of Philadelphia hoisted the Israeli flag. After reading a name the demonstrators would sing, “…was a freedom fighter and she taught me how to fight. We’re gonna fight all day and night until we get it right… Which side are you on Mayor Kenney, which side are you on?”
The protesters captured the attention of the media, successfully taking attention away from the shameful celebration. The message of the demonstrators was clear: Israel is an illegitimate settler-state founded on the intention to ethnically cleanse Palestine of Palestinians.
After the protest, demonstrators spotted Mayor Kenney across the pavilion and rushed over to demand that he explain why he stands on the side of the murderous Israeli state. Visibly angered by this questioning, Kenney snapped back shouting, “Because I want to,” before rushing off with his entourage.
After the demonstration, Liberation News spoke with May Ye, a Rabbinical student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College who is also on the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace. Strongly opposing Israeli atrocities, she was out there to say loudly and clearly, “Not in my name. Not in my name when Palestinians are being brutally murdered in Gaza during this Great March of Return.”
Philadelphia for Palestinian Return
Later that day, Philadelphia for Palestinian Return — a coalition made up of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Temple University Students for Justice in Palestine, Philly BDS and Jewish Voice for Peace — co-hosted a solidarity rally with the Palestinian Great March of Return. Attended by hundreds of people, the demonstration opened up with PSL member Timour Kamran leading chants and proclamations of solidarity with the Palestinian right of return and denouncing the massacre of Palestinian protesters committed by Israel earlier that day.
The march was endorsed by a wide range of organizations: USA Palestine Mental Health Network, Philly Socialists, Black Alliance for Peace, Existence Is Resistance, Swarthmore SJP, Philadelphia International Marxist Tendency, Workers World Party – Philadelphia, Bucks County Socialists, Philly Democratic Socialists of America, Food Not Bombs Solidarity, Philadelphia International Socialist Organization and Avenging the Ancestors Coalition (ATAC).
The pre-march rally began with a speech by activist Karima Saab who noted that at exactly the same time Philadelphia was raising the Israeli flag earlier in the day the death toll of Palestinian protesters in Gaza by Israeli sniper fire was rising. Reflecting the seriousness of the situation, she encouraged the large crowd to raise their voices as they marched to ensure their message was heard by as many people as possible.
Brandon Do of Temple University Students for Justice for Palestine then took the stage. Expressing his solidarity with the Palestinian people’s ongoing struggle for justice, the speaker condemned the Israeli government’s outrageous insistence that Palestine was a land without a people. Making clear that condemning Israel is not anti-Semitic, but rather, anti-imperialist, he noted that:
“The state of Israel was not built on the principles of Judaism, but on the principles of Western greed and domination. They claim to be a peaceful nation while murdering and starving Palestinians … The movement of the Great March of Return is a rejection of the terms of U.S. empire. It is a message that reverberates around the world: that all oppressed people must rise up and determine their own destiny regardless of what army stands between them and freedom.”
After these inspiring speeches, the demonstration took to the streets, marching around City Center and then to the Kimmel Center, home of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Philly: Don’t Orchestrate Apartheid was formed to protest the Philadelphia Orchestra accepting an invitation to perform in Israel and meet with government officials. Don’t Orchestrate Apartheid has been protesting for weeks demanding the Orchestra reject Israel’s invitation and refuse to help “normalize the occupation of Palestine.”
The post-march rally
Once gathered in front of the Kimmel Center, a large circle was formed consuming the entire street. A long chain of people around the inner most part of the circle each held a part of a banner, showing the faces and names of slain Palestinians murdered for demanding the right to return. This was the spontaneously created stage formed by hundreds of people, including many from the city’s Palestinian community, demanding justice and the end of all U.S. aid to Israel.
The people held the street for 10 speeches. The first speaker to take the mic was Palestinian author Susan Abulhawa representing Philly: Don’t Orchestrate Apartheid. She began by reminding the crowd that Saturday, May 19 at 6:30 p.m. will be the last demonstration at the Kimmel Center before the Philadelphia Orchestra “makes that horrendous trip to apartheid Israel.” Reflecting on the larger context of the most recent instance of the Israeli “Defense” Forces (IDF) opening fire on unarmed protesters, she said:
“We are just footnotes. It’s like we are not even human. We do not have names in U.S. media. I always wonder what we did to make them hate us so much. What have we done to earn that kind of contempt for our lives? They do not like the fact that we were there for thousands of years before they showed up on our shores. They do not like the fact that we built all the houses, Mosques, and buildings that they now want to claim as a European inheritance.”
The next speaker, Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture, represented the Black Alliance for Peace, taking the stage to affirm her organization’s “unapologetic solidarity with the Palestinian people and their continued, courageous resistance to the brutal, genocidal occupation of Palestine.”
After providing a concise summary of the current situation in Palestine, Nkrumah-Ture made many important connections to the situation in the United States, including the fact that many police departments such as the Philadelphia police send cops to Israel for special training by the IDF. It is no surprise that U.S. police departments, who have always brutalized Black and Brown working class communities with near impunity, would send their cops to Israel.
Walter Smolarek from the PSL then spoke, drawing the contrast between working peoples’ vast unmet needs and the U.S. government’s long-standing policy of providing billions of dollars of military aid to Israel every year. He pointed out how the U.S. corporate media ridiculously describes snipers, armed with U.S. weaponry, gunning down Palestinian protesters as “clashes.” Smolarek then added:
“There is one other way the Israeli regime contributes to the U.S. war machine. Not only does Israel oppress people in Palestine, but they contribute to the oppression of people all around the world. Just last week we saw that the Israeli government did everything they could to push the world closer to war with Iran … Just after Trump gave his ridiculous, racist speech attacking the people of Iran, demanding war against Iran, Israeli fighter jets flew over Syria and struck [Iranian] positions there … As we organize in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Palestine who are continuing the struggle and refuse to relent in the face of unbelievable Israeli repression, we are going to organize in solidarity with people throughout the whole region who are resisting the U.S.-Israeli war drive.”
The mic was then passed to Andrew Sejong of Philly Socialists who talked about how the example of Palestinian resistance served as the primary catalyst that propelled him, like so many others, into the movement and become an activist. What the movement has taught the world, Sejong said, is that through ceaseless, unyielding struggle it becomes clear that not only is another world possible, but another world is necessary.