Dripping wet and full of determination, Palestinian activists convened two days in a row at the Old Capitol Building in Tallahassee to commemorate al-Nakba and the 58 Palestinians martyred in Gaza on May 14.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of al-Nakba, literally translated as “the Catastrophe”, referring to the 1948 Zionist expulsion of 800,000 Palestinians from their ancestral lands and the destruction of over 400 Palestinian villages. Palestinians today make their message clear: al-Nakba never ended. The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians persists in the bulldozing of Palestinian homes for Zionist settlement, the confinement of 2 million people in Gaza (which is expected to be uninhabitable by 2020), and the military occupation of the entirety of Palestine.
The back-to-back protests were organized by Florida State University’s Students for Justice in Palestine. While their May 15 al-Nakba rally had been planned for weeks, the May 14 gathering was organized as an emergency response to the massacre in Gaza. Reem Zaitoon, the incoming President of FSU SJP, said when heard the death toll had risen to 52, she couldn’t wait any longer. By noon, there was a Facebook page for the event, screaming in all-caps “JERUSALEM IS THE CAPITAL OF PALESTINE” and the members of SJP set out to spread the word before the 6:30pm rendezvous.
Despite the persistent rain, more than 20 people showed up to the emergency rally, towing posters of Ahed Tamimi alongside their umbrellas. The warm-up cries of “Free Free Palestine!” quieted as Zaitoon took to the megaphone, her keffiyeh proudly wrapped around her shoulders.
“I come out here today on behalf of Students for Justice in Palestine and Palestinians everywhere for two main reasons,” she started. “First, for the ongoing massacres on Gaza and the Great Return March, and second, for the moving of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”
Although the movement of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem has been regarded mostly as a symbolic move, it would be a mistake to minimize what it symbolizes: the deadly imperialist alliance between the United States and Israel. As the empire’s main client-state in the Middle East, Israel utilizes billions of dollars of U.S. aid to increase its chokehold on Palestinian sovereignty.
“The colonial state occupying Palestine is a uniquely direct creation of the United States. The United States continues to funnel money and arms to the state of Israel, money and arms that are used in violent oppression and blockade, and genocide,” said Jamila Lorde, member of FSU Students for Democratic Society. “The IDF works very closely with American police forces. The tactics American police use in Ferguson and Baltimore were taken directly from the tactics the IDF uses in Gaza and the West Bank.”
Themes of anti-imperialism and global solidarity were prevalent in the shouts and cheers during both rallies. The cries of “From Palestine to Mexico, these border walls have got to go!” and “Israel, USA: how many kids have you killed today?” highlighted the internationalist character of the Palestinian liberation movement and the simple truth of Israel’s statehood: it would not exist today if not for the United States.
Furthermore, the imperialist relationship between the US and Israel reminds us of the failures of liberalism as well as the partisan support for Zionism at every level of the US government. “The United States is giving [Israel] about $30 billion for the next 10 years.” Nada Zaitoon, the incoming Treasurer of SJP, reminds us: “That was promised by the Obama administration.”
Every few minutes, a driver honked their horn, waving and shouting supportive messages as they turned onto Apalachee Parkway. The protestors, never once deterred by the rain, whooped and cheered louder, waving their signs. Slogans such as ”No More Money For Israel’s Crimes!” and “End The Occupation!” adorned the homemade posters. A large beige banner declared “Stop Funding Israeli Apartheid.” Two damp Palestinian flags flew proudly in the cool wind.
On May 15, Zaitoon took to the megaphone again. She announced that the Facebook Live video posted the day earlier on FSU SJP’s event page had reached Gaza. “I have a connection in Gaza…he actually found our organizing online and he reached out to me. He thanked me like, a thousand times saying that our videos—our organizing—has kept the people in Gaza coming out to the border every single day. They go to sleep every night after burying their children and they wake up the next morning and they still come out to the border.”
Israel attempts to justify the murder of Palestinians by de-contextualizing armed protest, relying on Orientalist tropes of “Arab savagery” to brush the IDF’s terrorism under the rug. Occupied peoples have the right to resist their occupiers, including the use of armed force, as was reaffirmed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1982. At the same time, it is important to counter Zionist propaganda by highlighting the double standard of labeling occupied Palestinians armed with stones and fence cutters as violent, while absolving the occupying military of their war crimes.
Morgan Flake, SJP member and local activist, recalled learning about the occupation as a child. “I am old enough to remember seeing the Intifada covered on TV, and asking what it was, and my grandparents saying, ‘Look, this is the reality of the situation: Zionists have tanks, that guy has rocks. Who do you think is more armed here?”
The people demand an end to Israeli apartheid! The last 70 years were marked by catastrophe, but the next 70 will be marked by Palestinians returning to their ancestral homeland, and dismantling the apartheid system brick by brick. The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians must end. The Palestinians in Gaza must be liberated before it becomes uninhabitable. The binational one-state solution is a necessity for peace. Everyone wants peace, but justice must be its precondition, and our vision of justice is the dismantling of oppressive systems worldwide.
In Nada’s words: “Palestinian liberation is a fight against imperialism…so even if Palestine does achieve liberation, it’s not over until the American colonies like Guam and Puerto Rico are liberated. Not until North Korea can exist as a country, until Korea reunites. Everyone’s fighting under the same system until everyone overcomes it.”