From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will be Free

Collection of pieces from Palestine Can’t Breathe – Save Sheikh Jarrah Protest at the Madison Capitol building on 5/15/21

Rally Report

By Scot McCullough

Approximately 150 people gathered in Madison on Saturday, May 15 in solidarity with Palestinians for a rally called Palestine Can’t Breathe – Save Sheikh Jarrah. The rally came as the Israeli state escalated attacks against Palestinians living in Jerusalem’s Sheik Jarrah neighborhood. The attacks are meant to force people from their homes to make way for Israeli settlers and further military attacks on Gaza. Over a hundred have been killed in Palestine, dozens of them children, and homes and other civilian infrastructure have been demolished by airstrikes from Israel.

People at the rally came together under a unified message of fighting to free Palestine. Slogans through the event included ‘A free Palestine in Our Lifetime’ and ‘End Israeli Apartheid’. Many also drew the similarities between the actions of Israel and the actions of the US, with signs reading ‘From Turtle Island to Palestine, Occupation is a crime’, and ‘From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go’.

Rowan Atalla, who is the Treasurer of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, spoke at the rally about the situation that Palestinians face. “I think the important thing is that people understand that what is happening right now in Sheikh Jarrah and Gaza is not new, and it is not unique. What we are seeing is a slightly ramped up version of what happens in the West Bank and in Gaza all the time. It is extremely unusual for a significant amount of time to pass in Gaza without an air strike or snipers shooting from the top of the wall at the people in Gaza. It is unusual for a week to pass without incident in the West Bank.” The full text of Atalla’s speech is here.

These attacks from Israel are not just about violence and destruction, but dispossession, as Atalla explains. “Families are moved, forcibly, out of their homes. The IDF and the settlers confiscate anything of value, pay no attention to the welfare of livestock, destroy the house, and make the family pay for the demolition of the house, and then the land is turned over for the construction of new settlements. This is ongoing. We are hearing about it more in the  last couple weeks, but this is really an escalation above and beyond the rate at which it normally happens, and that is the only reason that it has risen to the level where it captures media attention in the west.”

Photo by Josiah Wampfler

For decades, mainstream narratives have framed the issue one of Palestinian terrorism and Israeli self-defense. President Joe Biden said last week that “Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory”, and the White House released another quote from Biden that he “condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups” in a conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Ashley Hudson of Madison-Rafah Sister City, an organizer of the event, spoke about how Palestinians have the right to resist the occupation of their homes, but are charged as violent instigators when they do so. “When Palestinians respond to the literal daily super-power-sanctioned-and-funded terrorism of their homes, villages, and people by Israel with rocks or rockets, liberals and conservatives respond in lockstep with each other – perhaps using different rhetoric, but the sentiment is the same: If the Palestinians just stopped responding to the bully, who continues to indiscriminately target them and their children, the bully would leave them alone,” Hudson said. “Therefore, the continuation of the Israel-Palestinian ‘conflict becomes the sole fault, and therefore responsibility, of the Palestinians to ‘fix’.”

Even when Palestinians try to resist the occupation in other ways, they are vilified. As Hudson explained, “Many will say, ‘Perhaps the Palestinians should try a nonviolent response’. Oh, you mean like boycotting, divesting from, and sanctioning corporations and weapons manufacturers sending child-killing bombs to Israel? Like the tactics used to end South African apartheid? ‘No, not like that either,’ we are told.” We are pleased to publish the full text of Hudson’s speech here.

Photo by Josiah Wampfler

The parallels between the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the treatment of Black people in the United States were brought up throughout the event.

Black Umbrella Global, a local Black Lives Matter group that formed out of the rebellion of the last year, was involved in organizing the event and an organizer from Black Umbrella, spoke at the rally. As they put it, “It is the same government that is funding the murder and genocide of the people of Palestine – they are funding the tanks, the bullets – it is the same government that is funding the tanks, the bullets that murdered Ma’Khia Bryant, that murdered Tony Robinson. And last summer, Palestinians stood in solidarity. I remember watching the footage last year of Palestinians in the street … and they stood, and they said George Floyd’s name with us in the street calling for liberation.” They ended their speech with a call for “Free Palestine! All power to the people! Black Power, Free Palestine!”

After the rally, the group had a spirited march around Capitol Square. The march was mostly without incident, but one vehicle with a few people waved an Israeli flag out of their window as they sat at an intersection that the march crossed.

May 15th, the day of the rally, marked the 73rd anniversary of Nakba, or translated as “disaster” or “catastrophe”. The day commemorates when over 750,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes and their villages were destroyed by Israel in 1948.

The rally brought together a coalition of organizations including Reshaping Madison Together, the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, the Wisconsin Muslim Civic Alliance, Our Wisconsin Revolution Dane County, Jewish Voices for Peace, Allies for Black Lives, Black Umbrella Global, the Democratic Socialists of America, and Socialist Alternative Madison.

If we’re going to go, we go nowhere quietly

Rally Speech given by Ashley Hudson 

Photo by Josiah Wampfler

I’ll start by saying I’m not really here to provide a newsfeed or a history lesson. Some of our speakers may do some of this — and this is important — but this is not my goal for today. My goal is helping folks understand that our struggles here and in Palestine are connected, that solidarity is absolutely critical for liberation, and that we have a right to resist!

However, for a brief update – Late Friday night/early Saturday morning in Palestine, Israel continued to bombard the Gaza Strip killing several children and women at a refugee camp. As of 1am today, a UN report says that 10,000 Palestinians have been forced out of their homes in the Gaza Strip, as the death toll from Israeli strikes reaches 137, including 36 children. A total of 920 wounded, so far — and this has all just been since Monday.

In the last 20 years, Israeli forces have murdered at least 3,000 Palestinian children and it seems like every time I turn around, Israel is dropping bombs on Gaza again — but you don’t hear about it — not really — not much until now. I get that propaganda is a powerful tool — and I get that we are all subject to it. It can be difficult if not impossible to even begin to break through these duplicitous narratives regularly vomited out by both so-called liberal and rightwing media, so I’m sympathetic, to a degree.

For too long, all we ever heard was “news about the Palestinians terrorizing the Israelis and Israel ‘defending itself’”. And that’s pretty much a lot of what we still hear — but in recent years this narrative made a “progressive” shift to talking about “both sides” as being problematic. But frankly I am tired of hearing the Israel-Palestine “issue” infantilized — reduced to the idea of two kids who simply like to fight and can’t be controlled. And I believe this framing is intentional, as it allows the world to simply tune out — why wouldn’t they? If “the kids fighting” is nothing new, then it isn’t news — at least not news worth tuning into. The big kid who always walks around in SWAT gear carrying an AK-47 shooting the small kid walking around with rocks in his pocket elicits barely even a pause as you scroll through your newsfeed (the big kid, by the way, who gets a big allowance from the U.S. and other countries to upgrade their killing machines whenever they want). You think to yourself “well, maybe the small kid shouldn’t be carrying around or throwing those rocks”. 

“What I’m talking about should resonate with everyone here, because this abuser dynamic that many of us have unfortunately experienced on an interpersonal level is also precisely the dynamic of our government and its people — of the Israeli government and the Palestinian people — of every oppressive regime.”

Ashley Hudson 

If you still find yourself wishing that both kids should just “stop the violence”, let me go a little further. Have you ever been wronged, like *really* wronged, and wanted to fight back? Why did you want to fight back? Most of the time, it isn’t because you’re simply out to “cause trouble” or “be divisive” — no. You want to fight back because most of us have a natural yearning for some semblance of our conception of “justice” — because this is how we make sense of the world. We each have our own frameworks of what we believe is right and wrong. But by not addressing the wrongs — by staying silent in order to maintain someone else’s bastardized idea of “peace”, that line between our conception of what’s right and what’s wrong begins to disappear, making it increasingly difficult to identify or understand when we (or when others) experience injustice. By the way, whether you’re coercing or guilting someone into silence because you don’t want to “deal” with them, or because perhaps you don’t want others to know how you treat them behind closed doors — either way, that’s called abuse! 

What I’m talking about should resonate with everyone here, because this abuser dynamic that many of us have unfortunately experienced on an interpersonal level is also precisely the dynamic of our government and its people — of the Israeli government and the Palestinian people — of every oppressive regime.

We see it play out time and again — at home and abroad — and many us know all too well the reality of struggling to stay sheltered, to stay fed, to stay safe and healthy — to have our most basic needs met — nevermind trying to be happy, we’re forced to spend all our energy on simply not dying. I’m doing a kindness to Israel by saying that Palestinians are merely second-class citizens, because doing so suggests that Israel actually acknowledges the humanity of Palestinians, when they have done literally everything to show us that they see Palestinians as nothing more than rats under the floor, pests occupying “their” homes without permission — the Palestinians hoping they don’t get forced out or worse, killed simply for existing. 

For those of you who didn’t know, today is the 73rd anniversary of al-Nakba, which marks the mass forced expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in 1948. Since then, the territories in which Palestinians have been allowed to continue living have been dramatically shrinking — surely with the goal of “no more Palestine”. The reality is that every day is Nakba day, and what’s happening right now in Sheikh Jarrah is just one example of what happens to Palestinians every day. But as I said I’m really not here to give you all a history lesson, but instead to provide context for understanding that Palestinians have a RIGHT TO RESIST occupation. 

So when Palestinians (who are the small kids in my earlier analogy) respond to the literal daily super-power-sanctioned-and-funded terrorism of their homes, villages, and people by the big kid (i.e. Israel) with rocks, rockets or other acts of aggression, liberals and conservatives respond in lockstep with each other — perhaps using different rhetoric — but the sentiment is the same: If the Palestinians just stop responding to the bully, who continues to indiscriminately target them (and their children), the bully would leave them alone — therefore, the continuation of the Israel-Palestinian “conflict” becomes the sole fault, and therefore responsibility, of the Palestinians to “fix”. “Perhaps the Palestinians should try a nonviolent response, then” many will say. “Oh, you mean like boycotting, divesting from, and sanctioning corporations and weapons manufacturers sending child-killing bombs to Israel? Like the tactics used to end South African apartheid?” — “no, not like that, either”, we’re told. 

Recently, co-founder of the publication “Electronic Intifada”, Ali Abunimah, said in an interview, “people who find excuses to condemn an occupied people for resisting are people who would like Palestinians to die quietly while Israel does what it wants to do.”

MLK Jr.R said that peace is not merely absence of tension, but the presence of justice — so where is the justice for Black and brown Americans, for Palestinians, and for the oppressed around the world in “dying quietly”?

Ashley Hudson 

There are striking parallels of the treatment of the Palestinian people to poor, Black, and brown folks here in the U.S. and around the world. American police are trained to use the very same tactics IDF [Israeli Defense Force] uses to regularly brutalize and murder Palestinians. When Americans rose up in mass, unprecedented numbers last summer to protest police brutality, we were long past the point of “asking nicely” that our poor, Black and brown friends, families, and neighbors be treated like human beings — to not be *murdered* simply for existing in a body that makes people uncomfortable. But the protesting made people uncomfortable — and a lot of y’all were more concerned about damaged property than murdered PEOPLE. You would have preferred a more peaceful demonstration, devoid of the tension brought about these protests. But isn’t that the point? If you weren’t bothered by the protests, would you have heard the collective cries of millions in the streets? And if you wouldn’t have heard those cries, the raw manifestations of systemic suffering would not have been laid bare for the world to see. 

MLK Jr.R said that peace is not merely absence of tension, but the presence of justice — so where is the justice for Black and brown Americans, for Palestinians, and for the oppressed around the world in “dying quietly”? Know this — if we’re going to go, we’re going NOWHERE quietly. Palestinians have risen up against their U.S.-backed oppressor in ways I’ve never seen before. I don’t know if what’s happening is a third intifada — but I do know that our standing here today in solidarity with the Palestinians in Palestine will only strengthen their resolve, knowing that we see them — that we’re with them — that they’re not alone. 

I want to be clear: the U.S. — the Biden administration, the Trump administration, the Obama, Bush, and Clinton administrations, and every administration before them — is wholly complicit in the genocide of the Palestinian people. It seems like each year our military budget exponentially increases, along with our financial, political, and military support for an occupying force.

But frankly, I’m not really here to talk about the nuances of the so-called “solutions” inside of an intentionally narrow discourse that has been set for us by the ruling class, because not only are these “solutions” completely unrealistic under capitalism — they both intentionally escape the responsibility of the role of “oppressor”. Ultimately, the more mainstream “two-state solution” becomes the Middle East’s version of America’s Jim Crow-era “separate but equal” — and a “one-state solution”, which involves right of return, IS what is just — but just as Americans reside on the land we stole from the indigenous tribes long ago, there is no simple way to repair glass that has been shattered into hundreds of little pieces. It isn’t fair — and I’m so sorry. I don’t know the solution here or in Palestine — but I do know that we must first recognize our part in the oppression and genocide of these peoples. This is the first step. Without ALL of us (including the Israeli working class) taking this step, we’re just kicking a can down the road. 

In the meantime, I want you all to raise your voices and keep them raised. Do not stop speaking up for Palestine and for our friends and neighbors here at home. You have to be willing to risk things — including your job — to do what is right. It’s scary, I know. But if you don’t, the brutalization will never stop as we give our tacit approval to every genocidal regime we elect and support, willing or (usually) unwillingly. We must stop funding Israel! We must speak up about and participate in BDS! We must put an end to laws that prohibit us from being able to boycott genocide! 

When you leave here today, use the hashtags #FreePalestine, #SaveSheikhJarrah, and whatever else makes sense here. This is how we keep our voices raised in 2021.

Falastine hurra! Free Palestine!

What is Happening in Gaza is Not New

Speech given by Rowan Atalla

Photo by Josiah Wampfler

My name is Rowan Atalla. I am the treasurer of Madison-Rafah SIster City Project. I am also one of the hosts on Salamat, a half hour weekly show on WORT showcasing Arab and Arab American news, culture, issues, music, art…and food. It’s on Sundays at 6. 

Today is May 15th. Nakba Day. Nakba means “catastrophe.” This is the day Palestinians commemorate losing our homeland. 

As we speak, 73 years after the Nakba, Israel is engaged in a military campaign against Gaza at the same time it is trying to expel people who are already refugees from Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. 

What is happening in Gaza is not new. The scope and scale of the military campaign is larger than average. But the airstrikes are not new. The snipers are not new. This is what happens in Gaza. There is never a complete cessation. 

What is happening in Sheikh Jarrah is not new. It is the continuation of 73 years of settler colonialism. 

What is Sheikh Jarrah, beyond being a neighborhood in East Jerusalem? The families living in Sheikh Jarrah are already refugees. They lost their original homes in 1948 during the Nakba. 

“It is important to understand – and to spread the word – that the situation in Sheikh Jarrah is not unique. This pattern is not new. It is not an anomaly or a one-time thing. The pattern is the same one that has been repeated all throughout Palestine”

Rowan Atalla

“In 1956, the Jordanian government moved 28 Palestinian families into Sheikh Jarrah who were displaced from their homes in Israeli-held Jerusalem during the 1948 War.This was done in accordance with a deal reached between Jordan and UNRWA which stipulated that the refugee status of the families would be renounced in exchange for titles for ownership of the new houses after three years of residency.” This is from Wikipedia.

Well, it didn’t happen obviously – but these families were promised titles to the land where they relocated to from their rightful homes 

And then of course 1967 happened

In the years since, settlers have been encroaching on these homes, as they have been all across the West Bank and East Jerusalem. 

It is important to understand – and to spread the word – that the situation in Sheikh Jarrah is not unique. This pattern is not new. It is not an anomaly or a one-time thing. The pattern is the same one that has been repeated all throughout Palestine. Expel the family with the backup of the military. Take everything of value for themselves. Raze the house. Shrug and move on. 

This happens. All. The. Time. 

And in a country that claims to be the only Western-style democracy in the Middle East, the court, which nominally exists to make sure that the law is observed, overwhelmingly and unfailingly supports the settlers. Why? 

This brings us to a discussion of Apartheid. 

Apartheid refers to the implementation and maintenance of a system of legalized racial segregation in which one racial group is deprived of political and civil rights. Apartheid is a crime against humanity punishable under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. This is from the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute

On Friday, 12 December 2019, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD or ‘the Committee’) adopted the Al-Haq legal agency’s Concluding Observations on Israel, which highlight, for the first time, Israeli policies and practices of racial segregation and apartheid over the Palestinian people on both sides of the Green Line. 

This is an important point – on both sides of the Green Line – on both sides of the 1967 border. It’s not only in the West Bank, it’s not only in East Jerusalem. It’s throughout Israel. 

These conclusions include some of the following: 

“… disproportionate and adverse restrictions imposed by the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law , which suspends the possibility, with certain rare exceptions, of family reunification of Israeli citizens or residents of East Jerusalem with Palestinian spouses living in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.” 

“The tide of racist hate speech in public discourse, in particular by public officials, political and religious leaders, in certain media outlets and in school curricula and textbooks;” 

“The proliferation of racist and xenophobic acts that particularly target nonJewish minorities, especially Palestinian citizens of Israel, Palestinians residing in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and migrants and asylum-seekers of African origin;” 

“Reports that the judiciary might handle cases of racial discrimination by applying different standards based on the alleged perpetrator’s ethnic or national origin.”

These from the Al Haq Conclud.ng Observations document referenced above.

So most of you are already aware of what the situation is. Let’s talk for a bit about how you (and by extension everyone you know) can help.

How can you support Palestine? 

“Don’t keep quiet. Ask people to deconstruct the narrative they read and take a closer look. LET PEOPLE KNOW. If you boycott, tell people why. If you divest, tell the fund manager why. When you call and write to your representatives, ask others to do the same. When you donate to a humanitarian project, ask others to join in.”

Rowan Atalla

Learn more. Look beyond the usual sources. 

Follow those who speak out. Rashida Tlaib, Angela Davis, Linda Sarsour, Noura Erekat, Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada.

Stay abreast of developments by following media sources that are not Fox News or CNN – Middle East Eye, Al-Jazeera. 

If you are already well informed – become a resource. Learn as much as you can. Share what you learn. When someone tells you they don’t know enough (I’ve heard this plenty), tell them you can help. Offer to steer people toward resources that will help better educate them about the situation. 

Make sure your elected officials hear your voice. 

Call your representatives. Call or write a letter – these carry the most weight. Start with those in the federal government. 

Senator Baldwin – I would like to think that in Madison we could elect a strong progressive on all fronts. I don’t want to belabor that point too much. Senator Baldwin has been disappointingly quiet on this issue. 

Representative Mark Pocan – Representative Pocan has been to Gaza – well, he tried to go to Gaza and they wouldn’t let him in. This was a turning point for him as far as our cause – usually if you call Representative Pocan’s office it will be to thank him. But this is important too: when our leaders speak out on our behalf, they need to know that we appreciate their efforts. They need to know they have our support as well. 

Of course the federal government is only part of it – you need to be prepared to contact your representatives in the state government as well, because there are multiple state level initiatives to muzzle us, especially when we talk about Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions

And if your municipality has anything to say on the subject, and any of you who are familiar with the past of Madison-Rafah Sister City Project will know that this can be an issue even at the municipal level. But make your voice heard on all levels. 

Be prepared for pushback. Be prepared for apathy. Be prepared for the same things you hear from apologists for white supremacy here in the US. 

If you understand that Black Lives Matter, you understand how the narrative in the US is spun against them. When it comes to police interactions, white men are “shooters”, Black men are “killers”. White men are mentally ill. Black men are called criminals by virtue of their second cousin twice removed’s conviction for double parking.

The rhetorical tactics are the same. Israelis are “killed”. Palestinians “die”. Passive voice. 

When they talk about our children, they put it in quotation marks as if teenagers automatically deserve condemnation for looking like adults. How many times have we seen this weaponized against our own in the US? 

It is described as a “conflict”. Only one of the two sides has tanks, jets, drones, and warships. And a wall with snipers. Only one side receives millions in military aid from the US. They say “eviction” like people are in arrears on their rent. It’s an expulsion. 

If you understand this, if you understand these rhetorical devices and how they are used against us as Palestinians and how they are employed against Black and Indigenous people in the US – I invite you to invite people you know who have questions or are taking the media accounts at face value to reread those reports in the Western media with the same critical lens applied. 

Circling back around, of course – discussion of Apartheid goes hand in had with discussion of BDS, right? 

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions. 

Vote with your dollars. It’s super-easy to rationalize your way around this, but we need to boycott the companies that make the Occupation possible. Companies that supply the occupation of the infrastructure. Companies that operate in the settlements. Companies that profit from the settlement. 

Stop buying Hewlett-Packard. Even if it’s only inkjet refills. Throw your Hewlett-Packard all-in-one out the window and enjoy the sound of it crashing on the ground. 

And stop eating Sabra hummus. Buy local, or make your own. 

Also Puma, Caterpillar, SodaStream, Ahava, and others. 

Go to bdsmovement.net for more information 

Divest – more voting with your dollars. Just slightly different from retail.

“DIVESTMENT campaigns urge banks, local councils, churches, pension funds and universities to withdraw investments from the State of Israel and all Israeli and international companies that sustain Israeli apartheid.” This is from bdsmovement.net.

Several faith-based organizations have adopted resolutions to divest from companies supporting the occupation. You can do the same, and encourage others to follow suit. 

“SANCTIONS campaigns pressure governments to fulfil their legal obligations to end Israeli apartheid, and not aid or assist its maintenance, by banning business with illegal Israeli settlements, ending military trade and free-trade agreements, as well as suspending Israel’s membership in international forums such as UN bodies and FIFA.” 

You are all here, and I thank you again for being here. Of course it does imply that I am preaching to the choir. THANK YOU for being part of the choir. And now I am going to ask you as individuals to do what a choir is intended to do. Sing. Quietly if that is where you are. But sing.

Don’t keep quiet. Ask people to deconstruct the narrative they read and take a closer look. LET PEOPLE KNOW. If you boycott, tell people why. If you divest, tell the fund manager why. When you call and write to your representatives, ask others to do the same. When you donate to a humanitarian project, ask others to join in.

When you go to an event, bring a friend. Tell them to bring one too.

Thank you.

Photo by Josiah Wampfler

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