An estimated 1,500 people marched in downtown Tempe on Oct. 14, 2023, to protest the Israeli bombings of the Gaza Strip. Photo by Francesca D’Annunzio | Arizona Mirror
Downtown Tempe was covered in a sea of black and white keffiyehs and Palestinian flags on Saturday night, while an estimated 1,500 people marched in protest of Israel’s bombings of the Gaza Strip and threatened invasion.
The rally, which began at the Islamic Community Center of Tempe, was peaceful and without incident. There was not a notable presence of counter protestors.
The crowd chanted pro-Palestinian slogans, including “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” in English and Arabic, and criticized politicians: “Netanyahu, shame on you, Biden shame on you!”
Some organizations, like the Anti-Defamation League, have criticized the slogan, saying it calls for the dismantling of the state of Israel.
For the Palestinian American Center, which organized the rally, the chant calls for equality.
“We want Jews, Muslims and Christians to live side by side in peace and enjoy equal rights and free access to their properties and holy sites,” spokesperson Mohammad Riyad wrote after the rally in a statement to the Arizona Mirror. “We want this freedom and peace from ‘the river to the sea’ of Palestine. If this happens, the wonderful past experience of coexistence in the historical land of Palestine will be freed again.”
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Protestors decried Israel’s latest siege, which has been the deadliest war Gazans have experienced. In the last week, 2,670 Palestinians have been killed and 9,600 have been wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
The Israeli military’s most recent bombing campaign and evacuation warning has drawn comparisons among some Palestinians to the Nakba, the mass expulsion of more than 750,000 Palestinians in 1948 ahead of the creation of the state of Israel. Prior to the Nakba, which is the Arabic word for catastrophe, Palestine was a multi-ethnic society.
“This has been going on for 75-plus years. Not in a week, not in a month. It’s been going on for decades,” said Tariq Alhmidat, 25, a Palestinian-American who lives in Peoria.
“I’m really saddened by all the violence,” said Mike Bradley, 65, a coordinator for the Arizona Palestine Network. “I firmly believe that we need to influence our government to influence Israel to end its apartheid system with the Palestinians. Our tax money shouldn’t be used to support the oppression of other people.”
Jana Sunn, a 56-year-old member of the Indigenous Piipaash nation, said she stands in solidarity with the Palestinian cause because her community experienced similar violence, but at the hands of white settlers in the United States.
“We went through the same atrocities,” she said. “Everything that happened to them happened to our people already.”
The Tempe rally comes as the Israeli military prepares for an invasion of Gaza by air, land and sea. More than 2 million Palestinians reside in the area, which is densely-populated.
Human rights advocates and academics have decried Israel’s retaliatory bombing of civilians and blockade of essential goods.
UN human rights expert Francesca Albanese warned that “Palestinians are in grave danger of mass ethnic cleansing.”
Israel’s bombing in Gaza comes in retaliation to attacks by militant group Hamas on Oct. 7, in which the militant group killed at least 1,300 people in Israel. Israelis and Jews around the world have drawn parallels between the trauma of last week’s attacks to the Holocaust.
Hamas has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, Israel and several countries — though some nations only apply that label to Hamas’ military wing. The United Nations has not designated Hamas as a terrorist group.
In Tempe, there was not a pro-Hamas banner, flag or sign in sight.
The Palestinian American Community Center, which organized the rally, condemned war crimes, the targeting of civilians, racism, and terrorism.
“Targeting civilians, children, and elderly people from both sides is strongly and unequivocally condemned. We condemn all forms of racism including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia,” the center said in a written statement. “Palestinians do not stand nor advocate for terror, or the murder of innocent civilians. Irrevocably, the Palestinian cause supersedes any act of terror.”
At the conclusion of the march, cars by the Tempe mosque donning flags in solidarity blasted a Palestinian pride song. “You will find me on my land, I belong to my people, I sacrifice my soul for them,” the lyrics rang through speakers.
“My blood is Palestinian, Palestinian, Palestinian.”
***UPDATE: This story has been updated to include additional comments and reporting.
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