More than 300 Palestinians and their allies gathered on Tuesday, May 15 in Boston to mark the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, the catastrophic Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestine, and to protest Israel’s massacre of Gazans participating in the Great March of Return. A fierce storm did little to dampen the fervor of the crowd, who were forced to move from the streets of downtown Boston to the welcoming sanctuary of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul at the height of the lightning and thunder.
The event, entitled “Remembering and Resisting: 70 Years of Ongoing Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine,” was organized by the Boston Palestinian Community, the Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine, Boston-wide Students for Justice in Palestine, Grassroots International, Jewish Voice for Peace-Boston, Massachusetts Peace Action, Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East, and United for Justice with Peace; more than two dozen other Boston area organizations endorsed the event.
These groups came together to remember the ways in which the Nakba is ongoing in terms of ethnic cleansing, a continuing refugee crisis, militarization of many Palestinian communities, mass incarceration of Palestinians (especially under military occupation), the building of walls and fences of confinement and separation, racism against Palestinians in Israel, Israeli repression of Palestinian expression and protest, and the 11-year siege of Gaza.
The intergenerational group of speakers at Remembering and Resisting included Palestinian professors, high school students, graduate students and human rights advocates, as well as representatives of the United American Indians of New England, the National Lawyers Guild of MA, and Jewish Voice for Peace Boston. The speakers linked recent events in Gaza with the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Janna Ramadan, a Palestinian American teenager read Mahmoud Darwish’s “To Our Land” and Mohamed Elrayess read the names of those killed as the audience at the event looked at placards with their names and ages.
Ahmed Abu Ratima, one of the organizers of the Great March of Return, sent a special message in which he said, “The march of return represents a new birth of life in the face of the many attempts to kill the Palestinians and their cause. ….the Palestinians who are marching these days are fighting for the principles of freedom, justice, and dignity… We take pride in your standing with us and we appreciate your commitment to the human conscience.”
Speaker after speaker testified about the dire situation of Palestinians in Gaza. Ayman Nijim, the Executive Director of Boston-based Common Ground, whose entire family lives in Gaza, told the audience, “In the last three days, I lost nine of my neighbors in my refugee camp, Deir Balah in Gaza. … Before the recent rampage on Gaza, we had 22,000 orphans. Imagine how high the number is now after the recent massacre. …I am under unending anxiety and fear for the life of my wife and two kids, my parents, and my brothers and sisters, as well as the entire people of Gaza …They feel as though the world does not care if they live or die.”
U.S. complicity in the ongoing Nakba was a frequent theme of speakers. Nasir Almasri, a Palestinian-American PhD student at MIT and organizer with the Palestinian Community of Boston stressed, “The most disturbing and disheartening facet of the Israeli assault on Gaza is the utter disregard by U.S. policymakers and media outlets for Palestinian life. Clashes have not led to people being dead. Israeli violence has led to Palestinians being murdered. In broad daylight. For the whole world to see. They can attempt to blame the Palestinians or Hamas or whomever else; one side is firing the bullets and the other side is dying.”
Other speakers countered the mainstream narrative that Palestinians brought the carnage on themselves. Nidal Al-Azraq, a Palestinian refugee who was born and raised in Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, stressed, “The Palestinians in Gaza are not crazy for protesting in thousands and walking toward the soldiers knowing that they might get killed. If you are oppressed, occupied, colonized then the normal thing to do is to resist.”
Carl Williams of the National Lawyers Guild of MA also linked the oppression of Palestinians to that of African Americans in the U.S.; Ari Belathar, representing Jewish Voice for Peace Boston, drew cheers when they said, “We are supporting you not in spite of being Jews but because we are Jews. Because it is naive to pretend that the moral vacuum of the occupation does not destroy the occupying society too.”
The event was covered somewhat sympathetically by the Boston Globe; a live stream version of it received comments from places as far flung as Argentina, Gaza, Haifa, Scotland, Italy and Australia. Most importantly, the convergence of groups organizing and endorsing the event was one more indication of growing power of the movement for justice for Palestinians.