Hundreds of people, including families, students and children, gathered at Richmond’s Monroe Park on Wednesday to march in solidarity with Palestinians.
Waving Palestinian flags and holding up signs condemning Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza and the violence in Jerusalem, the protesters called for an end to hostilities and what they described as an Israeli apartheid regime.
The Arab American Association of Central Virginia, Richmonders for Peace in Israel-Palestine, and Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality held the event as the latest escalation of violence in the region continues in its second week.
As the march got underway Wednesday evening, the protesters chanted: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “Israel is a racist state.”
Midlothian resident Batoul Abdelhay, 17, marched Wednesday to represent her people. Abdelhay’s mother came to the United States from the Palestinian territories 20 years ago, leaving behind her family.
“They are always in fear,” Abdelhay said of her family. “I don’t think it’s right for innocent people to be killed, and [they] should not fear everyday life.”
In a news release before Wednesday’s rally, organizers said they were specifically calling for Israel to cease the bombing of Gaza, where 2 million Palestinians live, and the seizure of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem. The demands also called for the U.S. to stop providing aid to “Israeli apartheid.”
Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Chesterfield, addressed the crowd and called for the protection of fundamental human rights, such as access to water, health care services and hospitals, and the safety and security of home.
“No family should be illegally evicted from a home in which they have lived for generations, a home in which they have celebrated weddings … and nurtured their children,” said Hashmi, the first Muslim woman to serve in the Virginia Senate and the chamber’s first Indian American.
Marches in support of Palestinians were held across the United States on Saturday. Since the beginning of the violence on May 10, at least 227 Palestinians have been killed, including 64 children and 38 women, with 1,620 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not break the numbers down into fighters and civilians.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad say at least 20 of their fighters have been killed, while Israel says the number is at least 130. About 58,000 Palestinians have fled their homes. Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy, a 16-year-old girl and a soldier, have been killed.
Saturday’s marches occurred on Nakba Day, which marks when Israel was officially declared as an independent state in 1948. Israel’s independence caused a mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes in Israel and the beginning of the Arab-Israeli War. “Nakba” is an Arabic word meaning “catastrophe.”
“The Nakba has never ended,” Adeeb Abed, president of the Arab American Association of Central Virginia, said to Wednesday’s crowd. “The Nakba continues, and the resistance and fighting continue.”
Kashif Mohammad, a Richmond-area resident who is Muslim and originally from India, came to protest with his family and friends Wednesday.
“I think this issue ... is bigger than just an Israeli-Arab conflict. This is a human rights issue. It’s just happened far too many times to people like me,” he said. “I feel that this injustice has been going on long enough.”
In addition to Palestinian flags, several of the protesters held signs or references to other Muslim parts of the world, such as Iraq and the Kashmir region north of India and Pakistan.
According to an April report from Human Rights Watch, Israel is committing crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians who live in the occupied territory of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza strip.
In 2017, a United Nations panel declared Israel as having established an apartheid state. However, shortly after the report was published, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for its removal, as did the United States. The report was removed two days later.
Ana Edwards, a local racial justice activist, told Wednesday’s crowd of the shared oppression faced by Palestinians and communities of color.
“Black people and Palestinian people and Jewish people and Asian people, we share a common bond and struggle against racial colonialism, fascist and neo-fascist oppressions that must come to an end,” Edwards said.
Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.