On October 15, at 2:00 pm, Gainesville residents from Palestinian, Jewish, and a number of other cultural backgrounds gathered in front of the University of Florida (UF) for a peaceful demonstration in support of the Palestine civilians who have been harmed in the recent conflict between Hamas and Israel.
No counter-protesters organized; however, a number of people shouted profanities from their cars at the Palestine supporters. Organizers encouraged demonstrators not to engage when being confronted. Security was present, with demonstrators being directed to go to them if approached by police. This did not come up as the University of Florida Police Department (UFPD) remained at a distance, with three officers watching the display from several yards behind the crowd but not interacting.
After a series of chants calling out the U.S. government’s support of the war, a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation made a speech about the conflict. She called out both the Israeli and U.S. governments.
“Two imperialist nations that only care about securing their capitalist interests in the Middle East, making sure oil and other resources are extracted for the property of imperialists instead of people living there. Mass displacement and death are always justified by the United States government in the name of profit. Profit is what fuels the U.S. war machine. We say stop the U.S. war machine.
What the Israeli military is doing to the Palestinian people is horrifying. They’re saying that their actions are justified. That the genocide they’re carrying out is justified. My heart goes out to the victims of violence on both sides, and I know Israel is using the actions of Hamas to justify mass killing. The Israeli settler colonial state is constantly killing Palestinian people and justifying their actions through racist political ideology."
She went on to call out President Joe Biden and the U.S. government for funding the war.
“We are critical of the fact that our current president continues to fund and escalate apartheid in historic Palestine, just like the last president and the president before him. We are aware the occupation of Palestine is a violation of international law, yet no action is being taken. We are aware that the United States government and the mass media outlets they control are trying to manufacture our consent to commit mass murder and displace billions of Palestinians.”
Following their speech, I got the chance to talk to the Socialism and Liberation Party member about the conflict between Israel and Hamas. She chose to remain anonymous and asked pictures with activist's faces not be taken due to retaliation Pakistan supporters have been receiving. She spoke about the conflict and the history behind it, along with responding to comments from administration at UF.
Q: Why are you here today?
A: To promote understanding of what's going on in historic Palestine right now. Watching the news and seeing the way that the killing of people in Gaza is being portrayed in the mainstream media is not right. I wanted to show solidarity with the Palestinian people and show them that there are people in Gainesville who understand their cause, who understand they're resisting occupation, and we stand in solidarity with them.
Q: How is Israel displacing Palestinian people?
A: In Israel, there are two areas reserved for Palestinians: Gaza and the West Bank. Gaza is currently the largest open-air prison on this planet. No one can go in or leave. Just this weekend, the Israeli military told the people of Gaza that 1.1 million people had to evacuate within 24 hours. That is an impossible task, and they are not opening the borders to Israel to evacuate this land. They are sending them to Egypt and then bombing its border. They are carpet bombing Gaza, and there are children there. As I said in my speech, the median age in Gaza is 18. That means that 50% of the people being bombed right now are under the age of 18. They're children, and they're indiscriminately bombing residential areas. They want to erase Gaza, and we cannot sit by and watch this happen.
Q: What does history tell us about this conflict?
A: History tells us that imperial powers across the world have always interfered in different countries in order to secure resources. The United States has upheld the idea that Israel is a homeland that belongs only to Zionists, which is a racist political ideology. A lot of people will say that is anti-Semitic, but it's actually anti-Semitic to conflate Judaism with Zionism. They are not the same. The idea that only Zionists live on the land and create an ethnostate is actually quite racist. History is telling us that this fight has been going on since 1948, when the original Nakba happened. Nakba means catastrophe.
Great Britain declared that this land belonged to the Zionists, and they pillaged Palestinian communities and homes to the point where 700,000 Palestinians had to evacuate, and 700,000 Palestinians still have no homeland. Under international law, we say that they have a right to return to historic Palestine, but that international law is not upheld. Beyond that, the Israeli government still continues to try to settle in Gaza and the West Bank.
Q: How is this apartheid?
A: The current situation in historic Palestine and Israel is apartheid. Palestinians do not have the right to travel in Israel. There are blockades, and they are constantly persecuted for even just trying to get to work. A simple trip to the grocery store can be hours and hours of waiting at a blockade. They're persecuted all the time. So it is an apartheid state. That is exactly the definition of an apartheid state. A lot of politicians are scared to call it that, but that is exactly what we're dealing with.
Q: Do you think that people don't see a difference between Hamas militants and civilians in this situation?
A: Yeah, I think the Israeli military is seeing the resistance that Hamas has displayed. They broke out of Gaza, the open-air prison, and they're a guerrilla group. They don't have an army; they have makeshift weapons. Israel is justifying mass death in Gaza, basically conflating Palestinian people with Hamas. It's against international law. It is against international law to punish Palestinian people for the actions of Hamas, and that's exactly what they're doing at this moment.
Q: In times of war and conflict, it can be hard to find a difference between right and wrong. How do you find the difference?
A: I think occupation is never justified, and given the way our mainstream media covers this issue. Our mainstream media has been owned by fewer and fewer companies over time. It's only six companies that own all of our mainstream media outlets, and they are an arm of our Pentagon. They’re acting on behalf of our Pentagon to justify what the U.S. military is trying to do. They're trying to stage a proxy war.
If you read and try to understand the situation, you can see that Palestinian people are in a David and Goliath-type situation. They're up against a giant enemy. They're up against the largest imperial force in the world, an Israeli army that's paid to the tune of $4 billion a year by the United States alone to fuel their occupation. In terms of right and wrong, occupation is never justified.
Q: Do you think a lot of the reports we're seeing from mainstream media are propaganda to justify what's happening?
A: They're calling this an Israeli-Hamas war. Even just that wording. What Hamas is trying to carry out is telling the world that killings have been happening to Palestinian people for years. In 2018, Palestinian people tried to march nonviolently, but they were brutalized… They’re trying to manufacture United States citizen’s consent for a war. They want to end Palestine with Israel and secure their stronghold in Israel, and we do not consent to that. We, the people of the United States, are educated enough to know that's not what we want our tax dollars to be spent on.
Q: Is this a protest or rally? What is this being called?
A: This is a demonstration. This is a peaceful space. We're making a space for people who support Palestinians and Palestinian people to come together and know that they're not alone. It can feel really hopeless and lonely to watch the news, seeing the mass killings happen, and see the mainstream media paint this picture that all Palestinian people are evil and promote Islamophobia on a large scale. We are not okay with it. Knowing that we're in solidarity together, it's hopeful. I feel hope. I have seen images on my feed this week that are horrifying. They're horrifying. Knowing that there are so many people in Gainesville who are resisting the occupation gives me so much hope.
Q: The president of UF, Ben Sasse, has made a very strong pro-Israel statement. Do you have anything you want to say in response to that?
A: I think it's interesting, as president, you'd think that he would be apolitical... Ben Sasse sure understands that he has Palestinian people studying and working at his university. It’s interesting that he is so quickly defending Israel while also not acknowledging the loss of life in Palestine. We mourn the civilian deaths of Israelis and Palestinians. I've just noticed that most of the time when people talk about mass death, they're only talking about Israeli people, and it's just another means to erase the Palestinian people.
Q: The executive director of a UF Jewish student organization, Rabbi Jonah Zinn, called a Palestine teach-in event being held a few days back a justification for abhorrent behavior. Do you have a response to that?
A: That's really sad. I hope that person becomes more informed about what's going on in Palestine. Resistance is always justified when an occupation is happening. These people are living in an open-air prison. No one can enter, and no one can leave. During the COVID pandemic, they were withholding essential resources to deal with the sickness in their population. Right now, Israel has cut off food, water, electricity, and fuel from Gaza. That is breaking international law. For someone at the university to so vehemently stand with a government that is carrying out genocide and apartheid, yeah, that's interesting.