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Thursday, June 01, 2023

‘Palestine will be free’: More than 100 gather to protest annexation

A banner that read “Day of Rage, Statewide Action” hung above candles left behind from a vigil from weeks past: another protest found its home outside Heavener Hall.

More than 100 people gathered on the corner of 13th Street and University Avenue Sunday evening to support Palestine and protest Israel’s continued annexation of Palestinian territory. Annexation occurs when one country uses force to take another country’s territory.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to annex one-third of Palestine’s already-occupied West Bank starting July 1. The annexation will cut off Palestine’s border with Jordan, enclosing the country around Israel. It will also limit civilian’s water supply and speed up Israeli settlements in the region.

The announcement comes after U.S. President Donald Trump introduced the Middle East Peace Plan, which continues to support Israel while promising Palestine more than $50 billion if the country adheres to a list of conditions, such as seceding, or formally withdrawing, from areas in the West Bank.

Laila Fakhoury, a 22-year-old UF Spring 2020 graduate and former president of Students for Justice in Palestine, handed out flyers asking protesters to call U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rick Scott and Rep. Ted Yoho to express their support of Palestine.

As a Palestinian American, Fakhoury decided to organize Sunday’s event when Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, a group working to free Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, called for protests against the annexation. Fakhoury said she collaborated with activists in Tallahassee, Orlando, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale to organize statewide protests.

“It is something you can’t just sit and allow to happen,” Fakhoury said.

The annexation of Palestine has been happening since 1948, when Israel was first formed, she said. The establishment of Israel displaced more than 700,000 Palestinians who lived on land Israel occupied. Over time, more and more of Palestine has been annexed.

“They are saying it is the final and most aggressive annexation because it is gonna take basically the majority of Palestine,” Fakhoury said.

The area of Palestine remaining after the annexation will be isolated and citizens will be unable to use many of the roads around them, as some are reserved only for people in Israeli settlements, Fakhoury said.

Palestinians living in areas that will be annexed fear that walls, fences and checkpoints isolate them and limit their ability to get around. Netanyahu hasn’t yet explained how Palestinian villages in the West Bank will be connected.

The GoDDsville Dream Defenders, a Gainesville-based advocacy group, promoted the event because it believes freedom around the world is as important as freedom at home, said Kiara Laurent, a 21-year-old UF criminology and sociology major.

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“Oppression of any kind of people is not okay,” Laurent said. “We do not have freedom unless we are all free.”

Wallace Mazon, a Dream Defender and local activist, spoke through a megaphone during the protest. He said he didn’t know much about Palestine until he attended a protest against bombings in 2015.

“Our education system doesn’t want us to know what's going on,” Mazon said. “People don’t want to talk about Palestine.”

Paul Ortiz, a UF history professor and adviser to SJP, spoke about how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict mirrors U.S. history. He said both situations involve settler colonialism, which is the replacement of an original population with settlers.

The slogan “A land without a people for a people without a land” was popularly used during the establishment of Israel, Ortiz said. To Ortiz, the slogan mirrors American westward expansion, which resulted in the killing of Native Americans.

Ortiz also discussed the U.S.-Israeli relationship, stating that the U.S. gives Israel $3.8 billion in military aid every year. He also said the two countries hold exchange police training programs.

After several presenters shared poems, Fakhoury led protesters to the corner of University Avenue and Southwest 13th Street in chants.

“From Ferguson to Palestine, killing children is a crime,” the crowd shouted. “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

While some passing cars honked in support, not everyone near the intersection was in support of Palestine. A grey BMW drove past the protesters three times while a backseat passenger dangled an Israeli flag out of the window.

The driver then parked across the street from the protesters. Seven men exited the car and gathered across the street, holding up the Israeli flag. All seven declined to talk to The Alligator. Two wore shirts bearing the letters of Alpha Epsilon Pi, a jewish fraternity with a chapter at UF.

Another person exited The Standard at Gainesville and raised both his middle fingers at the protesters for Palestine while he crossed over to their side of the street.

During the protest, a camera crew from WCJB TV20 began to interview the counter-protesters. In response, protesters moved to be included in the camera’s lens.

Mustafa Aljundi, a Palestinian American and 22-year-old UF criminology senior, said he helped disrupt multiple counter-protester’s interviews because they were there to silence Palestinian voices.

“You have to drown out the ignorant messages,” he said. “It’s like white supremacists, you don’t want them speaking on anyone else’s behalf.”

After the counter-protester group grew to about 15 people, those in support of Palestine continued to chant.

“No border, no ban, no building on stolen land” they chanted. “Red, black, green, the colors of liberation,” they continued, referencing the colors of the Palestinian flag.

Across the street, the counter-protesters locked arms, forming a makeshift wall out of limbs and bodies.

“I was getting ready to wrap this up, but let's keep it going now,” Fakhoury told the crowd.

The chants continued on into the night.

Contact Tristan at Follow him on Twitter @TristanDWood.

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