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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Pro-Palestinian groups march downtown to call for ceasefire

Gainesville’s branch of Jewish Voice for Peace led the vigil and protest

<p>A crowd of 150 pro-Palestinian protestors stand in the middle of the intersection chanting in unison for an end to the siege of Gaza Saturday, November 4, 2023.</p>

A crowd of 150 pro-Palestinian protestors stand in the middle of the intersection chanting in unison for an end to the siege of Gaza Saturday, November 4, 2023.

Car horns blared at South First Avenue and South Main Street Saturday afternoon, when oncoming traffic found the road blocked by a crowd of 150 pro-Palestinian protestors standing in the middle of the intersection. Of the crowd, some carried roses, while others carried children on their shoulders — all chanting in unison for an end to the siege of Gaza.

The Vigil for Palestine event, promoted by Gainesville’s new branch of Jewish Voice for Peace, began at Bo Diddley Plaza at 5 p.m. Attendees wore black to mourn the lives lost in Gaza since the Israeli declaration of war on Palestine Oct. 8, and were encouraged to bring offerings for a makeshift altar.

Event leaders rolled out a scroll listing the names of Palestinian individuals killed since Oct. 7. before delving into a slate of statements from Gainesville pro-Palestinian organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine and Florida Prisoner Solidarity. 

Both the Jewish Mourner’s Kaddish and a prayer for peace from the Muslim Quran were read between speeches.

Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, a former UF religion professor, then took the megaphone to speak about her experiences as a veteran of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the first Civil Rights organization to issue a statement against the occupation of Palestine.

“We caught hell for that statement,” Simmons said. “Just as students, workers, journalists, professors and others are catching hell for standing up for the Palestinian people and calling for a ceasefire now.”

Simmons voiced concerns with President Biden’s and Gov. Desantis’ ideological and financial support of the Israeli military. American tax dollars are written on every bomb and every bullet used to aid the genocide, Simmons said.

While speeches progressed, protest leaders encouraged children to gather in the middle of the group, where markers and paper were laid out for them to draw their own Palestinian flags and sign a letter to Congress asking for a ceasefire.

Event organizers also brought a cart of water bottles and snacks, labeled with a sign reading “Food Not Bombs.”

When the speeches finished, the group marched down University Avenue to the intersection of South First Avenue and South Main Street, led by two banners reading “It’s not a war, it’s a genocide” and “End the occupation.”

After chanting in the street for several minutes — while police officers ushered traffic in the other direction — protestors marched back to Bo Diddley Plaza. There, they lit candles in a quiet circle of prayer before disbanding with instructions not to walk alone to their cars.

Aron Ali-Mcclory, a 20-year-old UF political science junior and national co-chair of the Democratic Socialists, believes the U.S. government’s refusal to call a ceasefire shows their complicity with genocide, he said. Attending the vigil brought mixed emotions, he said.

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“I’m happy to see events like this, but I wish we didn’t have to have them,” he said.

For Tirzah Etherton, a 29-year-old healthcare worker, the event carried similar dueling feelings. She’s worked to educate herself on the conflict, but wishes she could do more to help Palestinians, she said.

“It’s good to see people coming together,” she said. “But, I mean, we’re here and they’re there. And they’re dying.”

Contact Zoey Thomas at zthomas@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @zoeythomas39

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Zoey Thomas

Zoey Thomas is a second-year media production major and the university administration reporter for The Alligator. She previously wrote for the metro desk. Other than reporter, Zoey's titles include espresso connoisseur, long-distance runner and Wes Anderson appreciator. 


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