Despite consistent rain, community members gathered on the corner of University Avenue and Northwest 13th Street to protest for Palestine on Thursday evening. Over 100 community members attended the event organized by the Gainesville Solidarity Network, Students for Justice in Palestine, Party for Socialism and Liberation and Jewish Voice for Peace.
Palestinian and Israeli protests have frequently occurred across UF’s campus and within the Gainesville community since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack as Islamophobia and antisemitism are on the rise across the country.
Protesters chanted “Free free Palestine,” and “Gaza Gaza, don’t you cry, Palestine will never die,” with cars driving by honking in agreement, some holding a raised fist out the windows. The organizers provided attendees with water, ponchos and signs with bold, black letters reading, “Resistance against occupation is a human right,” and “End all U.S. aid to Israel.” By the end, ten full size Palestinian flags waved in the rain and a large banner had made its way to the front of the protest that read, “It’s not a war, it’s a genocide.”
Hamza Abuayyash brought his family to the protest to support his brothers and sisters in Palestine. Abuayyash, a 42-year-old Gainesville resident, and his family watched intently as various organizations spoke on the conflict.
He brought his two young daughters — 10 and 7 — so they could experience a peaceful protest. The girls cry in front of the TV when they watch news coverage of the conflict, he said.
“They need to know the truth,” he said. “To know the right things from the wrong things from their early age.”
Abuayyash’s nephew, Issa Abuayyash — a 22-year-old student at University Air Center Flight School — wants to raise the voices of Palestinians, he said. He supported bringing children along for the protest, claiming it was a nonviolent protest.
“We just want to let the world hear the voices of our people,” he said. “We're not here to harm anybody.”
Towards the end of the protest, the girls led one of the final chants. “You can’t beat a country protected by Allah,” one said.
Gainesville residents of all ages attended the protest, like 88-year-old Mary Elizabeth Cori-Jones who attends every protest she can because she wants to enact change. The number of residents showing out for the protests is only growing, she said.
“They're going to get bigger as more and more people realize that we've been suckered into this,” Cori-Jones said. "I am so angry with Congress, with President Biden.”
The protest's size has doubled since the protest she attended two weeks ago, she said.
One volunteer, Farrah Maswadeh, a 25-year-old Palestinian-American, wanted to get involved after she attended the first protest. She used her keffiyeh, a traditional headdress, as an example to explain the Islamophobia she’s been on the receiving end of since the attacks. She feels she has to hide her keffiyeh now, she said.
“People were saying nasty things to me — giving me the middle finger, telling me I'm a terrorist — and I was like, ‘holy sh-t, I can't wear this [keffiyeh].’ I used to wear this before October 7, and people would compliment it. They would tell me, ‘oh, this is so nice,’” she said. “But now I'm a terrorist.”
She wants the protest to encourage people to understand the conflict on a deeper level, she said. With the protests growing, she has hope.
“I hope people have more knowledge and awareness of the truth about Palestine, like some people talk about it and they don't know that it's occupied by Israel. They just think they live together and suddenly bad things started happening, like some people are genuinely clueless about this conflict,” she said. “I just hope the truth comes out.”
On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit against Florida's university system and Gov. Ron DeSantis for disbanding Students for Justice in Palestine chapters and violating the first amendment rights of students, according to Reuters.
“If Florida officials think silencing pro-Palestinian students protects the Jewish community – or anyone, they’re wrong,” Howard Simon, interim executive director of ACLU of Florida, said in a press release. “This attack on free speech is dangerous: today it is pro-Palestinian students, tomorrow it could be any other group the governor’s dislikes.”
Contact Ella Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @elladeethompson.
Ella Thompson is a third-year journalism major who's on general assignment for The Alligator's metro desk. In her free time, she likes to read, cook and think of feature stories for The Alligator.