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Sunday, June 16, 2024

UF, Gainesville communities rally on Nakba Day

Chants, speeches and a vigil for those killed in Gaza were held

<p>Protesters gather at the Plaza of the Americas in commemoration of the 76th anniversary of the Nakba on Wednesday, May 15, 2024.</p>

Protesters gather at the Plaza of the Americas in commemoration of the 76th anniversary of the Nakba on Wednesday, May 15, 2024.

A crowd of about 50 UF and Gainesville community members wearing keffiyehs and carrying Palestinian flags gathered in the Plaza of the Americas Wednesday evening to commemorate the 76th anniversary of the Nakba. The rally — organized by UF Divestment Coalition — also marked the third consecutive week of pro-Palestinian protestors occupying the plaza.

Nakba, meaning “catastrophe” in Arabic, is commemorated every May 15 and represents the forced displacement of Palestinians from their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, according to the United Nations.

Attendees gathered around a list with the names of the initial 7,000 people who have died in Gaza since Oct. 7. The list was surrounded by candles and weighed down with fake body bags. White T-shirts covered in bloody handprints which read “Stop Genocide” were passed to some protesters to wear.

There were six speeches made during the rally, followed by chanting and a vigil for those who died in Gaza. “Justice is our demand, no peace on stolen land” and “Free, free Palestine” were some of the chants at the rally. Some protesters held signs that read: “Disclose, divest, no excuse for UF,” and “Silencing dissent is not democracy.”   

Kayla Rukab, a 20-year-old UF studio art and digital arts and sciences junior and a member of UF Divestment Coalition, spoke at the rally. She said she grew up hearing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a Palestinian American. Her grandparents who fled Palestine told her that they have never seen such widespread activism for Palestine. 

“Before the world started to see Palestine, Palestinians felt as though it were our sole responsibility to keep Palestine alive through our blood,” Rukab said. “But now I see all of you here every day. People of all backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, genders, fighting for a free Palestine. Palestine lives through all of us. This passion must persist.”

Twelve UF student organizations, including the Asian American Student Union and the Women’s Student Association, released a statement Wednesday accusing UF of arresting nine protestors on April 29 “without just cause,” confiscating property “without due process,” harshly enforcing “vague policies” and depriving protesters who are disabled “the right to accessibility and accommodation.” 

One of the student organizations’ demands called for the establishment of a representative seat for the student body to advise the university on issues including “divestment, human rights, campus equity [and] student life regarding the treatment of diversity initiatives.” 

“We're here to engage in negotiations to try to get UF to stand on what it says and divest from those parties that are involved in the massacre of innocent civilians,” said Hasan Aldelamy, a 20-year-old UF chemistry senior. He is from Iraq and had been in the encampment in the plaza before nine protesters were arrested April 29. 

Aldelamy said after hearing about the rally, he came to amplify the movement’s voice. 

“I don't understand why I wouldn't be here,” he said.  

UF President Ben Sasse and Gov. Ron DeSantis have condemned and criticized the protesters. Sasse called them “20-year-old toddlers” in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. DeSantis described them as “imbeciles” supporting a “cheap cause” in a May 8 speech in the plaza. He also contended there has never been a Palestinian state and advocating for one amounts to endorsing a "second Holocaust."

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At a press conference Monday, DeSantis said the protesters at UF look like “a horse’s patoot” the more they talk. 

Fadi Alawneh, a 40-year-old Gainesville resident who attended the rally, said calling the pro-Palestine protesters “antisemitic” is “one of the most craziest things [he’s] ever heard.” 

Alawneh attended the rally with his daughter, Sham, 9, and his son, Omar, 7. He is a descendant of Palestinian refugees who fled their homes during the Nakba.

“My kids need to know their right to return to their land,” Alawneh said. 

Jazmin Cooly, a 32-year-old Gainesville resident, said they invite DeSantis to come read a book at the plaza. They are a descendant of Nakba survivors and said they “strongly agree with the demands of the UF Divest Coalition.” 

“I want to thank everyone for being here and still continuing to stay strong and to support us when the world has turned its backs on us,” they said in a speech.  

The Party for Socialism and Liberation will host a 7:30 p.m. teach-in on Nakba at the plaza Friday.

Contact Timothy Wang at Follow him on X @timothyw_g

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Timothy Wang

Timothy Wang is a third-year journalism major and the university administration reporter for The Alligator. He likes gaming (Cyberpunk 2077 currently), reading manga and watching shows in his spare time.

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