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The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

November 4 protests against the violence in Palestine echo across the world

Across the world, several protests were held in solidarity with Palestine on Nov. 4, 2023. Protests occurred in Europe, Latin America and in the United Kingdom. In Asheville, hundreds of Asheville residents marched downtown to stand against Israeli violence. According to the Asheville Blade, it was the largest demonstration supporting the liberation of Palestine in Asheville’s history. 

“There were over 500 people at it. And it was completely self organized. There was visibly no police presence. There were people on bicycles, who basically gave us a perimeter. When we took to the streets, people were all supportive, with very little negative responses from folks. And even the cars that we stopped were totally patient. It was basically led by younger anarchists, and many who were who are Jewish and Arab Muslim folks. The speakers were basically all Jewish and Muslim,” said Anne Craig, an Asheville resident who has followed the conflict for nearly 30 years and is largely involved in Asheville’s efforts to support Palestine. “I think that one of the shifts that is happening is that younger people with their elder allies who identify as Jewish are completely appalled by what’s going on. They are saying, ‘never again’ for anybody and ‘not in our name.’ I think that’s having quite an effect on the whole zeitgeist of this issue.” 

In the U.S. capital, the same day, an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 people took part in the National March on Washington to Free Palestine. Helicopters flew above a crowd that spilled into the street, surrounding Freedom Plaza. A woman hung a Palestinian flag atop the General Casimir Pulaski statue. On Pennsylvania Avenue NW, men and women atop a UHAUL van banged on drums. One of them held a megaphone, demanding an immediate ceasefire. The event marked the largest attended pro-Palestinain protest in U.S. history. 

“Today is a stand with the Palestinian people, both in Gaza of course as well as the West Bank. Specifically it’s regarding the genocide that is currently happening in the Gaza Strip, that is fully funded by the United States at this point,” said Milal, an Ohio resident with family in the West Bank, who stood amongst the several hundred thousand standing in support of Palestine. 

The United States is complicit in Israel’s militaristic bombardment of Palestinian Territories, Milal said. For 75 years, Israeli colonial occupation has devastated the Palestinian population. As of Feb. 21, 2024, according to Al Jazeera, at least 29,708 Palestinains have been killed in Gaza and the occupied West Bank. In Israel, about 1,139 people. As of a Feb. 13 report from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 11 out of 35 hospitals are partially functioning. 1.7 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million person population are currently living in refugee camps. At least 360,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed. 

“There’s more than a quarter million’s worth of nuclear bombs that’s been dropped on Gaza at this point and it just continues to go up. This is all being funded by our tax dollars, so as Americans, our job is to stand up and tell the authorities here and our representatives that this is our money, and we won’t allow them to continue funding genocide using our fucking tax dollars. It’s a human right, it’s a moral right and it’s a responsibility that all of us have as free-thinking Americans to stop funding this,” Milal said.  

According to Milal, many of those present traveled from various parts of the country to attend the march. The large turnout is indicative of a larger sentiment, one reflecting support for Palestinian liberation. 

“We talked to some people earlier that flew in from L.A. They’re coming from all over the country. I think this is the beauty of social media and the beauty about access to information is that it’s a lot harder for the mainstream media to cover up. It’s been happening for 75 years, but finally I think technology is trumping mainstream media,” Milal said. 

The swarm of attendees stood around a stage where several guest speakers spoke in solidarity with the Palestinian fight for liberation. Amongst the speakers were Omar Suleiman, Mohammed El-Kurd, Noura Erakat, Nehad Awad and rapper Macklemore. Following the speeches, starting from Freedom Plaza, the attendees marched towards the White House. The streets were packed. People flew Palestinian flags from trees. Outside the metal fencing surrounding the White House, stood Tara from Montreal, Canada with the Palestinian Feminist Collective, a body of Palestinian and Arab feminists dedicated to achieving Palestinian social and political liberation.  

“I’m part of the Palestinian Feminist Collective, which is one of the host organizations that organized this march. We are here in D.C. to demand a ceasefire. Hundreds of thousands of people are here to ask for a ceasefire, lift the siege on Gaza, open the humanitarian corridor to let humanitarian aid in and of course to decolonize and liberate Palestine,” Tara said. “I’m Palestinian. Like most Palestinians, I’ve been so devastated of the violence that we’re seeing, but at the same time we are so proud of our people. We love our people so much. We love that every time they resist, they’ve been resisting for over 75 years. They’re going to continue to resist. They’re steadfast in their struggle for liberation, and so for us here in the belly of the beast, we’re steadfast with them.” 

Amongst the crowd, banners, posters, flyers and chants are shared by those present. A long list including the names of Palestinians killed is held above the heads of the attendees. “Free, free, free Gaza now,” “Viva, viva Palestina,” “Ceasefire now” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” are several of the chants heard repeatedly throughout the march. Many individuals held olive branches, a symbol of nationality recognized by many Palestinians, according to an attendee who held one, who requested anonymity. 

“For us, olives are a major thing. Palestinians are obsessed with their olive trees. There are olive trees in Palestine that are hundreds, if not thousands of years old. It is one of our main crops. It also has become a symbol of peace. For a lot of people, it’s become a symbol of resistance. If you watch the news from outside of the United States, you’ll see that a lot of settlers in the West Bank go into the fields of the Palestinians and burn their olive trees, because it is our most prized possession. Handed generation to generation. It breaks my heart when I see it. The sad part is Palestinians in the West Bank are being harassed by settlers to not harvest this year,” said Sam Salaymeh, a dual citizen in both the U.S. and Jordan, over Zoom.

“Being a Palestinian, a lot of my family were activists. A lot of my family has been in Palestinian territory. A lot of my family members have been imprisoned, killed, you name it. It’s a Palestinian story. Unfortunately, there’s not a Palestinian household without prisoners or people who have been killed,” Salaymeh said. “If you go back in history, when you think of the Puritans that came to the new world, to what is now the United States of America, a lot of them believed that they were the chosen people. That they are carving this new Zion in the United States. This has nothing to do with Jewish Zionism. This is an ideal that’s existed with people and it’s rooted in the colonial settler mindset, which is in my opinion, rooted in racist ideals, where a race believes that they are superior to another and therefore are entitled to the others’ resources because the others simply do not count as human, and therefore are not entitled to the same rights as what is perceived by them to be the superior race.” 

Fast forward several weeks to North Carolina’s state capitol. In Raleigh, a Shut It Down For Palestine march and rally were held in Moore Square on Nov. 26, 2023. Speakers and attendees gathered on the northeast side of the park across the street from the Marbles Kids Museum. On the other side of the park stood men in bullet proof vests, one of which read “Forza Security.” Amongst the speakers was Erin Dale McClellan, a member of Black For Palestine, a network of black activists in support of the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice, peace and self-determination. McClellan performed a song with her two sons, who accompanied by playing drums. “One day, we’ll all be free,” McClellan sang. 

“I am out here supporting a peaceful protest of folks from the Raleigh area that are standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people and are calling for a ceasefire and to also call on the United States to stop supporting this atrocity that they’re committing currently against civilians in Gaza,” McClellan said. “Black For Palestine is a movement or network of leaders. We’ve come together really around the solidarity statement that people from all across the country can sign. They’ve also shared different readings and materials. They help us to understand the long history of solidarity between blacks in America and the Palestinian people.”

Following the rally at Moore Square, all attendees proceeded to march towards the state capitol building. The group marched in the street, circling around the capitol building. Police stood around the capitol building, attentively watching those marching. A truck led the march, with a banner reading: “#CeaseFireNow, Veterans For Peace.” On the back of the truck read a sign with the face of Martin Luther King Jr. and a quote reading: “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” 

“I hope for a solution that honors the dignity of the Palestinian people, as well as the Jewish people in that area. I actually separate, in my mind, the people from their leaders. In the United States, the majority of Americans don’t support war, they don’t support the loss of the right to choose. They don’t support poisoning the water nor guns killing children in our schools. The majority of us don’t agree on everything, but when you look at the numbers and the polls, you will find we stand against this, but our leaders do it anyway. They don’t actually represent the people and I believe that the same thing is happening in Israel. I don’t believe that the Israeli people in Israel across the board support what is happening. I may be wrong, but in my heart, I feel like it’s the leadership that makes these decisions and that we the people end up suffering,” McClellan said. 

Following the March On Washington and the march in Asheville, on Nov. 9, 2023, the Party for Socialism and Liberation hosted a call to action in support of Palestine in Pack Square park. Citing “reports of scheduled protesting,” Buncombe County and Asheville city offices closed two hours before the protest began. At the event, several gathered around those speaking. Local media stood aside, across the street. A drone flew above the attendees heads.

“We are trying to mobilize people to call an end to the genocide, to free Palestine, to end all U.S. aid to Israel. Clearly our politicians don’t listen to us. We don’t really get a vote about where our tax dollars are going. They are going to fund murder in Palestine and a lot of other places across the world. Even when we’re in the streets in the way that we are, they don’t listen. The Senate passed a unanimous resolution condemning the protests and calling the students anti-Semitic and pro-Hamas which is not the message at all,” said Sarah Dearmon, a member of both PSL and the ANSWER Coalition, or Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, a coalition offering uncompromising support in the defense of rights for Palestinian people.  

Dearmon was one of 13 people in Western North Carolina who attended the march in Washington D.C. According to Cody, a member of the Western North Carolina branch of the PSL, they took a van with both members of the organizations and non-members interested in attending. 

“We are trying to mobilize as many people, the working class, oppressed people from all groups, because all of our struggles are connected. We won’t be free until Palestine is free. If our government isn’t going to listen to us when we call, when we vote, we’re going to hit the streets and we’re going to be loud, we’re going to be disruptive and we’re going to make sure they listen to us,” Dearmon said. 

Amongst the attendees of the Nov. 9 march were several members of Reject Raytheon AVL, a group of local activists in the Asheville area dedicated to ensuring that economic development in Buncombe County relies on investments in a local economic model, rather than on incentives given to war profiteering multinational corporations. According to Reject Raytheon AVL’s mission statement, they intend to highlight the military industrial complex’s presence in the local region. The group hopes to shine light on the role of military contractors, such as RTX, formerly known as Raytheon and its subsidiary Pratt & Whitney, which on Nov. 16, 2022, opened a 1.2 million-square-foot plant in South Asheville.   

“I would initially say that their rationale was to bring jobs. Also, I think, from the land owner, JAXA’s perspective, and probably the Chamber of Commerce, they’re really trying to anchor an aerospace technology industry here. Pratt & Whitney was, you know, even Jack Cecil himself uses the analogy of having an anchor store. He talked about it, like he talks about Biltmore Park, having an anchor store that will draw more businesses, and we’re already seeing that happen in that they have jumped. They have just put in an application to rezone some more of their property that is adjacent to the Pratt & Whitney site,” said Melody Shank, a member of Reject Raytheon AVL. 

According to Shank, and several other Reject Raytheon AVL members, the establishment of the Asheville Pratt & Whitney plant reflects the city’s compliance in Israel’s militaristic assault of Palestinian territories, as Pratt & Whitney manufactures F-15 and F-16 engines for fighter jets, in tandem with RTX, who provide the Israeli Air Force with air-to-surface missiles for the same model of jets.   

“On some level, this is the nature of the system that we live under. The United States is the leading imperialist nation. Our system depends on war, it was born out of war, it requires war to maintain it. And we can see that in so many different ways, whether it’s the 800 military bases that the US maintains around the world, the incredibly bellicose and aggressive foreign policy posture of the United States, or just really, the fact that this war in the war machine really props up our entire system, and is fundamental to what we might call an American way of life. The war machines’ role in our society is so normalized, that it passes without notice or objection,” said Claire Clark, an organizer with PSL and partner of Reject Raytheon AVL. 

On Nov. 11, 2023, a Palestinian Children’s Relief Fundraiser Fest was held at Static Age Records. The show was one of three held that weekend, with the other two occurring at The Rabbit Hole and Different Wrld. Artists Nostalgianoid, Nina G, Terredome and Wizedev performed in solidarity with Palestine at the Saturday night show. 

“You’re never too far, you can never be too close. It’s really hard to put a lot of these feelings into words. The best thing you can do is to speak about it. Post all you want, but you have to have these conversations and sit with yourself and reflect on yourself,” Wizedev said, standing outside Static Age Records. 

All proceeds went directly to the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund, a fundraiser supplying humanitarian aid in Palestine to support long-term recovery efforts in Gaza. Above the heads of those in the audience, someone had thrown a keffiyeh that had wrapped around a disco ball, glittering from the lights shun upon it. According to an anonymous attendee of the National March to Free Palestine, the keffiyeh has long symbolized Palestinian nationalism. At the end of the last performance, those on stage and in the audience joined together to chant: “Free, Free Palestine!”  

“We need more things like this. Anybody that has a voice, they need to use it in any capacity they have. No voice is too small,” Wizedev said.

A little over four months later, on Feb. 15, 2024, 10 people were killed in Lebanon by Israeli strikes, as reported by Reuters. Hezbollah, since Oct. 7, 2023, has attacked Israeli border targets nearly everyday, saying its efforts will continue until Israel stops. Rafah, sharing a border with Egypt, located in the southern Gaza Strip, is now densely populated with nearly 2.3 million displaced residents, six times over its original population, preceding the initial Hamas attack. Israel plans to expand its ground assault, having already begun air strikes. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Rafah as the “last bastion,” where the remaining “Hamas terrorist battalions” reside. 

Netanyahu’s office plans to evacuate Rafah, but Egypt cannot permit the crossing of all of Rafah’s current residents. On Feb. 16, Egypt began construction of a fortified buffer zone, to potentially offer basic shelter to nearly 100,000 displaced Palestinians. Israeli allies express concern of the planned Rafah offensive. On Feb. 20, the United States vetoed a UN resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. Two days prior, on Feb. 18, a “Hands Off Rafah! Emergency Action” event took place in Pack Square. “Biden, Biden, you can’t hide! We charge you with genocide,” attendees cheered. Amongst them is PSL organizer, Cody Cogdell, alongside many others.

“As this genocide continues, it is so important that all of us keep our attention especially on what is happening in Rafah. We must not only keep demonstrating and disrupting, but escalate our demonstrations to meet the looming tragedy in Rafah,” Cogdell said. “It is also important to stress that none of this destruction would be possible without money, weapons and political cover from our government. The U.S. sends an average of $3 billion a year to Israel and North Carolina sends almost $92 million a year just to the Israeli military.”

At the event, there are two attendees, Nour Lotfy and David Contorno, speaking with one another. Lotfy wears a keffiyeh. On Contorno’s arm is a Star of David tattoo. According to Contorno, the event’s attendees are acting in good faith, but come across as black and white. 

“Instead of saying, ‘come to me,’ they’re saying ‘this is what you should think,’” Contorno said. “I think they should get on a plane and fly to Gaza and sit amongst the people. They are not there, they are in lily-white Asheville, North Carolina. It’s a protest that’s not genuine. My beliefs don’t come out until someone else’s beliefs come out. I’m always willing to learn, I’m always willing to hear someone else’s side. I don’t look at a single source, but I know people that are fighting on the Israeli side, and they’ve sent me videos of military installations in the basements of hospitals. How do you care about people, but you’re putting military installations in the basement of hospitals? The reality is until we can recognize humanity, no matter what their skin color is, no matter what their religion is, they equally have a right to be on this planet as I do. Granted, who are we to say, ‘here’s the land you can live on,’ but the point is Jews had no land for centuries. I don’t feel Jews have any more right to be in Jerusalem than Palestinians do. There’s no easy solution to this. Do you recognize the nuance? I came among you peacefully to have a conversation. I think there are a group of people, not all of them but some of them, all they do is show up here and nothing more. They don’t do the hard stuff, just the easy stuff. I take the easy approach most of my life, but I didn’t take the easy approach walking across the street. I wish more people lived more in how Jesus lived as a person and not as the lily-white person we made him to be. He wasn’t white. How did this man, who lived as a Jew, then white people created a religion in his name, become completely contrary to what he himself believed?” 

Lotfy responded. As of Feb. 22, 2024, according to Reuters, Israel plans to take part in negotiations in Paris this weekend to discuss a potential ceasefire as well as the release of Israeli hostages in Gaza. The remaining hostages will not be released until Israel ends its campaign and it withdraws from Gaza, Hamas says. Israel plans to continue until Hamas is eliminated, according to Israeli sources. At least 120 people were killed in the last 24 hours of Israeli strikes. 130 are wounded. Many lie under debris. On March 2, another Hands Off Rafah! Event will take place in Pack Square at 2 p.m. 

“There is no airport anymore. Israel destroyed it. They cannot actually do that. Ashevillian tax dollars get sent to Israel, but for your information, this is not the only action. We’ve been showing up to Asheville city council every single month, urging them to pass a ceasefire resolution, telling them exactly why it’s a local issue. We have a resolution if you want to do something. We have a resolution written by a Jewish member of the community,” Lotfy said. “The Al-Shifa Hospital. Biden and Israel said ‘you have to raid this hospital, because of tunnels.’ A CNN reporter was able to get in and an IDF soldier literally stood at a calendar and said ‘look,  this is the calendar in the basement where all the people sign in and sign out that are terrorists.’ I was born and raised in Egypt, so you can trust what I’m saying.”

“As someone who reads Arabic, watching this calendar, I kid you not, it said: ‘Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.’ If you knew there was a classroom in the United States and there was a school shooter, in the classroom, would you bomb the classroom? It’s the same thing. It’s the same disparity. None of these people think any Jew or Israeli person needs to be wiped off the planet. The founder of Israel, Herzl, in a letter to the British, said ‘I think you are going to support this Zionist project of the State of Israel, because it’s a colonial project. That’s right up your alley.’ There’s a lot of nuance. The solution to me, personally, is when 30,000 people are dead, at least 12,300 of those being children, what I do is everything. If nothing has worked in the last 100 years of Palestinian struggle, then I’m going to do everything. I show up here, but I’m also talking to you. I mobilize people to do a ceasefire resolution at their city council. None of these people are doing just one thing. I don’t think they’re taking the easy approach showing up here. Jesus was a Palestinian Jew. You know what is the bigger supporter of Israel in America than AIPAC? The Evangelicals,” Lotfy said.

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