Students commemorate 75 years of Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation in protest

Protestors of all ages waved Palestinian flags, chanted and held signs featuring slogans like “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” ORACLE PHOTO/JULIA HABCHI

Around 50 members of USF Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and other organizations protested for three hours against the ongoing occupation of Palestine on Saturday in light of the Nakba.

Protestors commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Nakba – the May 15, 1948 historical event which marked the beginning of Palestinian displacement, destruction and erasure by Israeli settlers.

Also present at the protest, which took place at the corner of 56th street and Fowler, were representatives of local activist groups including the Resistance of Tampa Bay (RTB), Dream Defenders, Tampa Bay Party of Socialism and Liberalism (PSLTB) and the Tampa Bay Community Action Committee (TBCAC).

Withstanding the heat, wind and heavy rain, protesters chanted slogans and wielded signs reading “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” “End all U.S. aid to Israel” and “Resistance is justified when people are occupied.”

Children as young as 5 years old, college students and grandparents alike all joined to express solidarity with Palestine. Passerby drivers honked their horns and onlookers clapped in support as they witnessed the protest.

Criminology and psychology major freshman Muftiah Al-Refaie said it is important for people to be aware of the significance of The Nakba, which directly translates to ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic.

“It was such an important part of history, we don’t want people to forget that. The catastrophe hasn’t ended. It’s ongoing. It was just the beginning and it’s still going on every day,” Al-Refaie said. 

Ever since the start of The Nakba, around 75% of Palestinians have been permanently displaced from their homes, with numbers consistently increasing every year, according to The Institute for Middle East Understanding.

“Literally a couple of days ago, Gaza was being bombed, children died. Whole families were wiped out, like their houses. It’s something that’s still happening. The ethnic cleansing, the genocide…it shouldn’t be happening. It’s apartheid,” Al-Refaie said.

Leali Shalabi, former president of SJP, said the Palestinian resistance is a symbol of hope, one that is intrinsically linked to the liberation of similarly oppressed states and groups of people.

“I think people need to realize that the liberation for one is a liberation for all. That’s why we have so many supporters, so many different people of diverse backgrounds, colors, beliefs. Every single person is showing up at our protests,” Shalabi said.

Speakers of different local activist groups took turns expressing their solidarity. However, a specific moment in the mission speech by biomedical sciences major and SJP Public Relations officer Jenin Abel was met with thunderous applause from the crowd.

“It symbolizes resistance, it symbolizes that we won’t let our morals or values go, that we will self-preserve and persevere. As a Palestinian-American, I refuse to let anyone forget because that’s what it means to be Palestinian, to stand for the minority and to hold your head high in the face of the oppressor,” Abel said in her speech.

Oppression as an undertone severely impacts how outsiders view resistance, injustices and the role of complicity, according to PSLTB organizer Ali Abdel-Qader.

“Tampa Bay has a large Palestinian community and we want to bring the community out here together in a show of resistance, especially students. This year has been the deadliest year for Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli occupation forces,” said Abdel-Qader.

Abdel-Qader said he wants to shed light on the positive impact that joining forces and rallying has as a means to bring change to systemic oppression, suppression and silence. 

“We wanted to show the Palestinian community that this is not a lost cause, that this is a popular cause and that things are shifting towards justice right now. Things are shifting away from Israel and its apartheid. More and more people are realizing the brutality of Israel’s occupation and realizing America’s role in being complicit with it,” Abdel-Qader said.

Sophomore health sciences major and SJP Vice President Farah Ghanem said that protecting Palestinian heritage and embracing ancestral roots is key in maintaining lineage as settlers occupy their homes and try to erase traditions.

“I feel like as a diaspora, we have to keep preserving the culture, the language, the food, the music…everything to the future generation, so it is never forgotten.”

Expressing solidarity and support is of utmost importance in fighting systemic oppression, with social media being a major element in spreading awareness, according to Al-Refaie. 

Compassion and empathy are two crucial and underrated factors that are just as powerful in showing support, according to Ghanem.

“I feel like there’s a lot that you could do. Listen to your Palestinian friends. If you’re not Palestinian, just hear them out. Because you don’t know what they’re going through. You don’t know what family they’ve lost…if there’s been a city that’s been taken over.”

Freshman finance major and SJP Treasurer Ghayda Khalil highlighted the importance of signing petitions to catalyze change. SJP established its own coalition earlier this year titled “Students Advocating for USF to Divest,” which has garnered 182 signatures so far.

“The U.S. actually supports Israeli occupation…by funding billions of dollars yearly, [according to] the National Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression in the U.S. They actually just funded $3 billion,” Khalil said.

The two countries’ interdependent support and relations don’t only operate at an international level, despite the fact that Israel’s practices have been publicly amounted to that of apartheid crimes, according to an article by Amnesty International. 

Khalil said USF as an institution has been historically known to support Israel by investing in brands that supply it with military weaponry, technology systems and financial aid. These include brands like Boeing, Hewlett-Packard and Caterpillar, according to an SJP Instagram post.

Despite the ongoing occupation, hope and optimism remains a common theme among Palestinians and allies. Al-Refaie shared her dreams and hopes for the future of Palestine.

“I hope that one day, especially during our lifetime, we can see Palestine be free and that people can just go back to their homes and not have to worry about like, ‘Oh, if I say the wrong thing, I could be arrested, I could be killed,’” Al-Refaie said.

In the meantime, strength in unity propels the fight for freedom, according to Shalabi, as with the understanding that every person has the power to activate change.

“The fight for liberation starts with one and we need to support each other because in unity, we can stand stronger together,” Shalabi said.