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Palestinian Voices Ring Out in Bay Ridge: Freedom Within Our Lifetime, They Demand

Around 1,500 protesters took to the streets of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn on Sunday to commemorate the 74th Nakba “Catastrophe” Day.

Amba Guerguerian May 17

Chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” and “Resistance is justified when people are occupied!,” a crowd of around 1,500 Palestinian protesters and their supporters marched through Bay Ridge Sunday to mark the 74th Nakba Day since the founding of the state of Israel on May 15, 1948, an act that forced the expulsion of around 750,000 Palestians.

Nakba means “catastrophe” in Arabic, and refers to the systematic ethnic cleansing of two-thirds of the Palestinian population by Zionist paramilitaries from 1947 to 1949 and the “near-total destruction of Palestinian society,” says Al Jazeera. In those two years, Zionists took more than 78% of what was Palestine, destroyed around 530 villages and cities, and killed around 15,000 Palestinians in more than 70 massacres.

Each year since its founding in 2015, Within Our Lifetime (WOL), a Palestinian-led community organization that is building the New York City-based movement for Palestinian freedom, has held annual Nakba Day protest in Bay Ridge, home to NYC’s largest Palestinian community. Last year, an estimated 50,000 protesters took the streets, as Nakba Day fell in the midst of a two-week Israeli assault on Gaza that left 260 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.

Sunday’s protest, while much smaller, was permeated by a similar sentiment of rage. Just four days prior on May 11, Israeli forces killed veteran Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, 51, who was dressed in full press garb at the time of her death in the city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank. Then, two days later, Israeli forces attacked her funeral procession; those bearing her coffin nearly dropped it. 

“Another assassination by Israel.”
Vigil candles set up by the demonstrators.

The day of action began with a vigil for Abu Akleh, which was followed by a rally that led into a nearly three-hour-long protest through Bay Ridge. At the rally, Nerdeen Kiswani, founding member of WOL, took to the pick-up-truck-stage on 5th Avenue and chanted, “From Palestine to the Philippines, stop the U.S. war machine! From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go! From New York to Jenin, justice for Shireen! From New York to Gaza, globalize the Intifada!” 

“And this is what it looks like to globalize the Intifada — to shut down cities, to shut down blocks all over the world,” she said to a cheering sea of kuffieyas and Palestinian flags. 

“We believe it is our responsibility and it is our duty to fight for Palestinian liberation, not just for the generations that come after us but for our generation during our lifetime. And the only way — the only way — that we will get free is if we act like it, believe in it and fight for it. And we can’t just be free when we come to the streets and march together. We have to be free in our schools, our jobs, with our families, and tell them what we really believe in!”

At the beginning and end of the march, and at least twice during the procession, the NYPD tried to block the path of the protesters, threatening arrest. But in each of these instances, WOL, with its supporters, was able to maneuver around the cops. To The Indypendent’s knowledge, no arrests were made. The group was strict with its tactics, asking protesters to stay behind the pick-up truck and banners that led the march and for journalists with press passes to record any police-protester interactions.

Present were mostly Palestinians and other people of Middle Eastwen and North African descent, with a good solidarity showing from other groups, including Decolonize This Place, Mexicanxs Unidos, Comite Boricua En La Diaspora, Existence is Resistance, Brooklyn Eviction Defense and more. 

The dakbe circle forms at the intersection of Bay Ridge and 5th avenues, with an NYPD van surrounded by the crowd.

At the end of the event, the group stopped moving at Bay Ridge Ave. and 5th Ave, occupying the intersection for nearly an hour — to the NYPD’s chagrin — and young men in the center of the crowd started a dabke, or a traditional circle dance to “Dammi Falastini,” a song by Palestinian journalist-musician Mohammed Arat. 

A drummer’s constant beat led the procession and on multiple occasion Palestinian music was blared from speakers for marchers who sang and danced in response. Adolescent boys flung themselves onto each others’ soldiers or up onto traffic posts to wave their homeland’s flag above the crowd. “Palestinians and all Arabs around the world have to unite,” said Moussa, a 16-year-old Palestinian-American from Bay Ridge who’s family migrated to the United States before he was born. His message to his counterparts in the Occupied Territories: “Stay strong and pray. Whatever happens, Inshallah.” 

A 20-year-old Palestinian protester who wore a T-shirt with Che Geuvara’s face and “REVOLUTION” printed below it said, “Fidel Castro visited Gaza and Palestine. Palestinians across villages, across towns, across the country — they wear necklaces and shirts and paint walls of Che. There is a deep connection between Palestine and Cuba,” he told The Indypendent.

“Palestine is our demand! No peace on stolen land!,” chanted the crowd as one young solidarity protester held a spoon in the air to commemorate the six Palestinian political prisoners who escaped from a high-security Israeli prison last year by digging a hole with a spoon, plate and kettle handle. The spoon is now a symbol of Palestinian defiance along with kuffieyas and flags.

When asked why she brought two young children to the protest, one woman said, “I didn’t bring them. We were just walking and decided to join in. These are my nephews.” The group of four was interwoven: child, mother, child, aunt, all holding hands. 

Some older people, grandparents and great-grand parents, were present, too. Tears streamed out of the eyes of one elderly woman as she watched the speakers at the rally. While marching, a woman named Hiam said, “This struggle has been going on for a long, long time and it is becoming now more savage. They did not let Shireen lay in peace. … They are attacking worshippers at Al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan. Mothers are losing their children — till when, till when, till when?!” Hiam expressed exasperation with mainstream media and the global human-rights community, comparing condolences sent to Ukraine and condemnation of Russia with the lack thereof regarding Palestine and Israel. “Please, the media, please, stop being so biased towards Israel,” she said.  

Also present at the march was a contingent of Hasidic Jewish men with the group Neturei Karta International: Jews United Against Zionism. “We are here because it’s the 74th anniversary of the catastrophe of Nakba. We do not agree, especially in our name, to all the wrongdoings. We must end the occupation,” said Rabbi Dovid Feldman. “Pre-1920s, Muslims and Jews lived in peace in Palestine,” he said. “We don’t need Israel to be protected. We were protected here beforehand. We don’t need Israel to harm others and endanger Jews.”

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