Featured photo: Protesters gather in front of Winston-Salem’s city hall to call for a ceasefire. (photo by Gale Melcher)
“Occupation is a crime! From Winston-Salem to Palestine!”
As dusk fell over Winston-Salem’s city hall on Monday evening, a wall of protesters appeared in front of the building to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza and end US military aid to Israel.
“Louder louder, say it more! Not a conflict, not a war!”
On Oct. 7, Hamas, the Palestinian militant organization that governs the Gaza Strip, led an attack on civilians in Israel, killing 1,200. Since then, the Gaza Strip has been devastated by a barrage of Israeli bombs and ground assault, and Palestinian authorities say that the death toll has reached 25,000.
“Resistance is justified when people are occupied!”
Rafia Kirmani and co-chair of North Carolina’s Green Party Tony Ndege led chants as protesters followed along.
“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free! In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians!”
Protesters cheered as a car drove past honking.
“Five, six, seven, eight! Israel is a terror state! Not another nickel, not another dime! No more money for Israel’s crimes!”
Some protesters compared local struggles to those abroad.
Rute Ayalew with local advocacy group Hate Out of Winston told the crowd that the “systems displacing, oppressing and killing Palestinians are the same systems displacing, oppressing and killing Black Americans to this day, right here in Winston-Salem and across the country.”
“Justice is our demand! No peace on stolen land!”
Ayalew feels that housing issues in Winston-Salem mirror those in the Middle East, saying, “just as the Palestinians watched their homes get demolished for the creation of more profitable Israeli villas, the low-income and majority-Black Winston-Salem residents and tenants of 800 Spring St. saw the city sell their complex to a private developer, despite every tenant petitioning against it.”
In November, councilmembers voted to buy Clifford Apartments at 800 N. Spring St. from Experiment in Self-Reliance, a local nonprofit that was struggling financially. Earlier this month, they agreed to sell the complex to Jared Rogers, a local developer. Tenants became dismayed and uncertain about their future.
Ayalew added, “Just as the Israeli military kills Palestinians, American police kill Black Americans.”
“Our money gets Israel paid! We say no more to military aid!”
Steve Feldman grew up deeply immersed in his Orthodox Jewish community and attended the Hebrew school and synagogue that his grandfather helped to found and his father helped lead. Much of his mother’s family were killed during the Holocaust.
“Those experiences have created my focus for how I see the world,” Feldman said. “In Hebrew school, they taught us to be a light to nations, to treat others the way we would want to be treated, and to never let another Holocaust happen again to anybody.”
Dasia Washington is a student at Guilford College who spoke to TCB outside city hall on Monday. In these last few months, Washington has been feeling “so much grief.” That grief “manifests in a lot of ways: It manifests in sadness, a lot of anger.” Washington added that those feelings have intensified with people’s “indifference.”
Within city hall, protesters filled up the council chambers and urged councilmembers to consider their demands.
Ndege gave copies of a drafted resolution to the city clerk and pleaded with councilmembers to use their voices to call upon North Carolina and US leaders, saying, “the federal government holds immense diplomatic and appropriations powers to save lives in occupied Palestine.”
Mayor Allen Joines and city councilmembers did not comment following the protesters’ remarks.
Reactions to Greensboro’s resolution
On Jan. 2, Greensboro’s city council unanimously passed a resolution for “peace and support” regarding the conflict. They did not call for a ceasefire. Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter and her husband Isa lost their nephew, Hassan Munir Abuzuaiter, in an airstrike in November. During the meeting, Abuzuaiter said that there is a “specific reason” that they didn’t include the word “ceasefire” in their resolution, noting that her husband Isa “supports this.” Isa Abuzuaiter is a 71-year-old Palestinian from Jabalia refugee camp, created by the United Nations following Israel’s War of Independence in 1948. He’s lived in the US since 1972.
Over the years, there has been “ceasefire after ceasefire after ceasefire,” Isa Abuzuaiter said.
What he needs is a “resolution for our problem,” he said, adding, “We lost too many people.”
“Don’t tell me about ceasefire,” he said.
Even so, councils around the country have used the word. In November, Carrboro’s city council voted 4-3 to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Israel and Gaza. Other city halls around North Carolina such as Durham, Raleigh and Charlotte have been flooded with protesters urging their councils to draft a resolution for a ceasefire. These city leaders have not yet signed resolutions regarding the conflict.
Washington questions Greensboro’s resolution calling for peace.
“I would say, peace for who?
“In order to have any semblance of peace we do need a ceasefire first, but we’re not really shooting for peace, we’re shooting for liberation,” Washington added. “We need more than what Greensboro did.”
Ayalew told TCB that it would be “incredibly pathetic and insulting” if Winston-Salem opted for a resolution like Greensboro’s.
“We have to shift what we mean by peace, and also what we mean by war,” added Iyana Trotman with Wake Forest University’s “Free Palestine” movement.
“I think all of us everywhere support peace,” Feldman told the crowd outside city hall.
“Some of us support peace by being peaceful.”
But Feldman said that others believe that violence is the only way to have peace.
“They have this misguided idea, whether they’re in Hamas, or the Israeli military or Biden, that they think that violence is the way to get to peace.”
But he remains steadfast in his beliefs.
“What I want our city council to do is say the obvious: That we support peace, justice and security for everybody, Jewish and non-Jewish, Palestinian and non-Palestinian,” he said. “Everybody in the Holy Land.”
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