Featured photo: Hundreds of protesters called for a ceasefire at a Pro-Palestine rally in Greensboro on Nov. 18 (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)
Niveen Fahmy stood towards the edge of the crowd that had gathered in downtown Greensboro on Thursday, surrounded by her children. She wore a beige scarf around her head and held a small Palestinian flag in her left hand. She and dozens others — about 75 in total — had gathered at the corner of South Elm and Market Streets to protest outside of the building that houses Rep. Kathy Manning (D-6)’s office to urge the Congresswoman to call for a ceasefire.
“I’m here because that’s the least I can do to try and participate in the attempt in stopping the genocide that is taking place right now in Gaza, Palestine,” Fahmy said.
Although her family is from Egypt, Fahmy said that seeing the images of the conditions in Gaza in this latest round of conflict in the region has pushed her to speak out.
“I don’t think any human is okay with a genocide taking place,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where in the world; it doesn’t matter where you’re from. It’s bad, you feel sad, you feel angry at what’s happening in the world.”
The action on Nov. 14 was one of the many events in the last several weeks in which protesters have called for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war. Another action took place on Saturday with a larger group.
On Oct. 7, militant group Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on Israeli soil, killing approximately 1,200 innocent civilians and kidnapping more than 200 in the process. In the following weeks, the Israeli government has launched response missiles and bombings that have killed more than 10,000 people in Gaza, where about half of the population is made up of children under the age of 18.
Now, more than a month after the initial attacks by Hamas, many in the local community and beyond have called for a ceasefire.
On Thursday, protesters held signs criticizing the US government’s support of Israel, which has been reported on by many news outlets in the past few weeks. According to reporting by Vox and Axios, the US government has funded the Israeli military for the last 50 years, sending about $3 billion in aid every year.
That afternoon, protesters called for Rep. Manning, a Democrat, to speak out against the violence enacted by the Israeli government by calling for a ceasefire.
Manning, who is Jewish, was first elected into office in 2020 after losing to Republican Ted Budd in 2018. She was the first woman to serve as Board Chair of the Jewish Federations of North America and has been a vocal supporter of Israel. As was pointed out by some of the protesters on Thursday, Manning has also received campaign contributions from PACs that support the Israeli government, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which contributed $2,100 to her campaign during the 2021-22 cycle and the Pro-Israel America PAC, which contributed $2,500. In total, Pro-Israel contributions placed second in Manning’s campaign finance records, with individual donations making up the majority of those donations.
On Thursday, a spokesperson from Manning’s office released a statement in response to the protest.
“We appreciate members of the community making their voices heard during today’s peaceful protest. We share a common goal: two states living side by side in peace. To achieve that goal, President Biden and a bipartisan majority in Congress, including Congresswoman Manning, believe we must support our ally Israel, remove the terrorist group Hamas from power, bring the hostages home, and provide humanitarian aid for Palestinian and Israeli civilians impacted by this crisis,” the statement read.
“A ceasefire without the dissolution of Hamas and release of the hostages would only give Hamas time to regroup and attack civilians again. We have seen this occur during the past five ceasefires between Hamas and Israel. Hamas has used each ceasefire to rearm, build miles of underground tunnels, and increase their ability to manufacture lethal weapons within Gaza. Additionally, footage released this week confirms that Hamas continues to place military commands and weapons in sensitive civilian zones, including Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza.
“Congresswoman Manning supports President Biden and Secretary Blinken’s efforts to facilitate negotiations among regional powers to provide urgently needed humanitarian aid in Gaza. That is one of the reasons she voted against House Republicans’ flawed aid proposal which conditioned aid to Israel and did not include any humanitarian aid for civilians. As this war progresses, Congresswoman Manning will continue to be a leading voice in support of defeating Hamas terrorists to bring about peace for both Palestinian and Israeli citizens.”
A spokesperson also clarified in an email to Triad City Beat that “given Rep. Manning’s extensive work in support of Israel and the Jewish diaspora, it is misleading to infer that her stance on these issues has been formed based on campaign contributions that she has received during the three years she has been in Congress.”
In a follow-up email, TCB asked about Manning’s personal experience as a Jewish Congresswoman and further comment about her feelings on Israeli statehood. However, TCB did not receive a response in time for publication.
Manning was also one of 22 House Democrats who voted to censure Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the sole Palestinian member of Congress, on Nov. 8 over her remarks that criticized the Israeli government. In response to the censure, Manning released a statement in which she called Rep. Tlaib’s comments “fomenting antisemitism.”
Rep. Tlaib responded by stating that “it is important to separate people and government,” according to the AP. “The idea that criticizing the government of Israel is antisemitic sets a very dangerous precedent. And it’s been used to silence diverse voices speaking up for human rights across our nation.”
‘This is not a religious conflict’
Nicole Zelniker, a former TCB staffer, told TCB on Thursday that as a Jewish person, she feels a responsibility to speak out against what’s happening in Gaza and pushes back against the idea that criticizing the Israeli government is equal to antisemitism.
“As a Jewish person, I feel like it’s my responsibility to talk about the genocide, especially since they’re doing it in our name as Jews,” she said.
In the last few years, Zelniker explained that she’s “unlearned” many of the things she was taught through her faith so it’s easier for her to speak out now.
“No one’s freedom should come at the oppression of another group,” she said.
When the attacks took place, Zelniker said she had a friend in Tel Aviv who had to hide under a bomb shelter and flee to Greece.
“That was very scary,” she admitted.
And she understands that many Jews are scared in this moment. According to data collected by the Anti-Defamation League, there has been a 388 percent rise in antisemitic incidents in the US alone between Oct. 7-23 compared to the prior year.
Still, she said she doesn’t believe in what the Israeli government is doing now and doesn’t believe in Zionism, the concept that Israel should exist as a nation, for Jews to be free.
“I think that our liberation is bound up with each other’s,” she said. “So if we sacrifice Palestine for a theocratic ethnostate that is only Jews, then what’s going to be Jews then? There will still be antisemitism; there will still be people attacking Israel…. Allying ourselves with other marginalized communities and people who understand that none of us are free until all of us are free is important from my perspective.”
One organizer of the protest who shouted chants from the megaphone on Thursday told TCB that they have family currently living in the West Bank. For fear for their safety, they wished to remain anonymous.
“I’ve grown up in a Palestinian household where I was taught never to be ashamed of my roots,” they said. “And I can’t stand here as an American watching the slaughter of my people happening in front of our eyes.”
The organizer also made it clear that they don’t want to eliminate Israel, nor do they harbor hate for Jews. What they want is peace and for their people to be free, they said.
“I want to see the liberation of my people,” they said. “When we say liberation, we don’t mean the extermination of Israel. We want no checkpoints; we want our homes back…. We want to roam our streets; we want to go into our holy mosque without checkpoints and being denied access. We want to go through our own airports and not have to wait two days at a checkpoint on the board of Jordan and Palestine.
“I grew up in a religion of love and peace,” they continued. “I was never in my life taught to hate a single person; I have never in my life hated a Jewish person. I have resented Zionism…. This is not a religious conflict. I just urge our Jewish brothers and sisters to stand in solidarity with us as well.”
Greensboro councilmember’s husband reflects on loss of family members
On Saturday, a larger group of about 200 supporters gathered on Wendover Avenue in front of the Wendover Village Shopping Center in the late afternoon. Many of the same protesters who attended the action on Thursday were in attendance as well. One new face amongst the crowd was Isa Abuzuaiter, whose nephew Hassan, was killed in Gaza on Monday. According to Abuzuaiter, who is married to Greensboro city councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter, Hassan worked with the United Nations and was the captain of the Palestinian national volleyball team.
During Saturday’s protest, Abuzuaiter wore a black and white keffiyeh and held a bright yellow sign that read, “Free Palestine, Let Gaza Live!”
Abuzuaiter told TCB that his brother and three of his nephews and his niece still live in Gaza in the northern area. Yesterday, Abuzuaiter said they tried to leave the area and move south, as directed by the Israeli government but that his family was unsuccessful. They’ll try again tomorrow, he said.
“Tomorrow is that last day to cross from the north to the south,” Abuzuaiter said. “They’re carrying their mothers on their back.”
Abuzuaiter, who visited Gaza this past June, said that he lived like a refugee before he came to the US in 1972. But now, seeing what’s happening in his home, he said that he “feels like a refugee still.”
In response to international calls for a ceasefire, the Israeli government under the direction of Prime Minister Netanyahu has stated that they won’t stop until the approximately 200 hostages who were kidnapped by Hamas militants on Oct. 7 are returned. But that leaves Gazans, who don’t know where Hamas is, in a state of peril, Abuzuaiter said.
“Our family doesn’t know Hamas,” he said. “There are no tunnels under our house. I built that house.”
As for what he wants for his family and those still in Gaza, Abuzuaiter echoed the sentiments of many who have spoken out in the last month.
“I want to be treated with dignity like I’m a human being,” he said. “The solution is equal human rights.”
When pressed about the split up of the land in the region, which has been a long-contested pain point in the conflict, Abuzuaiter said that he doesn’t care as long as they can “live as human beings.”
“I want to see them live like human beings like everyone else in the world,” he said. “We have dreams; my nieces, my kids, they have dreams; all of them have dreams.”
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