Protesters line the streets waving black, white, green and red Palestinian flags. Their signs read “Israel out of Palestine,” “GSO stands with Palestine” and “Palestinians want to live in peace, not rest in peace.”
In the past few weeks, hundreds of people in the Triad have turned out to protest the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
The protests come in the wake of action by the Israeli government, which stormed the al-Aqsa mosque ahead of both Ramadan and Israel Day a few weeks ago, prompting Hamas, a militant organization based in Palestine, to launch rockets at Gaza in retaliation.
Despite the United Security Council’s multiple attempts to call for a ceasefire in the region, three separate attempts have failed due to the United States’ longstanding relationship with Israel. Israel and Palestine finally called for a ceasefire on May 20.
“The United States supports Israel with more than $3 billion a year,” said Barry Trachtenberg, Rubin Presidential Chair of Jewish History at Wake Forest University. “It’s an appalling amount of money and it’s all militarized.”
The United States has long been Israel’s primary source of support, including for weapons. A 2018 another resolution by the UN Security Council denouncing Israeli government killing of Palestinian civilians failed to pass because of the United States’ vote against it.
According to multiple reports, hundreds of Palestinians have died in the conflict, and thousands have been injured. As of May 19, just a dozen Israelis have died in the same fighting. On May 5, Congress was notified of a $735 million arms sale to Israel in the midst of this conflict. The move has been opposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Rashida Tlaib and others. By law, members of Congress have until Thursday to object to the transaction.
“The fact that they would even consider such a sale in the midst of this is horrific, but it’s reflective of this relationship between Israel and the United States,” said Trachtenberg. “There’s been very, very little effort to recognize the consequences of this on Palestinian lives.”
‘It transcends creed, race and ethnicity’
In the past few weeks, Triad locals have marched in Greensboro and Winston-Salem, saying that they will continue to do so as the fighting goes on.
“The protests are to support and stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people,” said Maitha Ali, an organizer with the Greensboro protests. “When it comes to standing in solidarity, we’re not here to say that Jews don’t have any historical or religious connection with Palestine; they do. We’re just here to say that those connections don’t justify a violent, supremacist state.”
Given the rise in anti-Semitic violence in the United States and around the world, Palestinian activists like Ali have been careful to remind those both for and against Palestinian liberation that Israel does not represent all Jews, just like Hamas does not represent all Palestinians.
“It transcends creed, race and ethnicity,” she said. “It’s vital for everyone, Palestinian or not, to use their voice against Israeli brutality and aggression.”
Ali is from Palestine, and her family still lives there. When she went to visit a few years ago, she says, Zionist settlers threw rocks at her and her family. She said her family is not allowed to visit places like Jerusalem because they do not have the same rights as Israeli settlers.
Right now, Ali said people understand more than ever what is really happening in Palestine. Part of that, she said, is due to social media.
“The advancement of technology is allowing us to see these things right on our phones,” she said. “To see bombings and see bodies. But it’s devastating that it has to be that way for people to empathize.”
Khalid Griggs, the Imam at the Community Mosque of Winston-Salem, likened the rising support for Palestine to the strengthening of Black Lives Matter movement last summer after George Floyd’s murder.
“It’s not the first time Gaza has been attacked by missiles,” Griggs said, “but the images that have come out of this and the reporting about what’s going on has really galvanized people beyond the Muslim community and well beyond the Palestinian community.”
Griggs and others at the Community Mosque have been marching alongside others, and he said they plan to organize their own action as well, whether that be a protest or an educational panel. One of the most important things, he said, is to contact local representatives.
“Ultimately how the United States engages with Israel will be determined by senators and congressmen,” he said.
Max Carter, a retired Guilford College professor, has been leading trips to Ramallah, Palestine for over 50 years.
“That action on Wendover was the first major action I’ve seen in Greensboro, though I’ve been amazed by the actions in the country and around the world,” said Carter. “I was quite amazed by how many turned out and the friendly reception we got from the cars.”
Carter has been in touch with his friends in Palestine and Israel in recent weeks. He said peaceful protests for Palestine have been met with such force that the Quaker schools in Ramallah were forced to temporarily shut down for the children’s safety.
Like Ali and Griggs, Carter has been grateful to see how locals have supported the movement in Palestine.
“This is a thing that’s surprised me, both social media and what reporting I have seen,” he said. “There is more nuance now. In past Gaza wars, it was rare to get the Palestinian perspective. There was one narrative. Now there’s more understanding of the broader context.”
Local Jewish activists stand in solidarity with Palestine
Several Jewish organizations like If Not Now, Jewish Voice for Peace and Breaking the Silence, have also been working to challenge the narrative.
“A ceasefire does not end the illegal blockade against Gaza, stop Israel’s ongoing theft of Palestinian land, or abate the Israeli government’s violent oppression of the Palestinian people everywhere,” wrote Jewish Voice for Peace in a statement.
Winston-Salem Jewish activist Lilya Zav has felt similarly about the direction of the movement.
“I’m excited about this moment right now because I don’t remember in my lifetime a moment when pro-Palestinian solidarity has been so strong,” said Zav. “I have family in New York, and the bridge that connects Brooklyn and Staten Island was shut down in Bay Ridge by protesters. My goal is really just to be a part of it.”
Zav has attended both of Ali’s Greensboro protests as well as a protest in Winston-Salem. Being Jewish, she says that her activism has forced her to sever ties with Zionists, or people who believe in the creation and protection of the state of Israel, in her community.
“Honestly, it’s pretty much status quo for me,” she said. “But I think this is a change for the Jewish community as well. There are over 90 Rabbinical students that signed a letter calling Israel an apartheid state. There’s maybe one or two non-Zionist synagogues in the country. To have 90 Rabbinical students say [that] this is an occupation is a sign that the next generation of Jewish leaders are willing to risk their careers.”
For those in the Triad, activists suggest writing to local representatives, educating those who might not be as familiar with the issue and boycotting Israeli goods in coordination with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
“This is a breaking point moment,” said Zav. “This is a moment where it’s time to decide where you stand, pick a team and fight like hell.”