Over 1,000 demonstrators gathered in Westlake Park Sunday, May 15, to mark 73 years since the beginning of the Palestinian Nakba, or catastrophe, in which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced by the creation of the Israeli state. Today, Palestinian refugees number over five million.
The crowd at Westlake was one of many demonstrations around the United States and the world that gathered to condemn Israel’s recent attacks on Gaza and draw attention to the United States’ continued funding of the Israeli military as well as President Joe Biden’s refusal to speak against Israel’s actions. In New York, Los Angeles and D.C., as well as a number of European and Middle Eastern cities, protests drew thousands. Biden has since advocated for a ceasefire but stopped short of calling for an immediate end to Israel’s bombing and continues to reiterate Israel’s right to self-defense.
At the time of this writing, The New York Times reports that Israeli airstrikes in the past week have killed 212 people, including 59 children. Israel’s airstrikes have also destroyed a Palestinian home in a refugee camp and a building that housed offices of the Associated Press and Al-Jazeera. Hamas rocket fire so far has killed ten Israelis, two of whom were children.
But the speeches and demands of protestors at Westlake went beyond a discussion of recent bombings, to condemn Israel as an apartheid state and call attention to the forced removal of Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, where residents are being evicted to make room for Jewish settlers.
In late April, Human Rights Watch also accused Israel of crimes of apartheid. “To maintain domination,” the group wrote, “Israeli authorities systematically discriminate against Palestinians.”
In Seattle on Sunday, cries of “While you’re shopping, bombs are dropping!” and “Free Palestine!” rang through the air as demonstrators waved signs and Palestinian flags. The rally’s speakers included local Palestinian-American organizers, as well as prominent Seattle activist and city council candidate Nikkita Oliver and state Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley of the 37th Legislative District.
Samira Mohammed Khadar, a local Palestinian-American and member of the Muslims for Abolition Collective, spoke in favor of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and said that Israel’s actions constitute ethnic cleansing.
Demonstrators called on local officials to commit to opposing Israel’s actions. Organizers requested that Harris-Talley sign a letter urging Biden to halt aid to Israel, which she agreed to do. Oliver referenced the exchange program between the Seattle Police Department and the Israeli military in which SPD learned “counterinsurgency” tactics. While SPD hasn’t traveled to Israel since 2015, Oliver called on the city of Seattle to “promise you’ll never go again” and “publicly denounce tactics you were taught and expose them to the public.”
Christy Carley is a freelance journalist in Seattle and former English teacher in Spain. Find her on Twitter @christy_carley.
Read more of the May 19-25, 2021 issue.