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Longing to be free: Speaking up for Gaza during the Great Return March

Photo: JVP-Chicago

Note: This action event in Chicago was organized in three days and supported by these Chicago area organizations: American Friends Service Committee, American Muslims for Palestine, Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, Middle East Task Force/Chicago Presbytery, US Palestinian Community Network.

Why are we here, people ask us?

We are here in the cold streets of Chicago because we are outraged that our elected leaders are silent when Palestinians nonviolently protesting for their rights are gunned down by Israeli snipers and Israeli-operated drones.

For a second Friday in a row, Palestinians are protesting in Gaza as part of a nonviolent protest known as the Great Return March. Seven Palestinians have been killed today and others have been seriously wounded. Palestinians in Gaza have said they will remain on the border and will continue Friday protests through May 15th, demanding action to address Israel's occupation and denial of their rights.

Last Friday, an estimated 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza took part in the protest. The Israeli military responded with a brutal show of force, opening fire on protesters and deploying tear gas with drones.

By the end of the weekend, 18 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli fire and over 1,400 more were injured. Yesterday, the number of Palestinians killed from last Friday’s protest was 22. No Israelis were killed or injured.

Palestinians today used burning tires to protect themselves from Israeli sniper fire as they returned to the Gaza boundary.

Palestinian human rights lawyer Raji Sourani explained that Palestinians in Gaza, "After all this pain and suffering, people wanted to demonstrate for their dignity, for their rights of having an end to this indiscriminate, illegal, inhumane siege."

photo credit: JVP-Chicago

This year marks 70 years since Palestinian refugees arrived in Gaza, thousands fleeing the war in 1948. Since that time Palestinians have demanded their rights under international law to return to their homes. For Palestinians in Gaza, their home villages and towns are located just over the boundary fence in present-day Israel. The Great Return March highlights the injustice of the unresolved issue of Palestinian refugees. Palestinian writer Saree Makdisi writes today in the LA Times, “Palestinians are not merely a ragtag collection of refugees; they are a people purposefully kept from their homes by an army of occupation.”

Why are we here? Because we believe that people should live in dignity and freedom.

This week we are remembering the life and death of Martin Luther King. In his famous April 3rd speech “I’ve Been to the Mountain top” 50 years ago, Dr. King said:

Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee - the cry is always the same: "We want to be free."

Palestinians in Gaza want to be free. They do not want to be a name that we call out in remembrance for their death, or to be represented by a pinwheel in the sands of Lake Michigan, or worse to be a statistic without a name in a news report.

We are in Chicago today, not on a mountain top, but we must use our voices to speak for Palestinians in Gaza – those who have been killed and those who remain alive and steadfast in their desire to be free.

Yesterday a volunteer at AFSC in Chicago called every Illinois Congressional office to see if they have a statement on the killings in Gaza. Not one did.

Israel receives $3.8 billion in U.S. military aid every year, making it the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance. U.S. laws, such as the "Leahy Law," the Arms Export Control Act, and the Foreign Assistance Act, are supposed to prevent U.S. weapons from being used by other countries to commit human rights violations. Countries that violate these laws are subject to penalties, including a cut-off of additional weapons.

Gaza from the Frontlines: Stories of Survival and Siege by Irit Reinheimer

The Israeli government must be held accountable for its actions.

We are here today to call on our members of congress to hold Israel accountable for killing Palestinian protesters in Gaza.

As Gaza writer Rawan Yaghi wrote after attending the Great Return March last week, “I left the protest thinking of the rest of Gaza — shellshocked for years, its borders closed and its United Nations-funded infrastructure in decay. I thought of the kids in my neighborhood who play football in what used to be the ground floor of a tall residential building, with bare concrete columns and poking iron rods as their only audience. And I thought: Once again, Gaza the Injured has come out to protest, and to scream for life.”

Let’s hear these screams for life. And act now.

About the Author

Jennifer Bing has worked at AFSC since 1989, serving in various capacities in its Israel-Palestine programs. She directs the AFSC Palestine Activism Program in Chicago and works with her colleagues Palestine and Israel.

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