Pro-Palestinian protesters denounce Israel as violence in Gaza grows

Dr. Dania Masseoud (left) and her daughter Noor Kabakibou have family in Gaza. "They're all sleeping in the same room so that if one dies they all die," said Kabakibou. Photo: Bo Emerson
Caption
Dr. Dania Masseoud (left) and her daughter Noor Kabakibou have family in Gaza. "They're all sleeping in the same room so that if one dies they all die," said Kabakibou. Photo: Bo Emerson

Credit: Bo Emerson

Credit: Bo Emerson

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators assembled and marched in downtown Atlanta on Saturday, denouncing Israel amid continued clashes between Hamas and Israel, from Jerusalem to the Gaza Strip.

Hundreds of marchers, including grandparents, teenagers and mothers and fathers with youngsters in tow, assembled near Centennial Olympic Park to wave signs and chant slogans, accompanied by drummers and the occasional approving honks of passing motorists.

A young woman wearing the distinctive black-and-white checkered scarf shouted into a bullhorn, “From the river to the sea/Palestine will be free,” and was answered in turn by the same words from the crowd.

Marchers carried such signs as “Palestinians, Muslims, Christians and Jews are all being oppressed by Zionists.” Another sign read, “We can’t breathe since 1948” — a nod to the racial injustice and police brutality protests in the U.S. during the past year in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody after he couldn’t breathe. The year 1948 is a reference to the creation of the state of Israel.

Saturday’s protest also was part of Nakba Day, or Catastrophe Day, observed each year to commemorate the estimated 700,000 Palestinians who were driven from their homes or fled during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.

Cileen Alhajbi of Lawrenceville said her Palestinian grandparents moved to Jordan when Israelis “took their homes.” They are not allowed to return, she said.

Cileen Alhajbi (center), 21, a nurse's assistant from Lawrenceville, said her Palestinian grandparents are forbidden to return to their family farm. Photo: Bo Emerson/bemerson@ajc.com
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Cileen Alhajbi (center), 21, a nurse's assistant from Lawrenceville, said her Palestinian grandparents are forbidden to return to their family farm. Photo: Bo Emerson/bemerson@ajc.com

Credit: Bo Emerson

Credit: Bo Emerson

Alhajbi, a 21-year-old nurse’s assistant, was wearing a traditional headdress with gold coins against her forehead. She visited with her overseas family three years ago when she traveled to Jordan, she said. “They feel so sad that they can’t see their home, or the olive trees on their family farm.”

Her friend from Mexico carried a pro-Palestinian sign in Spanish that read “Duele Palestina.”

College student Noor Kabakibou, 21, grew up in Georgia, but spent summers in Syria.

“My extended family is all in Palestine in Gaza,” she said. “It is devastating, their neighborhood is damaged. They’re all sleeping in the same room so that if one person dies they all die.”

She was accompanied by her mother, Dr. Dania Masseoud, a rheumatologist, who decried “the struggle that Palestinians go through every day. We need to give them a break and not be so one-sided. The story is not told about the other side.”

The mother and daughter carried signs painted with the Palestinian flag and bearing the words, “Where is Humanity!!!”

Layth Rustom, 23, a business management graduate from Georgia State University, was especially angered by earlier air strikes during Ramadan, “a holy month.”

His extended family is from the region, his father from Safed and his mother from Jerusalem. Other family members are in Jordan, Qatar and other nearby states, but none have returned to the Palestinian territories.

“My parents hate what’s going on,” he said.

The group gathered in Centennial Olympic Park and marched toward CNN Center then southeast on Marietta Street to Woodruff Park, gathering members and enthusiasm.

At Woodruff Park, the marchers ran into another protest planned for the day, a smaller group gathering in memory of Jabril Robinson, killed in an altercation with Clayton County police in 2016.

A young DJ who had set up a sound system for the Robinson protest gamely searched out Palestinian songs on Spotify to play for the larger crowd. The names of those songs? “I can’t tell. They’re all in Arabic,” he said.

Katz Tepper (left) and Mo Costello carried signs to emphasize that many Jews, including themselves, sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians. Bo Emerson/bemerson@ajc.com
Caption
Katz Tepper (left) and Mo Costello carried signs to emphasize that many Jews, including themselves, sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians. Bo Emerson/bemerson@ajc.com

Arriving about an hour into the protest was a small group from Athens carrying signs that read “Jews Against Ethnonationalism” and “Jews Against Zionism and Apartheid.”

Katz Tepper, 34, an Athens-based arts educator, said ethnonationalism — trying to create a nation of one race or religion — “is inherently violent. My family experienced ethnonationalism in Eastern Europe and now the Palestinians are experiencing it in Israel.”

The latest tensions began in east Jerusalem earlier this month, according to The Associated Press, with Palestinian protests against attempts by settlers to forcibly evict a number of Palestinian families from their homes and Israeli police measures at Al-Aqsa Mosque, a frequent flashpoint in Jerusalem revered by Muslims and Jews.

Since Monday night, Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, and Israeli jets have bombed the Gaza Strip with air strikes. Israel and the U.S. consider Hamas a terrorist group.

According to the AP, in the latest violence, in Gaza at least 145 people have been killed, including 41 children and 23 women; in Israel, eight people have been killed.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars and numerous skirmishes since the group gained control of Gaza in 2007.