Ramsey El-Qare & Greg Zeman
Bay News Movement
Young Palestinians and their personal and political supporters gathered at Union Square, Dec. 28, 2012, to hold a candlelight vigil for the latest Palestinian casualties of the Israel/Palestine conflict, particularly children and other non-combatants.[gallery]
U.S.-born Palestinian activist and event organizer, Linda Ereikat, said that—especially since the most-recent Israeli airstrikes on Gaza and other Palestinian territories—many people had mobilized politically to speak out against the actions of Israel’s armed forces, but few had taken the time to truly mark and mourn the death of the human beings killed.
“There were a lot of mass protests around the world and I really didn’t see anything where people stopped and said prayers or lit candles,” Ereikat said. “We also need to remember that people are dying—it isn’t just injustice…I felt like a candlelight vigil commemoration (of those killed by Israeli armed forces) would symbolize respect and innocent lives lost…instead of just screaming and protesting, which is important.”
During the vigil, the group chanted for the release of all political prisoners, an end the occupation and for the right of Palestinian Christians to visit Christian holy sites during the Christmas holiday.
Ereikat said that her and other organizers faced discrimination and intimidation from Zionists on a daily basis, even in their classrooms.
“I’ve had discrimination from actual teachers; I had an incident with a history teacher on 9-11,” Ereikat said. “I transferred out because I felt he was teaching the Middle East in a really biased way…a lot of Arab kids admitted to not feeling comfortable in his class because they’d be targeted for racism.”
She added that she felt very discriminated against as a Palestinian, Muslim woman and that many non-Muslim people talk down to her about her own culture and people on a daily basis, which only exacerbates her feelings of ostracization and oppression.
“I do know about my culture and I do know what’s going on in my country,” she said. “A lot of Zionists, they look down on us and they mug us and they shake their heads.”
On the eve of the vigil most people were supportive, but there was some opposition, who tried to suppress and prevent the gathered Palestinian youth from demonstrating.
The opposition made threats, including a promise to call the cops and have them impose a $1000 fine on each of the activists, as well as some derogatory remarks, which were shouted from afar but ignored but the small but focused group of demonstrators.
Although the group faced some opposition, they were steadfast in holding the corner of Powell and Geary for about three hours without conflict.
Sameh Ayesh, another young Palestinian who participated in the vigil, said that he and his comrades are always hoping for a larger turnout but that the group who did show up was dedicated and successful in provoking a mostly positive respond from passers-by.
“There’s a lot of people who passed by Union Square and participated…we had maybe about 15 people tops with us; we just lit up candles and had flags out,” he said. “We just wanted people to know, even though there is a ceasefire in Gaza, the killing doesn’t stop.”
He added that he and his fellow Palestinian youth would be in the streets, in solidarity with Palestine, “until we have freedom.”
Ayesh said that his family, many who still live in Palestine, face so much inescapable repression and symbols of de-facto oppression on a daily basis that many of them come to view it as commonplace. This, he says, leaves the Palestinians in exile with a greater responsibility to bear witness to the degradation of their people.
“For al of the youth that read this, I just want them to know that there’s always a right and wrong and that we just have to open our minds and finally realize what’s wrong and what’s right; the ‘ethnic cleansing,’ the millions of Palestinians that are being kick rout of their house, the people who don’t have anywhere to go—all of that is wrong.”
Ereikat said that she saw potential for replication of the success of the vigil.
“I feel like if we continue to organize, and we mobilize and focus on education… more people will be remembered,” she said. “When people see us protesting, people don’t know what it is…the media portrays us as evil… when they see candles and young kids speaking words like, ‘God bless you,’ then it’s different.”
She added that the public needs to find alternative media sources for their information about the ISrael/Palestine conflict.
“I feel like people shouldn’t really trust media like FOX News and CNN about what’s happening and just assume Palestinians are violent and terrorists,” she said. “I feel like they need to have more respect for Palestinian people and just regular Muslim Americans, and not let the media portray us as evil and uncivilized people.”