By Phil Wilayto
RICHMOND, VA — In the largest antiwar protest this city has seen in nearly 20 years, more than 1,500 people turned out May 19 to defiantly declare, “We Stand with Palestine!”
In a march that began on sidewalks, the youthful and predominantly Arab but very multinational crowd soon took over Broad Street, the capital city’s main thoroughfare, blocking traffic and filling the air with militant chants of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!”
Palestinian flags flew proudly in the wind, some held by people who climbed trees and telephone poles for better visibility. Several carloads of Arab youth sported flags and signs, loudly chanting “Free, Free Palestine!” through bullhorns. While the youth dominated, there were also many elders and families with small children.
Printed signs carried the protest demands: “Stop the Israeli bombing of Gaza; Stop the settlers’ seizing of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem; Stop all U.S. funding of Israeli apartheid; and Self-determination for Palestine!”
The two-mile march was led by Arab youth holding the lead banner that proclaimed “We Stand with Palestine!” and the names of the three sponsoring organizations: the Arab American Association of Central Virginia; Richmonders for Peace in Israel-Palestine; and the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality, a multi-issue, all-volunteer community organization.
Richmond police, who had threatened the organizers with arrest if the march didn’t stay on sidewalks, were reduced to blocking vehicle traffic – a task already being handled by autonomous bike marshals.
The protest was in response to the Israeli terror bombing of the Gaza Strip and police and settler violence against Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem. By the time the 11 day-bombardment ended with a ceasefire on May 20, at least 243 Palestinians had been killed, including more than 100 women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry. The New York Times reported that “The bombing also leveled three mosques in Gaza, damaged 17 hospitals and clinics and dozens of schools, wrecked its only Covid-19 testing laboratory, and cut off fresh water, electricity and sewer service to much of the enclave.”
In Israel, 12 people, including two children, were killed, according to the Israeli medical service.
Unlike Israel, Gaza has no air force, no air defences and no bomb shelters. There literally is no place to run, no place to hide. It has been blockaded since 2007 by both Israel and Egypt after the Palestinian resistance organization Hamas removed officials from the rival Fatah organization who had lost local elections but then refused to relinquish power.
Social distancing became impossible during the bombardment and doctors fear an epidemic of the coronavirus. Due to the blockade, less than 2 percent of Gaza’s population has been vaccinated.
During the bombardment, the Biden administration repeatedly declared its support for Israel’s “right to defend itself” – and made sure it could carry out even more bombings in the future by authorizing the sale of $735 million worth of armaments to the Zionist state. Israeli arms purchases are paid for by the $3.8 billion subsidy the U.S. sends to the country each year.
Video images of the genocidal Israeli bombing of Gaza have triggered an eruption of protests around the world. Thousands marched May 15 in Washington, D.C., drawing many from Northern Virginia. Other protests have been taking place in Blacksburg, Roanoke, Harrisonburg and, significantly, Norfolk, home to the world’s largest naval station and the largest concentration of U.S. Navy forces, which operate in the Mediterranean Sea and Persian Gulf, among other areas.
In Richmond, the day’s events began at Monroe Park, a traditional site for protests, with a rally co-chaired by Adeeb Abed, a Palestinian-American who heads the Arab American Association of Central Virginia, and Nancy Wein, a Jewish woman who co-chairs Richmonders for Peace in Israel-Palestine. The march ended with a second rally back at the park.
Rally speakers included Princess Blanding, a nationally known Black Virginia anti-police abuse activist and independent candidate for governor; Ana Edwards, a descendant of enslaved Richmonders who chairs the Defenders’ Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project; Rabbi David Feldman, who drove more than 300 miles from New York City with a carload of other members of Neturei Karta International – Jews United Against Zionism; Iranian-American and Virginia Defender Sanaz Ghodsi; India-born State Senator Ghazala Hashmi; the Rev. Rodney Hunter, pastor of Richmond’s historically Black Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church; Reem Khaldy, an RPIP member born in East Jerusalem; and Noorah Ramadan, a Palestinian-American and former resident of the Gaza Strip.
The event was covered by all three network television stations, most of the city’s daily and weekly newspapers and public radio. (See the list of media reports below.)
Security for the march and rallies was coordinated by the Virginia Defenders, who also provided the lead banner and sound system, printed posters and helped with publicity and media work.
The day after the protest, a ceasefire was announced by the Israeli government and Hamas. The next morning, Israeli police again attacked Muslim worshippers at Friday prayers at East Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque, considered the third holiest Muslim site after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
Note: ABC Channel 8 twice referred to a supposed “millennia-old conflict,” as if Muslims and Jews have been fighting in Palestine for 1,000 years, instead of just since the influx into Palestine of colonizing Europeans after World War I.
NBC Channel 12: ‘Hundreds gather in Richmond to protest violent tensions in Middle East’
Note: NBC Channel 12 incorrectly reported that the protest took place at Capitol Square, not Monroe Park.
Richmond Times-Dispatch: ‘Hundreds march in Richmond in Solidarity with Palestinians as israeli bombing campaign continues.’
Virginia Public Media: ‘Richmonders March for Palestine Amid Israeli Air Strikes’
Radio IQ – Virginia Public Radio: ‘At Richmond Palestine Rally, Echoes of BLM Protests’
WAFA News Agency: ‘Hundreds march in Richmond in protest of the Israeli aggression on Gaza’
Struggle/La Lucha: Richmond, VA.: Stand with Palestine march and rally, May 19
Richmond Times-Dispatch, Williams: ‘Black Americans and Palestinians share a bond of oppression and resistance’