Middle East Eye / May 14, 2023
Nearly 1,000 people swarmed the streets of Bay Ridge to celebrate Palestinian resistance and to call to free the Holy Land Five.
In her 23 years of existence in this world, Saturday marked Salma Abdallah’s first time being surrounded by Palestinian flags.
She stood in the heart of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn amongst a sea of nearly a thousand people dressed in red, green, white, and black commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, or catastrophe, in reference to the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians at the hands of Zionist paramilitaries in 1948.
Between 1947 and 1949, Zionist forces seized more than 78 percent of historic Palestine and expelled at least 750,000 Palestinians from their lands and homes.
Seventy-five years later, hundreds of people in New York City, both young and old, proudly wore keffiyehs draped around their shoulders, wrapped around their heads, and tied around their necks.
They chanted “Free, Free Palestine” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and Abdallah with tears in her eyes, screamed the phrases with all of them.
“Living in upstate New York, I have never seen anything like this in person. It was always on social media,” she told Middle East Eye. “Last year, I vowed to witness one of these rallies. And now I am here, aren’t I?”
Abdallah’s grandma was kicked out of her home in Palestine in 1948. While she is no longer alive, Abdallah said she will continue fighting for a free Palestine just like her grandmother did.
In Bay Ridge, in the heart of the Arab community, Nakba Day was celebrated. It was more than a protest, organizers emphasized. Rather, it was a celebration of Palestinian resistance, life, culture and the ongoing struggle for Palestinian liberation.
“It is a community gathering to assert our power and show NYC that we stand with Palestine from the river to the sea, and we support Palestinian resistance and liberation by any means necessary,” Within Our Lifetime, the organizer for the event, wrote on social media.
The event was sponsored by over 20 organizations including Samidoun, the Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network; the Palestinian Youth Movement; American Muslims for Palestine; and the Black Alliance for Peace.
Freeing the Holy Land Five
Many people were holding “Free the HLF5” posters, referring to the Holy Land Five, a group of Palestinian-American men who were convicted of funding terrorism in a case civil liberties groups say highlights the disproportionate targeting of Muslim charities post-9/11.
The five men were arrested in 2004 on accusations that the Holy Land Foundation was both a terrorist organization and was funneling funds to Hamas, the Palestinian political movement designated a terrorist group by the US since 1995.
While the first trial resulted in a hung jury, a second trial handed lengthy prison sentences to each on charges of “material support for terrorism”.
“I’m holding the ‘Free the HLF5’ poster because nobody should unjustly be in prison. Especially those fighting for a free Palestine,” Mohammad Yasin, a young man at the rally told MEE. “We are all connected. We are all resisting. Their pain is our pain.”
‘About time’ Nakba Day was acknowledged
Nakba Day in the US didn’t come without controversy. Earlier this week, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy cancelled an event at the Capitol building that was supposed to commemorate the Nakba, saying he’d instead “host a bipartisan discussion to honour the 75th anniversary of the US-Israel relationship”.
The event was ultimately moved to the Senate hearing room after Senator Bernie Sanders signed on as a sponsor of the event.
Speaking to the right-wing US publication The Washington Free Beacon, McCarthy said that “as long as I’m speaker, we are going to support Israel’s right to self-determination and self-defence, unequivocally and in a bipartisan fashion”.
On 15 May, the United Nations will for the first time commemorate Nakba Day. The UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) will hold a “high-level special meeting” which will have a keynote address by the president of the State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas.
The Commemoration will also feature a performance by Palestinian singer Sanaa Moussa and a musical composition around the Nakba entitled “Bright Colors on a Dark Canvas” by Naseem Alatrash.
“I think it’s about time the UN acknowledged Nakba Day. Every year we see more and more people and organizations acknowledging our struggle,” Abdallah said. “Every year we become more and more closer to a free Palestine.”
Zainab Iqbal is a New York-based journalist