FORT LAUDERDALE — On a busy intersection in downtown Fort Lauderdale about 100 people, representing a variety of backgrounds and religions, rallied in front of the federal courthouse Sunday afternoon.
Their message was twofold: to demand justice for slain journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and to bring attention to the Nakba, or the displacement and ongoing oppression of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
Abu Akleh, a hugely popular journalist in the Palestinian territories and the greater Arab world, was fatally shot while reporting on an Israeli raid in Jenin in the West Bank last week. Several witnesses, including other journalists, say she was killed by an Israeli sniper.
Palestinian and Israeli authorities say they’re investigating the shooting.
“Nakba” is the Arabic word for “catastrophe,” and marks the displacement of Palestinians in 1948 when Israel gained statehood. It is observed around the time of year Israelis celebrate their Independence Day.
This year marked 74 years.
Samir Kakli, president of the South Florida Muslim Federation, was one of the co-organizers of the rally, along with local chapters of groups including Jewish Voice for Peace, Students for Justice in Palestine and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“We organized last minute, only a couple days before, but it went really well,” Kakli said. “We had a great turnout — I would say definitely over 100 people and a lot of cars driving by on Broward Boulevard — were so supportive.”
Attendees chanted “Justice for Shireen!” and held signs that read “Queer Jews for Palestine” and “She wore a bulletproof PRESS vest … They aimed for her head.”
Some motorists expressed opposition to the rally. Video taken at the Fort Lauderdale event by Glory Jones, an independent journalist, shows a woman stop her car in the road and stick up her middle finger at the crowd. Another motorist gave a Nazi salute, Jones said.
Overall, Jones and organizers said the event was peaceful.
“There were a couple cars that drove by and they would flick us off and we would just wave at them or give them peace signs or ‘heart hands’ in return,” Jones said. “Luckily, all the protesters remained peaceful and one of the organizers came in to form a physical barrier with his body to prevent any escalation, which was unlikely to happen anyway.”
(Picture courtesy: Mishka Ahmed)
(Picture courtesy: Mishka Ahmed)
Calls for solidarity with Palestinians are often denounced as antisemitic by some Jews and non-Jewish supporters of Israel, a claim refuted by Jews who support the Palestinian resistance to Israeli military occupation.
Jones said these criticisms are more often a call for respecting human rights in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories: “There were a fair amount of Palestinians that came out, obviously, because they have familial connections to Palestine,” she said.
“I don’t think it’s an issue of antisemitism, it’s an issue of standing up for what’s right,” Jones said. “It was also Christians, Jewish Voice for Peace has been a big advocate for Palestine.”
“It’s just so sad what happened to this journalist. She was just doing her job and she was murdered in cold blood. It’s just unspeakable,” Kakli, the co-organizer, said.
“I’ve never seen video footage like that footage, where people are literally carrying a casket with one hand and and with the other, they’re shielding the back of their head so they don’t get hit by a baton by those Israeli policemen,” Kakli said.
Video from Abu Akleh’s funeral show Israeli police officers in riot gear beating pallbearers and attendees. An Israeli Police spokesman said officers responded to an attendee that threw a rock from the procession, which was refuted by people in attendance and other critics. The Israeli police response was widely condemned around the world, including by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. President Joe Biden demanded an investigation into what happened.
“This woman, Shireen, she was an American citizen — not that if she was Muslim — it doesn’t matter, everyone’s lives are equally important. But she wasn’t even Muslim, she was Christian — and she was murdered in cold blood. They wouldn’t even let her have a peaceful funeral,” Kakli said.
“Where are our elected officials? Where are our congressmen? Where is the outrage?” he asked.
“If this was in any other country that did this — killed an American — there would be bills passed, sanctions discussed. The silence is deafening.”