The state of Israel’s recent attacks against Palestinians was sparked by the attempt to forcibly remove Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. This is an old story. Israeli settlers have been encroaching on Palestinian lands for decades. Until relatively recently, incursions by Israel into Palestinian land widely-condemned internationally have been largely ignored by many in the global West, especially in the United States, one of Israel’s strongest allies. But the times they are a-changin, as was seen this past Saturday in Portland, Maine when residents gathered to protest the most recent violence committed against Palestinians.
Howa Mohamed, Coordinator at Restorative Justice Institute of Maine, is part of a growing generation increasingly disturbed by Israel’s violence against Palestinians. She addressed the crowd, quoting a report from the BBC documenting the impact on children of the Israeli assault, “‘Last Friday, Muhammad al-Hadidi’s four children–Suhayb, 13, Yahya, 11, Abderrahman, 8, and Osama, 6–put on their finest clothes and went to visit their cousins nearby, in the Shati refugee camp outside Gaza City, to celebrate Eid al fitr. The next day, the building where they had been staying was hit. Only their five-month-old baby brother, Omar, survived, after being dragged from the rubble where he lay next to his family.”
Saturday’s rally started with just over seventy in attendance, swelling to more than one hundred within twenty minutes of Howa’s stirring opening. Larger than this year’s Portland May Day rally, it is clear that local Mainers were joining the voices of others across the world this past week in solidarity with Palestinians.
Following a two-minute moment of silence for the reported 220 Palestinians killed since the beginning of May (now estimated to hover around 250), Howa stated what many in attendance already knew. “Settler colonialism is a form of colonialism that intends to replace the original population… [A]nd that is the end goal here–ethnically cleansing Palestinians so that they are completely wiped out of the map.”
After opening the event, Howa invited others to step up to the mic and share their thoughts, frustrations, and hopes. Abdul Ali of Maine Youth Justice noted how this issue hurt him to the core. “There have been more than 3,000 [Palestinian] children killed in the last 20 years!” He noted that right after an initial truce was brokered, Israel raided the Al-Aqsa mosque. “How many times do we have to pretend Muslims are not being hurt?”
Interspersed between speakers and chants were the sounds of supportive cars honking and cheers of passersby. After another brief chant, a new face stepped forward to testify. Andy is a Palestinian-American and new to Portland, “First, I want to thank all the Black radical organizers who made this rally possible.” Andy acknowledged the unceded ground of Indigenous land where the rally was taking place, connecting the colonization on Turtle Island (an Indigenous term for North America and sometimes more broadly, the Earth) to the colonization of Palestine, and the indivisibility of struggles beyond borders. He mentioned the role the American government played in selling hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons to Israel, and in return Israel sometimes provided training for domestic law enforcement here at home. “We must move beyond ‘solidarity,’ and recognize our movements as one in the same,” he said.
The rally was multi-racial, multi-gendered, and multi-generational. From the 17-year-old Deering High student who recited poetry and led chants, to the 93-year-old retired USM Professor, Bill Slavick, who enraptured the crowd with folks pulling in close to take a knee in response to the calm and quiet demeanor of his voice. It was if Mainers had come out of the wood works to stand up against the violent oppression of the Israeli regime. Abby from Maine Voices for Palestinian Rights, perhaps betraying a bit of past frustration, was so moved by the diversity that they got on the mic just to say, “we’re so glad to see younger folks out here today!”
Between speakers, Howa and others led the crowd in rousing chants of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” and “Gaza, Gaza, don’t you cry! Palestine will never die!” The crowd broke into wild applause as a car drove by with the passenger waving a Palestinian flag out of the window. She later came running up to the rally, the flag held high.
The rally ended with a large group picture on the steps of Portland City Hall as attendees chanted in unison. “I can’t hear you!” shouted one of the rally organizers, leading attendees to raise the decibels. Muntaha Mohamed closed the rally by announcing a follow up event on Saturday, May 29 at 2:00 p.m. People are urged to meet at Portland City Hall, bring signs, and invite family and friends.