On Sunday, Palestinian feminist group Falastiniyat Seattle drew over 200 demonstrators to a rally at Westlake in memory of the 74th anniversary of Nakba Day, the day the state of Israel took over Palestine. The rally served as a reminder of the violence against Palestinians in the past and present, and an opportunity to urge even local officials to take action to put a stop to future violence.
In 1917, the British government vowed to give Palestine, a country that was not theirs to give, to the Jewish people. That vow became a reality on May 15, 1948, when Israel officially formed after the Israeli military destroyed more than 500 Palestinian villages, killed 13,000 Palestinians and pushed over 750,000 more from their homes.
Bissan Barghouti, an organizer with Falastiniyat Seattle, said Sunday’s march also sought to pay tribute to the “ongoing catastrophe, occupation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing that continues to this day” in Palestine.
From 2008 to 2020, the United Nations documented the deaths of more than 5,000 Palestinians and the injuries of 115,000 due to the occupation. And it appears the human cost of the conflict has not waned. In 2021, Israel killed 319 Palestinians and demolished the homes of nearly 900 Palestinians, making it the deadliest year for Palestinians since 2014. This year will surely set a new record: Israeli forces killed five times more Palestinians in the first quarter of 2022 than during the same period the year prior, according to the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor.
Even in the last month, Barghouti said the situation in Palestine appeared especially dire. Last week an Israeli sniper shot and killed Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalist of huge notoriety in the region for reporting on the cruelty of the Israeli state.
With the ongoing atrocities, the march was much more than a memorial. Falastiniyat demanded that the United States, Canada and the global community as a whole stop funding Israel’s occupation. The United States is especially culpable. As of this year, the US has given the country approximately $150 billion in bilateral assistance and missile defense funding, making it the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II.
While President Joe Biden probably didn’t see the protest in Westlake, local leaders may have caught a glimpse of the demonstrators and their striped flags. According to Bissan, those local leaders can make a difference, too.
Groups such as Falastiniyat and End the Deadly Exchange advocated for the Seattle Police Department not to train with Israel's military or police forces like they did in 2013 and 2015. As of 2020, more than 1,000 senior police officers in the United States had visited Israel to learn from its police force.
According to Barghouti, SPD took good notes during their playdate with a fellow human rights violator. During the 2020 George Floyd protests, Barghouti said standoffs with cops in Cal Anderson felt eerily similar to her experience with the Israeli military.
“It was like deja vu,” she said. “They look like the Israeli military. They're using similar tactics. the teargas, the pepper balls, the formations, the announcements. All that was left for them to use on Americans was skunk water.”
Last summer, at the request of organizers, Councilmember Kshama Sawant put forth a resolution that would ban the SPD from training with the military or police of any country that is not involved in certain international human rights treaties, or that has violated human rights conventions. The resolution ultimately failed after a lively debate between Sawant and Councilmember Alex Pedersen.
Barghouti said that organizers still want to see the City Council pass this kind of legislation, but she does not anticipate the change to come soon. I emailed Sawant’s office to see if she would reintroduce this policy and I will update if they respond.