Now Reading: Rallies for Gaza gather momentum, Witness for Palestine Film Festival goes virtual

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Rallies for Gaza gather momentum, Witness for Palestine Film Festival goes virtual

svgOctober 20, 2023MovementBoom Town Press

Despite institutional efforts to silence solidarity with Palestinians

MLK Jr. Park, Rochester, NY        On a brisk yet sunny Indigenous Day, Oct. 9, about a hundred people showed up for an emergency rally held for Gaza and the Palestinians. There was zero coverage from establishment local media. Notably, two elected officials – City Council member Stanley Martin, and Brighton Town Board member Robin Wilt were present. Later that day and for days to come, the rest of the hundreds of Monroe County politicians would undoubtedly pay their respects on social media and attend similarly planned vigils for the Israelis.

The rally was sponsored by Free the People Roc (FTP), Rochester Democratic Socialists of America (RocDSA) and Witness for Palestine Rochester.

What follows is a collection of recent speeches, notes, posts from local Rochester activists that have been involved in organizing on behalf of the Palestinians.

Rochester protester for Palestinians

Organizer Muna Najib’s speech from Oct. 9 Emergency Rally for Gaza:

In the last few days we have witnessed the active decolonization of Palestinian land led by the Palestinian resistance. On October 7th, Gaze broke free. Palestinians in Gaza crossed the illegitimate border fence and reentered 1948 lands for the first time in many of our lifetimes. Since that time, we have witnessed resistance efforts and protests spread to all of historic Palestine, including the West Bank. Netanyahu warned of a “long, difficult war” and of possible preparations for a ground offensive against Gaza, which the occupied has long avoided given its knowledge of our people’s bravery in confronting the occupation face to face.

The events of the last 48 hours are in response to decades of brutal colonization and occupation. This is a historic moment for the Palestinian people. The Israeli intelligence’s failure to detect these plans in advance is shattering the notion of the occupation’s invincibility.

Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed so far by Israeli air strikes on Gaza. (Edit: This number has significantly increased to around 4000 lives lost since this statement on October 9th)

We know that Gaza will only continue to face zionist retaliation in an attempt to stifle the Palestinian peoples resistance. Our hearts are all in Gaza with the bravest of our people, who continue to rise even with the terror in sky above them. No show of force or brutality from the illegitimate entity of Israel will break our resolve. We have a right to resist on our own land. May the memory of our martyrs always guide us on the steadfast path towards liberation.

Speech from Johnathan Khoury:

As we gather here today, our screens and news feeds are filled with images of violence from Palestine. Journalists, political leaders and celebrities have begun to weigh in, with a total lack of context of the events and structures that have precipitated the violence we’re witnessing, using dehumanizing language to describe the people of Gaza. Whether it is a statement from our President, a statement from a member of Congress we once considered an ally, or a question from a TV anchor, the ease with which leaders across our country have painted the people of Gaza as “terrorists” and “animals” should give us all pause. Instead of asking questions like, why are they doing this? What do they seek to gain? What could be the benefit? We need to take a moment to address what has led up to this moment in time? How have we, in the united states, been complicit and facilitated the violence we’re seeing unfold? So today we want to focus on those questions. 

We reject the claim that this event was “unprovoked,” because we know the conditions the people of Gaza have been forced to endure are anything but normal. The basic facts of life there are startling and difficult to comprehend, but they bear repeating:

 Gaza is the largest open-air prison in the world. Home to 2 million Palestinians, it is one of the most densely populated places on earth.

Over 50% of this population is under the age of 18. 

Over 50% of this population lives food insecure. 

These Palestinians have lived under a system of domination imposed by the Israeli occupier since 1967. They cannot leave or enter Gaza without explicit permission from Israel, which is rarely given. Access to all the necessities of life: water, food, gas, and electricity, is completely controlled by Israel, a fact that has become all too clear as Israel’s leaders have promised to impose a “total Siege” on Gaza.

35% of the farmland and 85% of the water for fishing are inaccessible due to military presence. 

90% of the water from the Gaza aquifer is undrinkable. 

Since 2009, the people of Gaza have been subjected to no less than 5 wars, in which the full weight of Israel’s military power has been visited upon their densely populated cities. 

Of the 2 million people living in Gaza, 1.4 million are refugees, the descendants of people whose villages were ethnically cleansed during the Nakba in 1948. In the last two days, when Gazans have crossed the Apartheid wall out of Gaza into southern “Israel,” it is important to note that many of them were returning to their ancestral homelands for the first time, realizing the Right of Return guaranteed to them under UN Resolution 194.

In these last two days, many Palestinians and friends of Palestine have been asked to publicly condemn the actions of the people of Gaza. This request inverts the power dynamics that exist on the ground, in an attempt to erase the system of domination imposed by Israel, and supported by American and European powers. We refuse to engage with this request, because we will not be forced to lay the blame for these events at the feet of the oppressed, when we know this entire situation has been created by the powerful, and in fact, by OUR political leaders and tax dollars. If we truly believe in freedom, security, and liberation for all, we must insist on returning the conversation to the settler colonial reality that created this moment. During the war of resistance to American occupation in Vietnam, it would have been completely inappropriate to criticize the tactics of the Vietnamese people who rose up against the domination of the American military. As the ANC and other groups fought for liberation from Apartheid in South Africa, it would have been wrong to condemn their use of weapons in the fight to free their people from racist domination. Today, we stand in support of the Palestinian people as they struggle to free themselves from one of the last systems of colonial domination on this planet, and we reject any attempt to dehumanize the indigenous population of Palestine. 

To close, I will leave you with a quote from one of the most dedicated supporters of the Palestinian cause, Malcolm X:  

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

Halima Speaking at Emergency Rally for Gaza Oct. 9, 2023

Nate Baldo, activist,  added more context:

The U.S. sends Israel 3.8 billion dollars of annual military aid including F-16 fighter jets, which Israel uses to bomb the besieged Gaza strip. Meanwhile, multinational corporations are making a killing providing biometric tracking equipment to restrict Palestinian movement, surveillance technology along Israeli checkpoints, and bulldozers used to destroy Palestinian homes. So much of the ongoing campaign against the Palestinian people leads back to Washington, DC.

Doug Noble, a long-time Rochester Against War activist, was in attendance and contributed these comments following the rally:

Disgusted this morning that WXXI/NPR covered the local pro-Israel event but not a word of ours. Similarly, I’m disgusted by the national MSN emphatically pro-Israel coverage and of course by Biden and Hochul and all the other US politicians fawning over Israel as the victim, always the victim.

One has to recognize the massive loss of life on both sides, which always complicates such things. I fully expected that Zelensky and others would draw the ridiculous parallel between Russia invading Ukraine and Hamas invading Israel. Disgusted by the ignorant, ahistorical pronouncement that Hamas’s actions were “unprovoked”!!!

Speaking of history, I spent this morning reviewing how Hamas won control of Gaza and how large a percentage of Gazans (68% by one poll) have supported Hamas. I couldn’t understand Hamas’s decision to sacrifice so many Palestinians in its action, which was tactically brilliant and strategically suicidal, given Netanyahu’s predictably monstrous revenge.

As a Jew I can’t help comparing those Israeli citizens living comfortably in towns bordering razor-wired Gaza with those Polish citizens living in Auschwitz next to its fenced-in death camp.

My closest friend, with whom I’ve have been in constant touch since high school, is the son of Holocaust survivors, with family in Israel. I’ve not yet called him, dreading the inevitable conflict.

It’s hard to keep an open mind at such times as these.

From artist and activist Mara Ahmed’s social media post:

What’s happening in Gaza is the first real-time, live, in full-view-of-the-world genocide in human history. If you are praying for Israel, the settler colony perpetrating this genocide, and harping on Hamas attacks, then you are not human (as one of my Palestinian friends wrote). It’s physically painful for us (the non-white/non-Western people of the world) to see your callous posts and inane bothsidism. You don’t know that much about Palestine? That’s not an excuse. If you are an adult, educate yourself.

Jalil Speaking at Emergency Rally for Gaza, Oct. 9, 2023

NO WITNESSES?

Later that week, on Friday Oct. 13, the Witness for Palestine Film Festival was scheduled to kick-off with keynote speaker Ahmad Abuznaid – Executive Director of U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights. But the event was deemed too insensitive, or some vague security issue was given to push the gathering to zoom rather than as planned in person at the Islamic Center of Rochester. Rochester’s reigning racist radio host Bob Lonsberry, of WHAM 1180, was quick with the draw (or drawl – that fake country accent thing he does to appeal to his confederacy of dunces audience):

Friday night at 6, as the Jews of Rochester gather to usher in the Sabbath, as they meet for the first time in formal worship since the slaughter of their brothers and sisters in Israel, there will be across town, at the Islamic Center, a speaker, Ahmad Abuznaid, who will spit in their face.”[i]

Meanwhile on Monday, Oct. 16, while area protests on behalf of the Palestinians numbered in the hundreds, with zero coverage from local press, the Republican candidate for Monroe County executive – Mark Asini managed to get television and newspaper coverage for his staged one-man protest in front of The Little to ask that the Witness Palestine Film Festival be cancelled, claiming that the festival promotes anti-Semitism.[ii]

The Little Theater (which is owned by local PBS affiliate WXXI, which in turn also owns the local “alternative press” City Newspaper) acquiesced and cancelled hosting of the film festival altogether. Note the discrepancy in the explanations by both parties to the postponement:

The Little Theater Press Release:

Witness for Palestine Rochester post on social media Release:

The Film Festival has now been moved online here: https://wpff.us/ Tickets are free with the required registration.

The Festival organizers released this statement on Thursday, Oct. 19:

The Witness Palestine Film Festival is pleased to announce that our 2023 program will proceed as scheduled through a virtual platform. Contrary to the press release issued by The Little  Theatre on October17th, the festival is not postponed, and we look forward to welcoming viewers to watch this year’s program online. It is our firm belief that postponing the festival at this critical moment in history would contribute to the silencing of Palestinian voices, when it is more important than ever that these voices are heard. We are deeply troubled by the threats of violence received by the The Little Theatre, which were a clear attempt at censorship of both the Theatre and of the Witness Palestine Film Festival. As communities across the globe face similar attempts at censorship, we are affirm our commitment to fulfilling our mission as witness of the Palestinian experience.

Festival goers are being encouraged to join watch parties, to resist the organized censorship efforts. A Witness Palestinian Film Festival Watch Party will be held on Oct. 21, 22, 28, 29 at 3 PM at UUU Art Collective – 153 State. St.

It should be noted that WXXI who owns The Little Theatre found time space and energy to cover the postponement (erroneously) of the film festival, but so far has not committed any resources to correcting or updating the actual story that the film festival was never postponed but is instead moving online.[iii]

Despite efforts of powerful individuals (Mark Asini and Meredith Dragon) and institutions (the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester[iv]) to block, censor, diminish the stories coming out of Gaza, on Tuesday, Oct. 17, over 140 people attended a zoom session on the history of the Palestinian Solidarity movement. This was the first of a series of teach-in sessions organized by Rochester Committee to End Apartheid (RCEA) – (https://www.instagram.com/endapartheidroc).

The topics will range from the history of Zionism and The Nakba all the way to coalition building in Rochester. The goal of RCEA, as described by one of the organizers Casey AJ, is to: “build a movement in Rochester focused on ending Israeli Apartheid, modeled after the local effort to end South African Apartheid in the 1980s.” Casey is a filmmaker and also works with the Palestinian Film Institute (https://www.palestinefilminstitute.org/).


[i] https://wham1180.iheart.com/featured/bob-lonsberry/content/2023-10-12-lonsberry-its-the-wrong-time-for-a-palestinian-film-festival/

[ii] https://www.rochesterfirst.com/news/little-theatre-postpones-witness-palestine-film-screenings/

[iii] https://www.wxxinews.org/local-news/2023-10-16/witness-palestine-film-festival-at-the-little-theatre-has-been-postponed

[iv] https://spectrumlocalnews.com/nys/rochester/news/2023/10/17/the-little-theatre-postpones-palestine-film-festival-over-safety-concerns-as-israel—hamas-war-continues

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    Rallies for Gaza gather momentum, Witness for Palestine Film Festival goes virtual