Protesters show solidarity with Palestine on Nakba Day

Speakers shared their own experiences, and encouraged attendees to contact their representatives and boycott Israeli products built in illegal settlements.

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Sikowis Nobiss speaks at a protest for Palestine on May 15, 2021.

Natalie Dunlap, Politics Reporter


Palestinian flags and cardboard signs that read statements such as “end the occupation” and “long live Palestine” were held by around 100 demonstrators on the Pentacrest on Saturday afternoon.

The protest was organized by students and alumni alongside the Middle East and North African Students Association to commemorate the 73rd year of Nakba, and show solidarity for Palestinians in Gaza, Palestinians who are facing eviction from Sheikh Jarrah, and all Palestinians.

Tamara Sakaji, a Palestinian-Jordanian engineer who graduated from the University of Iowa, was the first speaker at the event. She shared her experience as a Palestinian exile. Both her paternal and maternal grandparents lived in Palestinian villages that were destroyed in 1948 as part of Nakba, a word meaning catastrophe, that refers to the displacement and killing of Palestinian people that happened when Israel was created.

“Every year, Palestinians commemorate this day, the 15th of May, to say that the ethnic cleansing that happened in 1948 is an ongoing process. It is how the apartheid state of Israel was established,” Sakaji said.

She said the eviction orders of Palestinian people from the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah is a continuation of this ethnic cleansing Palestinians have faced for generations.

The eviction orders against 36 families in Sheikh Jarrah were one of the developments that led to unrest in Israel and Gaza. According to Al Jazeera, Israeli air raids killed at least 145 Palestinians — including 41 children — on the Gaza Strip since Monday, and Israeli forces killed 13 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

At least 10 people in Israel have been killed by rocket fire from Gaza.

“My family who came to the United States to escape the Israeli occupation, are now forced to fund the terror they were running from in the first place, that is terrorism,” said Serena Qamhieh, president of the Middle Eastern and North African Student Association at the UI.

The U.S. provides $3.8 billion to Israel annually. As violence has increased in the last week, Iowa politicians have continued showing support for Israel. Governor Kim Reynolds declared May 13 to be Peace in Israel Day. Iowa’s Republican Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst signed a letter urging President Joe Biden to stand with Israel.

Speakers told attendants how they could stay engaged and demand action for Palestine outside of the protest. They suggested contacting their representatives and boycotting Israeli products built in illegal settlements. On a poster they provided a QR code that linked to a Google document with contact information for representatives, funds to donate to, and a link to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.

Qamhieh said Iowans should use their unique access to presidential hopefuls to ask candidates about the military occupation in Palestine. She also encouraged them to join student organizations and attend protests in support of Black Lives Matter, Native Americans, and against pipelines running through native land.

John Dabeet, a professor at Muscatine Community College and Palestinian human rights activist, said he was happily surprised by the large turn out.

“If this crowd resembles anything it will resemble the need for standing with human justice, with human rights, with Palestinians against what’s going on,” he said.

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