Crowd rallies downtown in solidarity with Palestine

Event organizer Nadia Dames writes a message of solidarity with Palestine during a rally on Court Square on Saturday.

Story and photos by Calvin Pynn, contributor

More than 200 people stood outside the Rockingham County Courthouse late Saturday morning to show solidarity with the Palestinian people, after nearly two weeks of fighting between Israel and Palestine in Gaza and the West Bank.

The event provided an opportunity for Palestinians living in Harrisonburg to publicly discuss how their lives have been affected by the conflict. Nadia Dames, one of the rally’s organizers, has family members living in the West Bank.

“They pay taxes to the government of Israel, but they have no rights. So with that, their water and their electricity can be cut off at any moment, they are restricted in travel, at times they are closing Jerusalem from those outside who are wanting to pray,” Dames said in an interview with The Citizen.

Although born and raised in Harrisonburg, Dames saw these restrictions firsthand while living for several years in Jordan, during which time she was not allowed to enter Palestine.

“To have those restrictions against the holiest place in the land and to be from America and go to Jerusalem and pray in the [Al-Aqsa Mosque] when people five miles down the road are not allowed to is reprehensible,” she said.

Hosam Hadid speaks from the courthouse steps.

Hosam Hadid, who holds dual citizenship in both the U.S. and Palestine, was one of several speakers who shared their stories during the open mic portion of the rally. He recalled visiting Palestine with his wife when a mix up over the martial status on his ID prompted Israeli border control to bar her from entering the country.

“They held our passports for around six or so hours, and I asked them why are you doing this, and [the border patrol agent] said: ‘Your wife is now a Palestinian so she will be treated like a Palestinian.’ So to see this sort of oppression was a shock to her, and at that point, I was kind of numb to it,” Hadid recalled.

Tim Seidel, an EMU professor who lived in Palestine-Israel for several years, said that such stories are key to understanding the conflict, particularly regarding the oppression that Palestinians experience living under Israeli occupation.

“Whose stories are we telling, and what’s the story that we’re living in to?” said Seidel, in his speech at the rally. “There’s a story that dominates, that’s based on fear, and that leads to policies and protocols of elimination in order to replace.”

“The experience of state violence, whether it’s even in the U S or whether it’s in Palestine … operates off of a story that we tell ourselves and that we inhabit, we live into,” Seidel continued.

Hasan Hamdan, a statistics professor at James Madison University, said during his time on the mic that the current cease-fire between the two nations does not signal an end to the conflict.

“Yes, there is a cease-fire, but the causes of the problem are still there,” Hamdan said.

Ten-year-old Gilane Malek shared her story as well.

“I was four years old, we were at the airport, and I got separated from my Dad. He’s still in Egypt. I can call him, but I can’t even see his face. This has been a hard time for me,” said Malek, prompting a stunned silence through the crowd.

People attending the rally wrote messages of solidarity on posters outside of the courthouse, and later marched around Court Square, chanting for Israel to free Palestine.

Many in attendance headed directly a subsequent rally at Liberty Park.

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