Boisterous Nakba Day car rally rolls through Minneapolis suburb
Columbia Heights, MN – Just outside city limits from Northeast Minneapolis, Central Avenue was awash with Palestine flags during Friday rush hour as Palestinian-Americans and solidarity activists commemorated Al-Nakba. Nakba Day, held each year on May 15, remembers the 1948 ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of indigenous Palestinians from their national homeland by Zionist settlers. Around 60 cars and dozens of families drove in a long caravan through the heavily Arab-American neighborhood, with chants of “From the river to the sea…” echoing for blocks. The protest was one of many actions that happened internationally.
The event was organized by the Anti-War Committee (AWC) and American Muslims for Palestine-Minnesota (AMP-MN), and endorsed by Jewish Voice for Peace-Twin Cities, Women Against Military Madness, and the Minnesota Peace Action Coalition. Demands included the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants; an end to U.S. aid to Israel, and a free Palestine.
Drivers and pedestrians along the busy commercial strip honked horns and flashed victory signs in solidarity with the car rally. Palestinian-Americans residing in the northern Twin Cities suburbs have held Nakba Day rallies in various forms for years.
“When you’re Palestinian, you’re fighting for Palestine from the minute you’re born,” said Mariam El-Khatib of AMP-MN in a speech as cars gathered for the rally. “Al Nakba happened 72 years ago but we live the Nakba every single day as Palestinians in the West Bank, as Palestinians in Gaza, as Palestinians in the diaspora like myself and many of the Palestinians here today.”
“There’s 72 years of Nakba but there’s also 72 years of resilience,” El-Khatib continued. “We’re going to continue to fight and we’re going to continue to resist until Palestine is free.”
Christine Hauschildt of the AWC spoke about the situation in Palestine in relation to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, explaining, “We are living in a time where most people are experiencing restrictions and isolation in order to protect our communities against the spread of COVID-19. Many of us have never felt restrictions to our movement and what we have access to, which is something the Palestinian people have suffered through for 72 years without the comforting knowledge of some kind of return to normal or living a life of safety and freedom.”
“For Palestinians, COVID-19 poses a greater threat to their health and safety than before,” she said. “Palestinians had an extremely under-resourced health system with many people unable to access adequate health care. Now that the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza have seen their first cases of COVID-19, their health systems are challenged with an even greater burden.”
About a dozen reactionaries calling themselves 3% United Patriots of Minnesota attempted to provoke the demonstrators with a counter-protest, calling Palestinian people “cockroaches,” “terrorists” and “jihadis.” The group also had recently participated in so-called ‘Liberate Minnesota’ protests against a scientific approach to the state’s pandemic response. At the Nakba Day rally, they waved Israeli flags and loudly applauded President Trump while condemning as “cowardly” the wearing of pandemic face masks. They attempted their own car caravan but after circling the parking lot with only seven cars they retreated instead to holding flags at the corner away from the parking lot.
“It’s no surprise that the same people who reject basic public health measures to control a pandemic are also bigoted supporters of a racist apartheid state like Israel,” Kent Mori of the AWC told Fight Back!. “Oppressors everywhere see the pandemic as an opportunity to go on the offensive. We see this in Palestine where Israel is poised to expand its territorial claims in the West Bank, and we see this in Minnesota where these racists thought they could drive us off the streets. On Nakba Day we showed them they’re wrong.”