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Since last week, Palestinian and Arab groups have taken to the streets of Los Angeles in protest of the Israeli government’s airstrikes on the Palestinian people and the occupation of their land.

Now these groups turn their Palestinian flags, protest signs, keffiyehs and eyes to Orange County with a rally and vigil planned at 6 p.m. today at 401 S Brookhurst St. in Anaheim’s Little Arabia. 

“It’s important to do those things to spread awareness, to honor our resistance and uprising, to honor our martyrs and to put pressure on folks and people in power here in the States because we are directly supporting what’s happening in Palestine with our tax dollars,” said Zeena Farooq, a member of the Palestinian Youth Movement — one of the organizing groups.

“It’s important for us to keep the momentum going.”

Thousands of protestors march down Wilshire Boulevard on May 15, 2021 to call for end of U.S. military support to Israel. Credit: HOSAM ELATTAR, Voice of OC

On Friday, a protest will be held at 4 p.m. outside W Orange Ave. & S Brookhurst St. in Anaheim.

And on Saturday, a car caravan will make its way from Little Arabia to the Federal building in Santa Ana.

The rallies and protests come after hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza, including over 60 children, have been killed amid a recent barrage of Israeli airstrikes which has forced ten of thousands into shelter. It has also left Gazans facing a shortage of clean water and medicine.

In Israel, 12 people have been killed including two children as of Tuesday, according to the Washington Post.

Israeli forces have said their bombing campaign is aimed at Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza and is deemed by Israel, the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union as a terrorist group. 

Israeli airstrikes have killed over 200 Palestinian civilians including 61 children in the process while Israeli forces claim to have killed what they describe as over 130 “terrorists.”

Hamas has fired thousands of rockets of their own at Israel which the Israeli government has for the most part been able to defend against with their Iron Dome air defense system. 

“You know and I know, no country would tolerate this. Israel will not tolerate this,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a video posted on his Twitter page.

Just weeks prior it looked like Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, may have been on the way out when he failed to form a new government. Some argue playing to right wing extremists could keep him in power.

The Anti-Defamation League last week condemned Hamas in a statement that also called out far-right nationalists.

“We strongly condemn Hamas’ firing rockets in Jerusalem and across southern Israel. We stand by Israel’s right to self-defense,” reads the statement. “Further, the tensions of the last weeks have been exacerbated by extremists, including far-right Jewish nationalists.”

But for many Palestinians and Arabs, Israel’s right to self-defense is not a justified reason for the airstrikes especially when the death toll is so slanted one way. The airstrikes are raising concerns in the international community as well.

“Israel is bombing hospitals, residential homes, bookstores, grocery stores — that is not self defense. They’re completely annihilating people and dismantling whatever’s left of the society in Gaza,” Farooq said.

Among the wreckage Israeli bombs have left in Gaza, are hundreds of homes including one in a refugee camp, numerous hospitals and clinics, as well as the building that housed the local bureaus of Associated Press and Al Jazeera. 

The one lab in Gaza that processes Coronavirus tests has also been left inoperable from the airstrikes. The Gaza health ministry administrative offices have also been damaged.

Hamas started to fire rockets at Israel after Israeli police raided and attacked worshippers at Al-Aqsa mosque — one of the most holy sites for Muslims — during Ramadan with stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets. Hundreds were left wounded.

The attacks on Al-Aqsa mosque followed protests over a planned expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes in occupied East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

A banner on the side of a truck that led protestors in a march to the Israeli consulate on May 15, 2021. Credit: HOSAM ELATTAR, Voice of OC

U.S. President Joseph Biden called for a ceasefire on Monday following pressure from the international community. Meanwhile, The Israeli military plans to expand it’s bombardment of Gaza, according to the Washington Post.

Biden’s administration also approved a $735 million sale of precision guided weapons to Israel. 

Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. made their largest single pledge in military assistance to Israel as part of a $38 billion agreement to be given over the span of a decade ($3.8 billion annually), according to the White House.

This past Tuesday, millions of Palestinians went on general strike in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel in protest against the airstrikes that have left hundreds dead and homes in ruins.

Some Orange County residents joined that strike by protesting outside the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles and others protested at Stoddard Park in Anaheim.

Protestors are calling for the end of the U.S. government political, financial and military sponsorship of Israel. 

“The United States government has repeatedly sided with oppression,” Farooq said. “To hold Israel accountable is to hold themselves accountable.”

The Arab American Civic Council, one of the organizing groups in this week’s protests, had originally called on community members to show up to the Anaheim City Council meeting to push them to recognize Little Arabia.

They postponed that to instead call on community members to show up for Palestine at the protests this week.

“People are angry and people want to do something so we partnered with all these organizations to give them a platform and an outlet to share their frustrations,” said Rashad Al-Dabbagh, founder and executive director of the Arab American Civic Council.

Al-Dabbagh said the conditions that Palestinians live under are similar to that of Apartheid South Africa, a conclusion the Israeli government rejects but Palestinians, Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem — an Israeli human rights group, and even some members of congress agree with.

The council is among several groups calling on people to send letters to their elected leaders to stop the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah as well as to end U.S. military funding to Israel.

“Our money and our tax dollars are funding human rights violations and we don’t want to see that and that’s why our representatives in Congress must be held accountable,” Al-Dabbagh said.

He added the only Orange County Congressmember to sign on to those letters thus far is Alan Lowenthal. Many democratic members of congress recently spoke out against U.S. military support for Israel, condemned the airstrikes and called for the protection of Palestinian rights.

“We want to send a message to our representatives that they have a large number of constituents who are angered by our complicity as Americans and we want them to stand up against it,” Al-Dabbagh said.

While the debate over the future of Palestine is decades old and several thousand miles away, the issue still remains close to the heart of many Palestinian Americans in Orange County.

Last year, students organized and led a car caravan through the streets of Irvine in protest of a planned Israeli annexation of 30% of the West Bank.

Arab American students at UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton have continuously spoken out about the Israeli occupation of Palestine – often meeting with pushback at their university and even with arrests. 

This planned week of action follows a massive demonstration on Saturday May 15 when thousands of protestors marched from the Federal Building on Wilshire Boulevard down to the Israeli consulate then back.

Those chants were echoed at protests in major cities across the country including Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Austin, Houston, San Francisco, Phoenix, Detroit.

And also across the world – including Canada, as well as in Asia, Africa and Europe.

These protests were held on May 15 to commemorate the 73rd anniversary of the Nabka or “catastrophe” when hundreds and thousands of Palestinians were expelled from their homeland, thousands were killed between 1947-1949. 

The Nabka is marked on May 15, 1948 because that’s when British control of Palestine ended and the state of Israel was officially established after the U.N. unveiled a plan to divide the land between Palestinians and the Israelis. 

Palestinians and neighboring Arab countries denounced the plan as colonial theft and war broke out.

For Palestinians, the Nakba has not ended.

“This Nakba is ongoing, it never stopped. Israel’s expansionist policies and land grab continues until today,” said Al-Dabbagh whose own grandfather was expelled from the city of Jaffa in 1947.

“Just like we have been seeing in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah recently. These are Palestinian families who are being threatened to be kicked out of their own homes.”

The Los Angeles protest on Saturday was organized by various Palestinian groups and many of the organizers were from Orange County. Many of the organizers were also women and so were the speakers.

“Palestinian women have a really significant history of organizing,” said Amar, a member of the Palestinian Youth Movement. “Women just realize the significance of Palestine and the history of Palestine and the history of our culture and our traditions and our heritage and they’re not really willing to give that up.”

Amar has asked that her full name not be used in fear of being targeted.

Among the protestors were Muslims, Christians and Jewish people. There were Palestinians, Arabs, Latinx people, Black people, Asian people and White people.

Al-Dabbagh said the protests are not against Jewish people and not against Israelis but against the Israeli government and their occupation of Palestinians.

“This is not anti-semitic or anti anything. This is anti-discrimination. This is anti-bigotry, this is anti-war. Our stance is for human rights for all, whether you’re Palestinian, Israeli, Jewish, Christian – it doesn’t matter,” he said.

Amar said that protests will continue to happen past this week and that they’re on the verge of another intifada or uprising with strikes happening across Palestine and the Palestinian diaspora.

“We’re sick of being occupied,” she said.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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