Gainesville stands with Palestine

by the Gainesville pod of Jewish Voice for Peace, Gainesville Radical Reproductive Rights Network, and the Gainesville pre-branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation

The tragic events of Oct. 7 brought international attention to the ongoing genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. Israel’s war has spurred mass movement for Palestinian self-determination, in Gainesville and around the world.

Since October, Gainesville communities have organized over 20 events in solidarity with Palestine, sponsored by local organizations including the University of Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, Gainesville Solidarity Network, both the UF and newly formed Gainesville pods of Jewish Voice for Peace, Veterans for Peace, Gainesville Radical Reproductive Rights Network, UF Central American Latin Organization, and the Gainesville pre-branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

Israel’s army began destroying Gazan neighborhoods, hospitals, refugee camps, and schools shortly after Operation Al-Aqsa Flood on Oct. 7. UF SJP responded, facilitating a large teach-in at UF. As with many pro-Palestine events, SJP members were forced to defend the teach-in against unjustified charges of anti-Semitism, holding that their work is against Zionism and not Judaism.

On Oct. 15 and 23 PSL Gainesville hosted protests at the corner of SW 13th St and University Ave, where many flew Palestinian flags and banners. 

On Oct. 25, Gainesville Solidarity Network, UF Arab Students’ Association, Islam On Campus-UF, UF JVP, and UF SJP joined a nationwide school walkout for Palestine. Despite Governor Ron Desantis ordering Florida university SJP chapters’ deactivation to silence Palestinian voices and UF President Ben Sasse similarly disregarding Palestinian students and employees, the crowd of 300 marched across campus. 

Professors addressed the crowd as people called for Palestinians’ right of return. Later, the Civic Media Center showed the documentary “5 Broken Cameras” by a West Bank journalist documenting the resistance of settler expansion into his hometown. As October ended, Superette Wine + Provisions hosted a Gainesville Solidarity Network support dinner for the struggle.

As Gaza’s food, water, and electricity were being cut off, organizers announced a Nov. 4 National March on Washington. Dozens traveled overnight from Gainesville to the capital. UF SJP, Gainesville Solidarity Network, PSL Gainesville, and the UF chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America joined up to 300,000 in attendance. 

That day, JVP Gainesville, VFP, Florida Prisoner Solidarity, and others coordinated a vigil at Bo Diddley Plaza, where 150 protesters gathered for Jewish and Islamic grief rituals. They marched and shut down University Avenue and Main Street traffic.

On Nov. 16, after JVP Gainesville led public comments to the City Commission in support of a ceasefire resolution, PSL Gainesville, Gainesville Solidarity Network, UF SJP, JVP Gainesville, GRRR!, and FPS coalesced for a Stand with Palestine rally. 

Almost 150 people chanted in the cold and rain. Speakers asserted that companies like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Boeing profiting from the killing of Palestinians made the U.S. complicit in genocide. According to the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Gainesville taxpayers contribute nearly $2 million yearly to this “aid,” $2 million that is stripped from Gainesville communities in desperate need of healthcare and housing.

Leading up to Thanksgiving, Gainesville Solidarity Network hosted a “Rave 4 Palestine” fundraiser on Nov. 18. PSL Gainesville, UF SJP, CALOR, and JVP Gainesville, hosted local library teach-ins on Nov. 19 and 21. During the temporary “ceasefire” from Nov. 24-30, in which Israeli forces continued bombing and incarcerating Palestinians, UF SJP led protesters to Congresswoman Kat Cammack’s office, denouncing her support of occupation and demanding her support of ceasefire. Officials ignored pleas and the temporary “ceasefire” ended with November.

With over 20,000 Palestinians dead at the start of December, a new organization called the Liberation Collective launched with an artful event at the Hippodrome Theatre, joined remotely by Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib. This coalition will unite Gainesville’s grassroots liberation movements, with an immediate focus on fighting for a Free Palestine.

Following a pinkwashing teach-in from UF Queer Liberation Front and others on the 4th, on Dec. 7, residents returned to the City Commission demanding a ceasefire resolution, following other U.S. cities. 

The Commission argued that the letter they directed Mayor Ward to pen to President Biden at the last meeting sufficed; in it, Ward thanked Biden for his efforts to bring peace to Israel and Palestine. At this time, the Biden administration was circumventing Congress to approve a $106 million sale of tank ammunition to Israel. 

Dec. 10 saw four groups stage another protest. The Islamic Community Center of Gainesville Imam, Ismaeel Malik, addressed over 100 people waving flags and signs and led prayers. 

Forums, at the Gainesville Quakers Meetinghouse, How Bazar, and online, centered on Gaza’s history, settler-colonialism, and anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, with discussion from educators and activists Ilana Bakal, Paul Ortiz, Malini Schueller, and Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons. 

Over the holidays, JVP Gainesville caroled for ceasefire downtown and PSL Gainesville flyered outside of department stores to spread awareness of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement, with dozens showing support and eagerly agreeing to participate. 

In January, PSL Gainesville screened “The Wanted 18,” a 2014 documentary about Beit Sahour resistance during the First Intifada, and led discussion on further connecting Gainesville to national efforts. 

On Jan. 9, as San Francisco became the largest U.S. city to pass a ceasefire resolution, the Alachua County Commission delayed a vote, asking JVP Gainesville to garner additional support for a ceasefire resolution that would be Florida’s first.

With the new semester underway, the March on Washington for Gaza on the 13th, and MLK weekend ahead of them, activists planned several more January events. CALOR, the UF Mexican-American Student Association, the UF Dominican Student Association, Chispas UF, and UF SJP hosted a Jan. 10 photography fundraiser for the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund at UF’s Plaza of the Americas. 

Liberation Collective’s cycles of actions, on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month, are set to begin on January 23. 

VFP holds Peace Picket Tuesdays from 4:30-5:30pm weekly at the corner of NW 42rd St and NW 16th Ave.

In the face of state repression and anti-Arab bigotry by public institutions, the movement for a free Palestine in Gainesville has not been deterred, but rather, has experienced exponential growth since Oct. 7. 

Actions will continue until the war ends and Palestine is free. 

Even in a small city like Gainesville, we see that organizing turns local efforts into global impact. We are united by a profound, sincere love and the belief that all life is sacred. 

If you are inspired by the events described in this article, please consider joining a local organization that represents your values and moves you to take action against genocide. 

The groups that have organized for a ceasefire, an end to occupation and genocide, and for Palestinian self-determination are continuing their work. Actions are generally promoted on Instagram and through mailing lists. 

Please refer to the Iguana Directory, follow groups on social media, and visit their websites to sign up for email updates surrounding upcoming events.

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