Palestinian activists pressure Massachusetts delegation

Peace Advocate September-October 2021

Lea Kayali. Bay State Banner photo
Lea Kayali. Bay State Banner photo

by Yawu Miller

Originally posted in the Bay State Banner

After a summer marked by land expropriation in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem, the bombardment of Gaza, shootings and detention of Palestinian children and growing international outrage at the occupation of Palestinian land, a group of local Palestinian activists is calling on the Massachusetts congressional delegation to take a hard stand against Israel.

Several dozen activists stood in front of the John F. Kennedy Federal Building Monday as representatives of the Palestinian Youth Movement’s Boston chapter handed aides to Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey a letter to delegation members calling on them to support an end to U.S. military aid to Israel.

The letter, signed by 1,241 Massachusetts residents, including representatives of more than 30 advocacy groups, calls on the delegation members to support legislation affirming the human rights of Palestinian children and families living under Israeli military occupation and calls for a “congressional investigation of the role of U.S. arms and funding in the violent Israeli repression and displacement of Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank, along with the long-standing siege and bombing of Gaza.”

Lea Kayali, a member of the Palestinian Youth Movement, said, “For my entire life, none of my elected officials have had the gall to step a toe out of line outside of the staunch pro-Israel posture that remains essentially ubiquitous across the aisle. But there’s a rumble, a low deep reverberating sound, and it’s coming from the streets, not the halls of Congress.”

Kayali points to a May rally in which more than 1,000 people demonstrated in Copley Square, voicing opposition to Israel’s planned annexation of Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem, as well as the 1,241 signatures Palestinian organizers were able to garner from Massachusetts residents for the current letter.

Even the presence of representatives from the two senators’ offices at what was essentially a rally for Palestinian rights would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. Kayali and other activists point to the Black Lives Matter movement, during which U.S. activists and their counterparts in occupied Palestine compared notes and shared tactics for resisting police repression.

Those connections are what drew Northeastern student Noah Colbert to Monday’s rally.

“I care about Black Lives Matter, and there are a lot of links between what’s happening to Palestinians and what’s happening to Black people here,” he told the Banner. “What’s happening in Palestine is comparable to what happened to Blacks in the Jim Crow South. It’s apartheid.”

The planned expulsion of Palestinians from the East Jerusalem neighborhood Israel has held under military occupation since the 1967 war further shifted public opinion in the United States away from Israel. In May, Israeli troops stormed the Al Aqsa Mosque compound — one of the holiest sites in Islam — and Hamas, the political party ruling Gaza, responded with a fusillade of rockets lobbed at Israel.

The Israeli military responded with a punishing bombardment of Gaza, flattening apartment buildings, targeting schools and a hotel used by journalists. In Israel, 13 were killed by Hamas rockets, while 256 Palestinians were killed and more than 1,900 were injured by Israeli bombs and missiles.

The conflict was widely seen as eroding U.S. public support for Israel and led to 21 members of Congress co-sponsoring the “Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation” bill that local Palestinian activists are calling on Massachusetts delegation members to sign.

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who represents much of Boston in Congress, issued a sharply worded statement against Israel’s attempt to evict Palestinians from occupied East Jerusalem, calling the move a “land grab.”

Kayali said the increased resistance among some members of Congress is a small but significant step toward Palestinian rights.

“These are baby steps, to be sure, but ones that inspire hope,” she said. “They’re small wins, but we won’t stop pressuring our leaders until the U.S. government sanctions Israel for its apartheid crimes, or until Palestine is free, whichever one comes first.”

Devin Atallah, an assistant professor of psychology at UMass Boston who helped draft the letter to the congressional delegation, said Palestinian activists want lawmakers to see Palestinians as worthy of the same human rights protections as anyone else.

“We expect that our elected Democratic representatives don’t continue to dehumanize us,” he told the Banner.

In the letter, Atallah and other authors decry lawmakers’ efforts to increase military aid to Israel by $1 billion.

“It is in blatant disregard of Palestinian life to reward the brutality of the Israeli military with surplus funds as it kills Palestinian civilians with impunity,” the letter reads. “Instead, we should be devoting taxpayer dollars to building up communities of color at home and abroad.”

The Palestinian activists were joined Monday by members of groups including Jewish Voice for Peace, the Muslim Justice League and Massachusetts Peace Action.