A group of fasting protesters defied the mid-afternoon heat last Friday, lining the sidewalk along the Israeli Consulate in Greenway Plaza to demand human rights for Palestinians. From the edge of Highway 59 to the corner of Weslayan and Norfolk, about 100 people waved signs decrying atrocities in the Palestinian Territories. Passersby honked as the protesters chanted and waved signs calling on Israel to “stop the genocide on Gaza” and the United States to “boycott Israeli goods.”
Standing among boxes made to look like coffins, a man with a keffiyah and a microphone led the group in a chant. They raised their voices in unison: “Free, free Palestine! Occupation is a crime, from Iraq to Palestine!” The protesters came in observance of Quds Day. Named with the Arabic word for Jerusalem, the day is marked annually around the world.
Organizer Ali Syed explained, “It’s commemorated on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, which is a fasting month for Muslims. We are here to protest about the atrocities that are happening in Palestine.”
Syed added, “The Israeli Consulate is a symbolic location. We typically do this in the Galleria…but we chose to come here because of the recent escalation and the violence that’s happening in Palestine.”
Quds Day began in the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979 as a day of opposition to Zionism and the Israeli occupation and destruction of Palestinian territories.
Last Friday also saw the death of four Palestinian protesters, including 15-year-old Haitham Mohammad al Jamal along the border of the Gaza Strip and Israel. Since the Great Return March movement started over two months ago, Israeli militia have killed 124 Palestinians and more than 13,000 have been wounded, reports Al-Jazeera English. It is the most recent publicized conflict surge in a tumultuous history of what some describe as state-sanctioned aggression against Palestinians.
The Great Return March began along the Palestine-Israel border as an action to move hundreds of thousands of Palestinians whose families were forced off their land and out of their homes after the establishment of Israel in 1948. In spite of Palestinians’ displacement, it wasn’t until after the Six-Day War of 1967 that Israeli presence in parts of Palestine was considered illegal by international law. Rather than observe the boundaries drawn at the conclusion of the war, in which hundreds of Israelis and thousands of Arabs died, the Israeli government allowed citizens to establish homes and neighborhoods in land recognized internationally as Palestinian Territory.
Israel’s legitimacy has long been questioned by Iran. Initially the country was among the first Middle Eastern nations to recognize the legitimacy of Israel, but after the Islamic Revolution in 1979 the new Iranian government reversed its position and began the tradition of Quds Day. Some have criticised Quds Day protests as spaces for anti-semitism given some demonstrators’ hate speech against Jewish people and calls for the destruction of Israel.
Protesters at Friday’s demonstration in Houston focused their demands of accountability for civilian deaths. The United States government was intensely criticized at the protest for funding Israel. Since Israel’s creation, the US has been Israel’s foremost funder, giving almost $135 billion. In 2016, the State Department signed an agreement to give Israel $38 billion in military aid.
“These are just families,” said Syed of the protesters. “We are all just concerned about what’s happening Palestine.”