Outside City Hall in Jersey City, N.J. this Saturday, two groups demonstrated simultaneously. A couple dozen people draped in Israeli flags — protected by metal barricades and police officers — demanded the return of all Israeli prisoners Hamas captured earlier this month, while over 200 gathered with Palestinian flags to demand an immediate ceasefire and an end to the siege on Gaza. One activist’s sign read “Jersey City Stands With Palestine” across the small plaza from posters declaring “Israel’s 9/11.”
Demonstrators on either side did not interact much — those in solidarity with Palestine largely focused on the demand for a ceasefire. Jake Ephros from DSA began the rally’s chants upon setting up the PA system: “Free, free Palestine!” echoed through the Grove Street strip in front of City Hall.
Former Jersey City Board of Education president Mussab Ali emceed the rally and invited Meera Jaffery from Jewish Voice for Peace to the microphone. Meera, a retired Jersey City public school teacher, discussed the billions in tax dollars Americans pay to fund the Israeli military, eliciting chants of “Not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Israel’s crimes!”
Younass Barkouch, current Jersey City BOE member, also spoke and condemned the loss of life on every side. A Palestinian mother holding her fifteen month-old baby shouted out and eventually received the microphone from Younass; she firmly stated that we are here for Palestine and should not feel at all apologetic for that.
When Ephros returned to speak, wearing a JVP “Not In Our Name” shirt, he led more chants for a ceasefire. He then asked the crowd “even if we won the victory of a ceasefire, would Palestine be free?” and went on to demand an end to occupation and apartheid more broadly.
Emphasizing the need to build longterm organization for longterm freedom, Ephros introduced fellow DSA member Isaac Jiménez, who detailed the calls to action. After explaining what U.S. military aid to Israel could fund for working people at home, Jiménez asked the crowd to commit to calling their representatives to demand a ceasefire and join an organization to continue the fight. DSA members and others in the crowd helped pass out literature with three New Jersey congressmen’s contact information, and a web link with information on how to stay involved with DSA.
Mussab brought up other impromptu speakers from the Palestinian community, including a woman who lost 83 family members in Gaza. Yousef Saleh, a Palestinian-American city councilman, shared that he just learned that afternoon that his cousin was killed by a settler in the West Bank. Saleh said we want to bring everyone home, and he had just spoken with the pro-Israel demonstrators, too. He also shared that everyone in the crowd needs to vote, and that Joe Biden had lost his vote. A member of the New Jersey Black Caucus spoke in solidarity with Palestine, as well.
The rally ended in prayer, long after the Zionist demonstration had ended and packed up. DSA organizers connected with leaders in a local mosque and met new chapter members who had been phone banked to attend the rally.