Last week actions erupted across North Jersey and only grew as the days went on, from a few dozen in the Heights in Jersey City, to a hundred Tuesday night in North Bergen, right beside the Hudson River. A few hundred more students mobilized Wednesday afternoon at Rutgers University-Newark and New Jersey Institute of Technology and a few hundred more came together Friday night where Jersey City gathered in the Journal Square transportation hub. Finally a massive, thousands-strong march mobilized in Little Palestine itself — Paterson, NJ, home to the second largest Palestinian diaspora outside Gaza and Dearborn, Michigan.
Many of these events were organized by American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) and featured speakers from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim civil rights and advocacy group. Other actions were organized by local mosques and the myriad Muslim community organizations across North Jersey. Tuesday night’s rally in North Bergen was the most faith-centered, ending with prayers across a whole stretch of sidewalk. A young woman gave us sashes that we’d later see at other demonstrations.
The demand for a cease-fire materialized on Wednesday the 18th, as Students for Justice in Palestine chapters at two neighboring universities in Newark led a huge demonstration, rivaling the largest pickets of the Rutgers strikes on that same campus earlier in the spring.
A DSA-cosponsored rally in Jersey City saw dozens of members out and hundreds more huddled around a barely-functioning megaphone in the pouring rain. Speakers from AMP, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Muslim community members, including current and former Jersey City Board of Education members and a sitting Palestinian-American councilmember. The scene was filled with several Palestinian flags and one DSA flag propped up on my umbrella.
Hudson County DSA member Jake E. led chants and remarks with a strong “stand up fight back!” After introducing himself proudly as a DSA organizer, Jake noted that he is Jewish with family in Israel. “My concern for my family reminded me that they are not safe until every Palestinian is safe,” he said. “None of us are free until all of us are free.” Jake pointed out that the root cause of the violence is, of course, Israeli apartheid and occupation. Additionally, as democratic socialists like to name the class enemy: “we have to call out the capitalists who profit off of this violence: war companies like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin!” He acknowledged the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions’ call to stop military funding of and trade with Israel, and highlighted Representative Rashida Tlaib’s championing of the cease-fire resolution, with the crowd roaring in applause at the very mention of Tlaib, a DSA member and the only Palestinian congressperson.
Jersey City Heights Councilmember Youssef Saleh, a supporter of DSA’s right to counsel legislation, put it bluntly for the hundreds of Muslims in attendance: ““If you don’t vote you don’t matter… I want a cease-fire. I want humanitarian aid… immediately… The occupation has to end as it’s been 75 years…” Saleh gave the demonstration the electoral pitch that became more present in later protests: “You guys are going to go home and register to vote!” The crowd chanted back “Fight back and vote.”
By Sunday in Paterson, however, the appeals to electoral politics had turned into condemnations of the still overwhelming majority of New Jersey representatives that have yet to sign on to the Bush-Tlaib cease-fire resolution, including Paterson congressman Bill Pascrell. The lone New Jersey co-sponsor at this time is Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman.
Ahmad Qatanani, from AMP, laid into Booker. “I worked for you, Cory Booker. This whole street was chanting your name in 2012… You say you fight for justice… While we have breath, I’m sure, in Allah, we will never vote for you again.”
Wassim Kanaan, the imam of the Islamic Center of Passaic County Paterson, condemned Biden for trusting Netanyahu. “Biden, you trusted the liars. Please stand up for justice this one time. One time only.” And went even further: “This is a message for our politicians. If you do not stand up for the right of Palestine and Muslims you are not welcome in our mosques… Booker you are not welcome. Bill Pascrell, you are not welcome.”
The crowds erupted in chants (translated), “With our soul, with our blood, we will sacrifice for you, Palestine.”
No arrests were made at any of the events throughout the week.