Editor’s note: Covering protests requires different approaches and sometimes different rules. MLK50: Justice Through Journalism is committed to bearing witness and documenting history but will follow as closely as possible the Authority Collective’s call in “Do No Harm: Photographing Police Brutality Protests.” In order to protect people from state retribution or surveillance, those participating in this story were allowed varying levels of anonymity.
In this world, there are about 14 million Palestinians. Half of those folks live in a global diaspora, communities created with the hope of returning to their dispossessed land that has been occupied by the state of Israel for the last 75 years with unwavering support from the United States government.
Memphis and the Mid-South represent a region home to one of those diasporic communities. Hundreds of Palestinians have built lives and nurtured communities here. On Sunday, many marched toward the Mississippi River in the name of a ceasefire, safe delivery of humanitarian aid and a Palestine returned to its people.
More than 400 people showed up to trace the route from FedExForum, down Beale Street toward Tom Lee Park’s riverfront. Palestinians of all ages wearing their kufiyas flowed past the cheery facades of the entertainment district. They flew their flag, the one they are banned from flying in their own land, while surrounded by many other Memphians who supported them.
The sounds of their voices while leading the march, in English and Arabic, resonated through the streets:
From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.
Let Gaza Live
Biden, Biden, you can’t hide. We charge you with genocide.
Israel continues to bombard Gaza with heavy airstrikes — with the goal, it says, of targeting Hamas — intensifying attacks against Palestinians by targeting hospitals and refugee camps. While the organization is the de facto authority in Gaza, there have been no elections in Palestine since 2006 (in a country where nearly half the population is younger than 18 years old.)
This violent siege was sparked in response to Hamas attacks on Kibbutzim (settlements) near the Gaza border on Oct. 7, the deadliest for Israel in many decades. About 1,400 Israelis have been killed as a result of these attacks.
Since then, Israel has cut off access to power, water, heat and food to the 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza. Hospitals are “ceasing function” as fuel for generators, and basic supplies are in dangerous shortage.
The bombardment has also marked its deadliest day to date, with the Palestinian health ministry reporting more than 700 people killed in one night on Oct. 24. This is in addition to the more than 5,700 Palestinians already killed by Israeli attacks.
In Memphis and across the world, Palestinians have meaningfully supported the struggle for collective liberation. The number of Jewish folks taking action to speak up against the Israeli occupation and genocide of Palestinians, citing their own familial histories of trauma from the Holocaust, continues to grow.
While no counter-protestors arrived on Sunday, a moment of tension arose on Beale Street. A lone white man with a freshly served beer walked out of a bar and up to the march. He lifted a disapproving thumb, pumping it up and down while shouting that the people participating in the march were “terrorists.”
For many in our city and our communities, living under the weight of our own struggle can make an issue situated across the world feel more distant than it really is.
“In talking with my family, I had to navigate a lot of their assumptions on this conflict,” said Justin Williams, a Memphian who attended the march. Their views, shaped by their evangelical Christian faith and politics, offered little sympathy to Palestinians, he said.
“It’s a totally different reality that they’re filtering this through.”
In addition to holding the U.S. government accountable for its historically significant and ongoing role in this, many who came in solidarity to the march on Sunday harkened back to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s concept of beloved community.
“I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…” King said in 1965. “This is the inter-related structure of reality.”
Andrea Morales is the visuals director for MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Email her at email@example.com
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