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Richmonders March for Palestine Amid Israeli Air Strikes

People holding signs
Demonstrators gathered at Monroe Park on Wednesday to condemn the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Masks were required by protest organizers. (Photos: Alex Scribner/VPM News)

Hundreds of Richmond residents marched down Broad Street Wednesday to condemn the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the recent escalation of state violence in the region.

More than 200 demonstrators gathered in Monroe Park, many waving Palestinian flags, wearing face paint and holding signs that called for Palestinian liberation. The organizers demanded President Joe Biden intervene and called out ties between Virginia and the Israeli government. 

They condemned the deployment of warships to the Middle East from a naval base in Norfolk and criticized Virginia police training based on Israeli law enforcement tactics. Protesters also criticized a Virginia Commonwealth University study abroad program that takes students to Jerusalem to study architecture. 

Speakers also scrutinized the Virginia Israel Advisory Board, a government body that promotes trade between Israel and the commonwealth. The board has played a large role in connecting the Israeli government to Virginia-based arms manufacturers

Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration did not respond to email requests for comment on these matters.

Bilal Aramin proudly waved the Palestinian flag in the middle of Monroe Park as demonstrators began to gather. “It’s my heart. It’s my land,” he said as he looked up at his flag.

“Most of my family live over there. They feel so traumatized and scared, they can’t even go to sleep,” Aramin said. “They’re taking our apartments. They’re taking our houses. They’re taking our schools.” 

Another protester, Roamah Baray, held a sign with the Palestinian flag painted on it that read “Freedom for Palestine'' in Arabic. Baray is Afghan, and she said seeing the violence Palestine faces reminds her of her country’s own history. 

“Seeing the injustice happening in Palestine, it’s just really upsetting, and it really broke my heart. I’m here to support my Palestinian brothers and sisters and to let them know that there are people supporting them all around the world,” Baray said.

State Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield) — the first Muslim woman to serve in the Virginia Senate — attended Wednesday’s event. Before the march, she shared remarks with the crowd, citing scripture and invoking Martin Luther King Jr. in calls for peace.

“No family should be illegally evicted from a home in which they have lived for generations. A home in which they have celebrated weddings and mourned their loved ones. A home in which they have planted roots and olive trees, and nurtured their children,” she said.

Recently, the United States approved a $735 million arms sale to Israel, which is currently facing opposition in Congress. In signs and through chants, the Richmond demonstrators denounced the decision, pointing fingers at the Biden administration and asking for change. 

In an email, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner said “the arms sale predates the conflict,” but added that a review of the sale is currently underway.

“But we can’t lose sight of what’s important right now,” Warner said. “For this reason I joined several dozen of my colleagues in calling for an immediate ceasefirein the region to help put an end to this heartbreaking violence. Without a ceasefire, we’ll only see escalated and retaliatory violence that could result in the loss of more innocent lives.”

Sen. Tim Kaine joined Warner in calling for a ceasefire “to prevent further loss of life and halt this devastating escalation of violence.” 

In an email, Kaine wrote, “I understand that the [Biden] Administration is taking a close look at this routine arms sale now and that the [bombs] that are the subject of the sale won't be delivered for approximately a year.”

The Wednesday march was organized by the Arab American Association of Central Virginia, Richmonders for Peace in Israel-Palestine and Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice and Equality. 

Adeeb Abed, who came to the U.S. from Palestine in the 1960s, was one of the organizers that spoke ahead of the march.

“When I was a kid, we were repeating some of these chants. Now I talk to my grandkids, and they come up with these same suggestions. You know why? Because things haven't changed,” he said.