ORLANDO, Fla. - This past Sunday, about 100 Floridians from throughout central and south Florida gathered at Orlando's Lake Eola park to hold a demonstration calling for the end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
The demonstration was planned and organized by the Florida Palestine Network in response to the Israeli offensive in the Gaza strip. The offensive, dubbed "Operation Pillar of Defense" by the Israeli Defense Forces, began on the Nov. 14 with the assassination of Ahmed al-Jabari, a high ranking member of Hamas's military wing.
Turnout for the event was hampered by the calling of a ceasefire Nov. 21, but organizers of the event stressed the importance of going forward as planned and maintaining pressure on Israel until the occupation of Palestinian territories is relinquished to the Palestinian people.
In addition to hampering turnout, the ceasefire also appears to be responsible for the canceling of an expected counter-demonstration is support of the Israeli government.
On hand were representatives from multiple organizations, including chapters of the Students for Justice in Palestine from Tallahassee, Tampa and Miami, along with the Gainesville chapter of Students for a Democratic Society.
Meeting on the park green at the intersection of Robinson and Eola, speakers testified to the struggle of the Palestinian people under the Israeli occupation. Speakers noted the lengths to which the Israeli government is willing to go to weaken the people of Gaza, including strictly rationing the amount of food allowed through the embargo to Palestinians despite the fact that nearly 10 percent of children under five years old in Gaza suffer from chronic malnutrition.
Recent Florida State University graduate and former organizer for the Obama campaign C.J. Canton criticized the president's seemingly unconditional defense of Israel. Canton also raised a common theme of the demonstration, saying that the assembled demonstrators needed to impress upon the Democratic Party that the support of those who care for Gaza is not to be unconditionally expected at election time.
Speaking in opposition to the official line of the Israeli and U.S. governments, event organizer Rasha Mubarak eloquently declared that, "Israel has a right to exist, but not as they presently do, by occupying a people and treating the Palestinians as less than human."
The demonstrators marched in a circuit from Lake Eola through the center of downtown Orlando under a small escort of officers from the Orlando Police Department, including at least one undercover officer known to have surveilled local events held by Food Not Bombs and the Occupy movement.
Despite a nearly empty downtown and a general lack of media presence, the demonstrators were able to bring their message to curious onlookers relaxing in the park. Chanting slogans such as "1,2,3,4 end the occupation, end the war," the supporters of the Palestinians were a living testament to the fact that there is a sizable and active American opposition to the Israeli occupation.