Houston Protestors Rally Outside Israeli Consulate In Support Of Palestinians

Protestors called on local officials to acknowledge and support their efforts, while marching in solidarity with striking Palestinians in Israel and occupied territory.

Matt Harab / Houston Public Media
Supporters drive passed a crowd of pro-Palestinian protestors on May 18, 2021.

Scores of protestors rallied outside the Consulate General of Israel in Houston on Tuesday in support of a Palestinian general strike in the region, while calling on local leaders to publicly acknowledge and support their efforts.

Rally goers showed up outside the consolate around 6 p.m. for the protest organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement, before marching more than an hour later, waving flags and holding signs, releasing green and red smoke in support of widespread strikes among Palestinians in Israel and occupied territories that began Tuesday.

It was part of a slew of similar protests across the country and around the world, in the wake of escalating violence.

Samar Taha, 28, a first-generation Palestinian-American, said she was glad to see the throng of supporters, but hoped to see a broader coalition of Houstonians join in.

“I feel like we’re in an echo chamber right now, just protesting for ourselves,” she said. “But we do want to raise awareness, and it would be a lot easier if we could get the backing of our community, and especially our leaders.”

Taha herself said she was in the region in 2018 during clashes in Gaza, and called the recent escalation “mentally and emotionally exhausting.”

“It’s a cycle,” she said. “The same thing happens over and over again, year after year, you see the same thing happening. It doesn’t matter who starts it, we’re not saying ‘oh you started it first, no I started it first,’ it just has to stop.”

Matt Harab / Houston Public Media
Protestors marched from the Israeli consulate on May 18, 2021, in support of Palestinians. Israel and Hamas have engaged in deadly clashes for nine days.

A small police presence followed the march, which at one point approached Highway 59 before officers ushered the marchers to move away. They eventually circled the area and arrived back at the consulate around 8 p.m.

In a statement, the consulate said: “As events have continued to unfold in Israel, The State of Israel is responding to the attacks perpetuated against its innocent civilians, carried out by the terrorist organization, Hamas,” read the statement. “It is our great hope that stability and security will soon be returned to all of the residents of Israel.”

Some Texas leaders have also shown their support for Israel over the past week, including Gov. Greg Abbott and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

Israel-Hamas violence continued to escalate Tuesday in the Middle East, after a Palestinian protester was killed and dozens more were wounded at a demonstration in the occupied West Bank, according to the Associated Press. The Israeli military says protesters opened fire at troops at the demonstration, and that two soldiers were shot in the leg and hospitalized.

In the first eight days of the conflict, more than 160 people were killed in Gaza and 12 were killed in Israel, according to a New York Times tally.

About 200 rockets were fired into Israel on Monday, marking more than 3,500 rockets launched into the country since the conflict began, according to the Israeli government. Gaza officials, meanwhile, have said more than 200 people have now been killed by Israeli airstrikes, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

During Tuesday’s protest, people played drums to chants of “Free Palestine” and panned President Joe Biden, condeming the U.S. government for providing military aid to Israel. Kids as young as 3 joined grandparents as old as 90, and supporters driving by honked their horns in solidarity.

Matt Harab / Houston Public Media
Samar Taha, 28, a first-generation Palestinian-American, at a protest on May 18, 2021 outside the Israeli consulate in Houston.

Syed Jafri, 65, said Houston was a diverse city with stong support of recent civil rights protests, comparing Tuesday’s march to Black Lives Matter protests of last summer.

“The question of (Palestinians) is a question of humanity, a question of humanitarian issues,” he said.

Tuesday’s rally was the second such protest in the last week. On Saturday, hundreds of people marched downtown from Discovery Green to City Hall on Nakba Day, an observance of the period in which displacement of Palestinians began in 1948.

Jafri, too, called on city leaders to acknowledge and support such protests.

“I don’t know why…our city council or our city government didn’t come out in solidarity, both with Palestinians and Israelis,” Jafri said.

Mohammed Nabulsi, with the Palestinian Youth Movement and the Palestinian American Cultural Center, said recent news has made it hard to go through his days. He’s afraid of what could happen to his family members in Jerusalem, as well as to the Palestinian people as a whole.

It was hard to find a silver lining, he said. But the collective actions in Houston and other cities have been a positive takeaway for him.

“Palestinians everywhere are mobilizing, and that’s what gives me hope,” he said.

From NPR: Fighting Continues Between Israel, Hamas After Biden Calls For Cease-Fire

Fighting between Israel and Hamas entered its ninth straight day despite a call by President Joe Biden for a cease-fire.

Israeli warplanes carried out another round of airstrikes against Hamas targets in Gaza, leveling a six-story building, while militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel.

Health officials in Gaza say more than 200 people have been killed and there are severe shortages of water and electricity. People are still trying to dig out from a number of heavy Israeli airstrikes over the past few days aimed at demolishing Hamas infrastructure, including a network of tunnels used by Hamas to shuttle weapons, equipment and people.

Small businesses and roads have also been targeted, leading to concerns this could have a serious impact on Gaza’s economy and in getting humanitarian aid to the area.

Palestinian leaders in Gaza, the occupied West Bank and parts of Israel are calling for a one-day general strike Tuesday to protest Israeli attacks in Gaza. Palestinian government offices, banks and business will be shut.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) say Hamas fired about 200 rockets into Israel on Monday, many of them close to the border between Israel and Gaza. The military says since the latest round of fighting started a week ago, more than 3,500 rockets have been launched into Israel, much more than in any previous conflict. At least 10 Israelis have been killed.

Biden spoke by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday. The White House issued a carefully-worded statement afterward saying that the president “expressed support for a ceasefire” to help end the fighting. However, he stopped short of demanding a halt in the fighting. Biden said that Israel has the right to defend itself, but encouraged it to “protect innocent civilians.”

The wording of the statement is interpreted by some as giving too much room to Israel to keep up airstrikes that have caused widespread destruction in Gaza.

Netanyahu held a meeting Monday with defense and intelligence chiefs, saying afterwards that his directive is to continue striking at “terrorist targets.”

— Jackie Northam, NPR

Additional Reporting from the Associated Press.