By KATE ALBRIGHT and DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
bartesaghi@montclairlocal.news

About 50 people gathered at Church Street and Bloomfield Avenue Friday evening, seeking an end to Israeli attacks on Gaza and other violence in the intensifying conflict between Israel and Palestinians. 

The vigil and a march along Bloomfield Avenue were organized by New Jersey Peace Action, the Palestinian American Community Center, American Muslims for Palestine and the Jewish Voice for Peace. It’s a site where New Jersey Peace Action had for years organized weekly demonstrations in response to 9/11, the war in Iraq and several other conflicts.

“We’re seeing police breaking into mosques. We’re seeing police put their knees on people’s necks, and those are some of the same exact things that as a Black American we experience over here,” Imani R. Oakley, a political organizer from Montclair, said. 

“So, anyone over here who can say that Black lives matter, they could also be looking over there, overseas, and saying Palestinians’ lives matter just as much, because overmilitarization and state violence is never acceptable.”

Wassim Kanaan, of American Muslims for Palestine, implored those gathered to look not only to support Palestinians, but the struggles of “oppressed peoples of all kinds in many areas of the world."

“We stand today on the land of the Lenape people,” he said. “And so when we talk about Palestine and the forcible removal of Palestinians, we should preface with acknowledging that we stand in benefit on land, from land of a people who are also removed and ethnically cleansed.” And he said people anywhere in the world have an “absolute right to resist oppression and ethnic cleansing unequivocally.”

The current violence began in early May, amid a series of conflicts at the same time Israeli courts agreed to evict six Palestinian families from homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, so Jewish families could move in. Hundreds of Paelstinians and dozens of Israeli police officers were injured in clashes at the site Jews know as the Temple Mount and Muslims know as home of the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock — considered a major holy site for both. 

The month has seen violent confrontations between Arab and Jewish residents of several Iraeli cities, rocket attacks on Israel from Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip and Israeli tank fire and air strikes on Gaza. According to Reuters, as of Sunday, the death toll in Gaza was 181 people, including 47 children; 10 people were killed in Israel, including two children. 

Shinobi Adept, also from Montclair, said, “I came out today because the American people need to know that their tax dollars are paying for genocide all over the world and settler colonialism.”

Sam Ramadan holds up a photo sent by a cousin, saying it shows destruction near his family's home, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Sam Ramadan holds up a photo sent by a cousin, saying it shows destruction near his family's home, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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Sam Ramadan, from Paterson, visits family in the region twice a year, but hasn’t been able to during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“My cousin sent me a text message. She sent me a Snapchat just moments ago, and this is my house in Palestine. And that’s where the bomb is right now. They just hit it,” Ramadan said, pointing to people in a photo on his phone. “Here’s all my cousins, my family, they’re all here. And then the military trucks come out of that bridge. They’ll throw a bomb. They’ll start shooting. They’ll run back in the bridge.”

Ramadan said he feels he can’t do anything to help other than attend vigils and rallies, and talk about the struggles his family and people are suffering.

“Because us fighting is killing the Earth, and we’re killing each other for no reason. I don’t get nothing out of it,” he said. “So hopefully when we stand together it makes a difference and it speaks to everybody rather than just the Palestinians. Hopefully we get a whole community to come in with us and we make a difference.” 

Ali Aljarrah, from Little Falls, said as an Arab American, it was important to be in solidarity with other Arabs in the Middle East. 

“I think removing people from their land is a horrible thing. And as an American, we saw what happened with the Native Americans,” Aljarrah said. When his children and grandchildren ask what he did during “the removal of the Palestinians from Palestine,” he said, “I want to be able to say, well, I protested it as much as I could. I tried to educate other people on what’s happening and tried to bring solidarity.”

Joe Attamante, a veteran of the Marine Corps from 1966 through 1968, said the United States should stop funding Israel.

“So, we’re funding apartheid,” Attamante, a member of Veterans for Peace and of Jewish Voice for Peace, said. “We’re funding the disaster that’s going on now. It’s got to stop. Let’s hope it does.”  

Jeff Hoey, advocacy director of New Jersey Peace Action, also demanded an end to U.S. support of Israel.

“We’re here in solidarity with our sisters and brothers from Palestine to try to end the violence against them and all the violence in the Middle East, while we’re at it,” Hoey said. “There’s been too much, too much back and forth, too much misrepresentation by the press about what’s going on over there. And we’re trying to right some wrongs and educate some people and show our support at the same time.” 

New Jersey Peace Action is resuming its regular Friday night vigils at Church Street.

“We’re a small number of people, obviously,” Hoey said. “However, there is a lot of mobilization around this issue, so this is just one rally of hundreds going on around the nation. So, if you put all those people together, yes, I do believe we have a voice. Absolutely.”

An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated Joe Attamante served in Vietnam; he is a Vietnam-era veteran.

Vietnam veteran Joe Attamante joins the vigil as a member of Veterans for Peace and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Vietnam veteran Joe Attamante joins the vigil as a member of Veterans for Peace and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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From left, Phoenix Herring, Char O'Dair Gadler, Greg Pason, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
From left, Phoenix Herring, Char O'Dair Gadler, Greg Pason, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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Mary Bell attends the vigil, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Mary Bell attends the vigil, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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Marsha Love stands at the vigil, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Marsha Love stands at the vigil, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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Noran and Wassim Kanaan, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Noran and Wassim Kanaan, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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Jewish Voice for Peace members attend the vigil, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Jewish Voice for Peace members attend the vigil, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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Attendees listen to a speaker, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Attendees listen to a speaker, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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Rich Siegel, raised as a Zionist, attends the vigil as an activist for the pro-Palestinian group Deir Yassin Remembered, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Rich Siegel, raised as a Zionist, attends the vigil as an activist for the pro-Palestinian group Deir Yassin Remembered, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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Jeff Hoey, advocacy director of New Jersey Peace Action, speaks, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Jeff Hoey, advocacy director of New Jersey Peace Action, speaks, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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Curch Street Plaza fills with attendees, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Curch Street Plaza fills with attendees, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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An attendee holds a protest sign, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
An attendee holds a protest sign, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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Shinobi Adept calls for an end to American financial support of what he described as genocide all over the world, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Shinobi Adept calls for an end to American financial support of what he described as genocide all over the world, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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Imani Oakley stands after speaking at the magaphone, saying Palestinians lives matter. (May 14, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Imani Oakley stands after speaking at the magaphone, saying Palestinians lives matter. (May 14, 2021. KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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Rich Siegel joins the march down Bloomfield Avenue, led by Bob Witanek, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Rich Siegel joins the march down Bloomfield Avenue, led by Bob Witanek, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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Bob Witanek leads marchers on Bloomfield Avenue, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Bob Witanek leads marchers on Bloomfield Avenue, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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A protest sign is raised above the Bloomfield Avenue sidewalk, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
A protest sign is raised above the Bloomfield Avenue sidewalk, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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A bystander watches a Bloomfield Avenue march against Israeli attacks on Gaza, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
A bystander watches a Bloomfield Avenue march against Israeli attacks on Gaza, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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Ali Aljarrah joins marchers in a chant, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Ali Aljarrah joins marchers in a chant, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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Selaedin Maksut joins the marchers in a chant, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Selaedin Maksut joins the marchers in a chant, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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Bystanders raise their fists as the merchers pass by, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Bystanders raise their fists as the merchers pass by, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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Marchers travel down Bloomfield Avenue, back to Church Street Plaza, at a gathering to protest Israeli attacks on Gaza, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Marchers travel down Bloomfield Avenue, back to Church Street Plaza, at a gathering to protest Israeli attacks on Gaza, May 14, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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