Palestinians in Kansas City call for peace, worry over loved ones in Gaza: 'We are terrified'
Hundreds of Kansas City residents, many of whom are part of the local Palestinian community, gathered Saturday in support of Palestine and to demand an end to the Israeli occupation.
For Feras Elghussein, a Palestinian-American who lives in Kansas City, the past week has been terrifying.
“Every phone call we get, every text message, every time our phones ring with an alarm, we are terrified that that's the call from our family overseas, telling us that our family no longer exists,” he said.
Elghussein, who was born in the Gaza Strip, has already lost family members as a result of the violence: his second cousin, her husband and their four children were killed.
“On my mother's side, my family had to vacate their homes and now they don't know what is the state of their home,” he said.
Elghussein joined hundreds of Kansas City residents Saturday afternoon at Mill Creek Park to support Palestine and to call for the end to the Israeli occupation and the violence against Palestinian civilians.
The rally comes a week after Hamas militants killed more than 1,300 people in Israel and 27 American citizens in a terrorist attack, prompting the Israeli government to declare war against Hamas. In the days since, more than 2,200 Palestinian civilians have been killed and thousands more displaced. Israel has cut off food, water, electricity, fuel and medicine from the region.
In Kansas City, many demonstrators waved the Palestinian flag and held signs that read, “End the siege,” “End the Israeli occupation” and “A free Palestine in our lifetime.”
The crowd, which lined up along West 47th Street, chanted “free Palestine” and “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which were often met with honks of support from drivers passing by.
Rashed Shawabkeh is Jordanian and Palestinian.
“What's currently going on in Gaza is totally unacceptable,” he said. “If, possibly, somebody can hear me out there: stop killing our children.”
Mohammed Odah said he has lost family and friends in Gaza already and more will die if the bombing continues.
“One of my cousins was killed, along with her husband. All of her kids and grandkids. Their house was knocked on them also,” said Odah, 62, who was born in Gaza.
“We've been through this before, but in the past it was like, (the Israeli government) would call and they say, 'Get out,' that kind of a thing. Now, they don't. So the house goes and we have tens of families that the house went down over their head.”
Fatema Abuhamda lived in Gaza for five years and lived through two wars. Her mother and brother live in Gaza now and are in constant fear for their lives, she said.
“Everyone I talk to in Gaza says that this is the worst it's ever been,” she said. “They've never seen anything like this, never heard anything like this and never smelled anything like this.”
Abuhamda said she cannot bear to see her family suffering. In a speech at Saturday’s rally, she reflected on the more than half-century of violence between Israel and Palestine.
“The root cause of violence in Israel and in Palestine is Israel's decades long violence and oppression against Palestinians,” she said. “Don't call this a war. This is genocide.”
Ak Tayiem, 80, was born in Palestine and lost his home in 1948. He spent his high school years in Jordan and then immigrated to the United States in 1967. He went to Saturday’s rally to join other Palestinians in calling for the end of the Israeli occupation.
“I don't want any civilian Israel killed either. They are human beings like us,” he said. “Neither do I want civilians in Gaza to be killed. For heaven's sake, there is enough land for both of us to live.”
Tayiem criticized the United States’ support of Israel, in the form of $3.8 billion annually in military aid. Tayiem has family members living in the West Bank, where residents have been prohibited from leaving.
“I cannot sleep at night,” he said. “I receive the news every second from here and there. What happened? What happened in West Bank? What happened in Gaza? We cannot sleep. We are very stressed.”
Hadil, who asked that KCUR only use her first name, has grandparents living in Palestinian territory now, as does her husband’s family. As the violence continues in Gaza, Hadil said it’s been hard to sleep and eat.
She said the outpouring of support at the rally was comforting.
“I started losing hope this morning. I was like, ‘I don't know if we're ever gonna win this battle,’” she said. “But, no, coming out here today and seeing all these people, it's giving me a lot of hope.”
On Sunday, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City willhold a Jewish Cultural Fest, culminating in a community gathering to support Israel.