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Hundreds rally in Kansas City for a Gaza cease-fire: ‘We're trying to reach people's hearts’

a woman with a string of Palestinian flags around her neck stands and looks solemnly at the camera
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Samantha Salem has been working in Kansas City for a cease-fire while also keeping connected with family who remain in Gaza.

About 500 people joined Al-Hadaf KC, a Palestinian-led group that helped plan the rally, in calls for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and an end to what they call Israeli occupation. The group has spent months rallying support for the Palestinian cause.

About 500 people gathered Saturday evening at Mill Creek Park to call for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. They joined thousands of other protesters in cities around the world, including New York City, Washington, London, Sydney and Kuala Lumpur.

Among the Kansas City protesters was Samantha Salem, who struggled to talk about what’s been going on in the Gaza Strip for nearly five months. Salem, who is Palestinian and Vietnamese, was born in the U.S., but she spent 10 years living in Gaza.

“I know every street and every rock and every monument,” Salem said. “All of it is completely unrecognizable right now.”

The current conflict began after Hamas militants stormed from Gaza into nearby Israeli towns on Oct. 7, which coincided with a major Jewish holiday. Israel has claimed the attack killed 1,200 people and 253 more were abducted. Since then, Palestinian health authorities say Israel has killed more than 30,000 people and injured at least 70,000 others.

When Israel launched its offensive in Gaza, Salem struggled to get her father out of the Palestinian territory. She said Israeli military members have taken over her family home.

Children hold signs in the air calling for a ceasefire
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
About 500 people attended the rally as part of a global day of action for Palestine.

Though Salem’s father is now safe with her in the U.S., she still has more than 100 loved ones in Gaza who she is anxiously keeping track of.

“This is not a political fight anymore,” she said. “This is a basic human rights fight. People deserve to eat, to drink clean water, to have access to medical care, to have access to basic needs.”

Salem also has family among the dead. Her cousin was killed in a bombing, she said, and her grandmother died of health complications because she was not able to access health care.

Israeli forces have targeted and attacked multiple hospitals in Gaza. Israel maintains Hamas militants are using hospitals as cover.

Salem, a member of the Palestinian-led organization Al-Hadaf KC, which helped organize Saturday’s protest, said the crowds kept her hopeful for a cease-fire and Palestinian liberation.

“Every single protest we have, we get more people,” Salem said, fighting back tears. “I do have hope because there's still humanity out there. We're trying to reach people's hearts.”

A line of people is walking down a street holding signs that call for a ceasefire
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Al-Hadaf KC organizers urged protesters to hold elected officials accountable for not calling for a cease-fire.

A memorial was set up in Mill Creek Park to honor the tens of thousands of Palestinians killed since October. People lined sidewalks and chanted slogans. Others handed out leaflets to passersby. At the end of the rally, the attendees blocked traffic while marching through the Country Club Plaza.

Ali Almomani, 13, attended the rally with his mother, Hadeel Alwadi. The two came to the U.S. about six years ago, but Almomani says his grandparents were forced to flee what Palestinians call the Nakba, or “the catastrophe,” referring to the mass displacement and dispossession of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Almomani says it’s still a struggle to get people to understand what’s going on there.

“Some of them take it seriously and stand with Palestine,” Almomani said. “Some of them don’t really care.”

A young boy stands holding a Palestinian flag
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Ali Almomani moved to the U.S. about six years ago. He said his peers at school struggle to empathize with Palestinians.

Almomani and Alwadi both said they were encouraged to see so many non-Palestinian people at Saturday’s rally showing solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

That’s what brought Faith Martin, Olivia Hayes and Ned Kelley to the afternoon event. They drove to the rally together from Wichita to stand against U.S. taxpayer dollars going to Israel. They said, as members of the Libertarian party, they are against all wars.

Hayes said she was drastically affected by seeing video of Aaron Bushnell, an active duty member of the U.S. Air Force, set himself on fire outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington to protest Israel’s war in Gaza. Busnell died in a hospital on Feb. 26.

“Regardless of your background, to see that what's going on there is big enough for someone to do that,” Hayes said, “then we have to do our part.”

Three people stand holding signs condemning Israel's actions in Gaza
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
From left to right, Olivia Hayes, Faith Martin, and Ned Kelley all came to the rally from Wichita, Kansas. They want the U.S. to stop giving money to Israel.

Martin, who served in the Kansas Air National Guard, said Bushnell’s protest showed not all military personnel support the actions of the U.S.

“Aaron really brought forth how veterans don't agree with what's going on over there,” Martin said. “There's more of us that believe in peace than believe in war.”

Maha Odah, an organizer with Al-Hadaf KC, told the crowd Palestinians are being abandoned by American politicians. She said those fighting for a cease-fire would continue to rally, contact their politicians and vote until something changes.

“We have a responsibility, as those living in the U.S., to constantly and consistently call out and physically and actionably oppose the violence committed with our tax dollars,” Odah said.

A crown of people walks in the middle of the street holding signs calling for a ceasefire
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Protesters blocked traffic and marched through the Country Club Plaza, chanting calls for a cease-fire.

After meetings with Al-Hadaaf KC and other groups, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, from Kansas City, in November joined calls for a cease-fire. Fellow member of Congress Sharice Davids, from Kansas’ 3rd District, has yet to do so.

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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