A scene from an Oct. 12 protest held by Students for Justice in Palestine in downtown Columbus.
A scene from an Oct. 12 protest held by Students for Justice in Palestine in downtown Columbus.Taylor Dorrell

Columbus activists rally in support of Palestinians

Protesters called attention to the civilians killed during Israel’s siege of Gaza, who should be afforded the same humanitarian outrage as the Israelis killed in the Hamas terror attack.

At an Oct. 12 protest held by Students for Justice in Palestine calling for the end of the ongoing Israeli siege of Palestinians in Gaza, a driver started honking his horn at the sizable crowd that had spilled into the streets of downtown Columbus. I looked at the Palestinian man marching next to me, and we both laughed. Our faces shifted when the silver truck swiftly rammed into a protester on a bike. 

The incident is only one of the local attacks on those condemning Israel’s assault on Gaza, which one United Nations human rights expert called a “mass ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians. From Columbus City Council barring a crowd from attending a public meeting to the Wexner Center for the Arts canceling a panel discussion set to feature a Palestinian artist, the city’s institutions, media and tax dollars have repeatedly silenced opposition to the displacement of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. 

In the wake of Hamas’ raid on Israel, during which the group killed more than 1,400 people and took another 210 hostage, Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin released a statement saying he stood “in solidarity with the people of Israel.”

After Hardin failed to release a similar statement in support of the residents of Gaza amid Israel’s ongoing bombing campaign, which has resulted in a Palestinian death toll north of 7,000, according to the territory’s health officials, the local organization J.U.S.T. (Justice, Unity and Social Transformation) called on the community to attend the Oct. 16 City Council meeting to demand a statement from council denouncing what the group called Israel’s war crimes. 

City Council was entirely unprepared for what followed.

A single file line of individuals wearing black and white keffiyehs stretched from the City Hall to Gay Street, waiting patiently to enter the meeting as police watched from the parking garage above. It was past 5 p.m. when a security guard came out and announced that nobody else would be let into the public meeting. “As far as I know, they don’t want anyone else in there,” he said, and followed up with, “I’m just a messenger.” Another security guard later came out and said the building was “at capacity.” However, that wasn’t true, as the entire balcony was empty. The crowd who remained turned to their phones to watch SJP’s livestream after the official City Council stream was shut down. 

What happened off-stream was reportedly far different from what happened on-stream. The council members who came down to talk to organizers were reportedly apologetic and embarrassed. The council members who talked when the cameras came back on were attempting to get through the meeting without making any official statements. Council Member Padilla nervously said, “I consider myself an empath,” and Hardin delivered a “we hear you and we see you” to thunderous boos.

Speakers at the meeting called attention to council members' connections to Israel, pointing out that council members went on paid trips to Israel and have employed the campaign consultant Joe Rettof, who tweeted, “one side started it… ours [is] gonna finish it“ alongside an Israeli flag emoji.

A large portion of the funds and weaponry that support Israel’s government come from American taxpayers. In 2023, Ohio State Treasurer Robert Sprague announced the purchase of $20 million in Israel bonds. Over the years, the state has purchased $202.5 million in Israel bonds, making Ohio one of the largest U.S. state holders of these bonds. Israel bonds are inherently tied to the military and will rake in an interest rate of 4.46 percent over 5 years. And not only is the state directly investing in Israel’s war machinery, but it’s also illegal for Ohioans to call for boycotts of Israel.

While many who attempted to enter the City Council chambers in mid-October were not able present their case to city leaders, those who did speak did so with conviction.

In his statement, the local attorney Mazen Rasoul asked council members, “Have you wondered what would be your position if you lived during the time of slavery? What would be your stance if you were alive during the civil rights movement? what would be your stance if you were alive during the Holocaust? ... What would have been your statement if you were sitting in these seats during apartheid in South Africa?” 

Rasoul then said that council members would’ve found themselves on the wrong side of these struggles, telling them, “You’re not correcting the wrongs of history.”

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