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Alexandria Human Rights proclamation sparks protest over Palestinian omission

Protestors advocating for Palestinians’ inclusion on the Human Rights proclamation (staff photo by Vernon Miles)

While the Proclamation Recognizing December as Human Rights Month isn’t typically a contentious topic, at the City Council meeting last night (Tuesday), some locals expressed frustration that the proclamation didn’t include a reference to Palestinians suffering in the Israel-Hamas war.

Five people sat in the second row of the City Council chambers, silently holding up signs that said “Palestinians have human rights too!”

“We felt that Palestinians should be mentioned in there and they’re not,” said Zeina Azzam, a Palestinian American from Alexandria who is also the poet laureate of Alexandria. “What’s going on in the world is so horrific: if any human rights are being violated, it’s Palestinians in Gaza.”

Azzam said she would have been happy if both Israelis and Palestinians were mentioned in the proclamation.

“All these people have been displaced,” Azzam said. “There are so many houses, churches, schools and mosques that are bombed and under rubble, if that’s not a violation of human rights, I don’t know what is.”

Azzam said the inclusion would have been appropriate and said she’d have loved for the City of Alexandria to call for a ceasefire or make a statement to stand in solidarity with Palestinians and Arab Americans.

In October, Alexandria City Hall was lit in blue and white to show solidarity with Israel after Hamas launched a surprise attack earlier that month, killing approximately 1,200 people and taking over 200 people hostage, according to the Israeli government.

“The City of Alexandria is home to a large concentration of Arab Americans, including Palestinian Americans,” Rosemarie Esber wrote to the City Council. “The City of Alexandria’s one-sided support for the state of Israel — demonstrated by illuminating City Hall in blue and white for three weeks — is immensely troubling and painful to the Arab American community.”

Last month, students at Alexandria City High School staged a walk out in protest against the Israel-Hamas war, which has killed at least 17,487 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

“There are Palestinian Americans among us here in Alexandria who have relatives in Gaza and in other parts of Palestine,” Azzam said. “Many have relatives who have been killed. I volunteer as a mentor with an organization called We Are Not Numbers, a writing program for youth in Gaza, in English, and some of our mentees have been killed. It’s a horrific situation.”

“I was disappointed that no City Council member… [mentioned] that Alexandria cares about all its citizens and understands the pain that everyone affected by the conflict in Isreal and Gaza feels,” said Boyd Walker, a former City Council candidate who said he attended the meeting in support of his Palestinian friends. “It would have been simple to do. So far the city has made little outreach to those affected by this conflict.”

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