More than 200 people gathered on Sunday in Hillsborough County for a demonstration in support of the people of Palestine after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared war following attacks from the militant group Hamas that killed hundreds of people.
Law enforcement officers from the Florida Highway Patrol, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the USF Police Department, the Temple Terrace Police Department and the Tampa Police Department responded to monitor the large number of people who gathered at the intersection of 56th Street and Fowler Avenue on Sunday afternoon.
Demonstrators said they stood in support of the people of Palestine and against U.S. support of Israel.
Hassan Shibly, an attorney with Muslim Legal, said the conditions in Gaza amount to “an open air prison” with a lack of access to clean drinking water or the ability to freely enter and exit.
“They’re suffering,” he said. “Many of them feel like they’re on the brink of death because of Israeli policies. They’ve been pushed to the brink of death, and it’s unjust and they need immense humanitarian aid and the U.S. government (to) stop blindly supporting Israeli policies that have caused tremendous loss of innocent life of the Palestinians.”
Aida Mackic, an organizer of the demonstration, said the war declaration called for resistance.
“What’s really audacious is to tell people to go and leave,” she said. “Go where? Into the sea? Is Egypt opening its border? Are they creating a corridor, a human corridor, so that people can leave? This is genocidal intent.”
Imam Abdullah Jaber, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations-Florida, led a prayer.
“The U.S. has continued to enable them to denigrate, humiliate, kill, murder, destroy Palestinian lives,” he said in an interview. ”This is not a Muslim issue or a Jewish issue. It’s a human rights issue. But it is not the first time that the U.S has sided with the occupier. We’ve done it before. …Our legislators would not today give their support to Jim Crow laws, but will support an apartheid state of Israel. That’s segregation.”
Outside a Taco Bell across the street, a small group gathered in response, holding flags of Israel.
The group was escorted by law enforcement officers back to their cars.
Gov. Ron DeSantis on social media characterized the rally and one like it that occurred in Fort Lauderdale as “supporting Hamas.” He said the rallies “are abhorrent.”
“Florida stands with Israel as it faces one of its greatest challenges,” he wrote.
Shibly, the attorney, said he ultimately hoped for peace.
“Be they Jewish, Christian, Muslim, our hearts ache when we see any child, any woman in tears, who are injured, or even worse, killed,” he said. “It tears our hearts apart, and we know there cannot be peace if the U.S. continues to support Israeli aggression, where the U.S. government is sending billions of dollars in aid that is assisting the oppression of Palestinian people. We want an end to that so there can be peace.”
Times photojournalist Luis Santana contributed to this report.