Demonstrators at city hall call for end of violence in Gaza
Editor's note: We will update the story upon response from Governor Kevin Stitt's office.
Following a month of war between Israel and Hamas, protesters in Tulsa joined demonstrators across the world calling for an end to violence in Gaza.
Scores of demonstrators brought signs and Palestinian flags to the front entrance of Tulsa City Hall on Saturday afternoon. They stayed there for hours, yelling chants and giving speeches.
The event was organized by the grassroots organization Oklahomans Against Occupation.
“I’m so happy that I’m here, and I can do something to maybe help change the government’s mind,” said a demonstrator named Sovana. Public Radio Tulsa is not sharing the last name of protestors due to safety concerns expressed by organizers.
Palestinians have been at odds with the Israeli government since after World War II, when Israel was reestablished as a country on land the Palestinians lived on at the time. After the militant group Hamas assumed power over the Palestinian Gaza Strip in 2006, Israel quarantined the land to the point where a United Nations human rights expert called Gaza an “open-air prison” this summer.
Tensions have risen to heights not seen in decades after members of Hamas surprise attacked Israel last month, killing more than 1,400 and taking roughly 240 hostages. In response, the Israeli military has killed more than 9,400 including women and children in airstrikes and a ground invasion, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza.
United States politicians including President Joe Biden have overwhelmingly supported Israel in the conflict. The House of Representatives voted in favor of more than $14 billion in aid to Israel on Friday.
When asked about the Hamas attacks, Oklahomans Against Occupation organizer Khalil Shaheed pointed out that the Palestinian struggle predates Hamas by decades.
“We’re here to address the root cause of the violence,” Shaheed said.
Shaheed said his organization calls for the end to the violence, a ceasefire and an end to Israel’s siege of Gaza.
The demonstration also came on the heels of Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt traveling to Israel and meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to show support and discuss possible partnerships between the two governments.
“It’s a slap to the face of everybody here who’s an ally, but more specifically, to the Palestinian Arab community who have family members in Gaza here with us today,” Shaheed said of Stitt's visit.
In a statement, Stitt's spokesperson Abegail Cave said Stitt "stands firmly" with Israel.
"They have a right to defend themselves. We must stamp out evil. Israel is our best ally in the Middle East and it's essential that we stand with them," Cave said, claiming Hamas has held Palestinians hostage for years.
Demonstrators lined the street in front of City Hall, holding their signs, flags and a paper mache Statue of Liberty with X's over her eyes. Motorists — including a city bus driver — honked in support as they drove by.
Sovana, who was there with her children, said Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is part of a broader issue of attitudes toward Muslims and countries in the Middle East.
“We’re blamed for a lot of crimes. After 9/11, four countries were in war. Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine. All those countries,” she said.
A demonstrator named Randa also brought her son to the demonstration. She joined the crowd pushing him in a stroller and wearing a banner that said “Palestine” in Arabic.
Randa said she brought her son so he could participate in the movement to liberate Palestine from an early age.
“Our kids are going to read this in the books, the history and everything, and it’s just devastating, but I want him to know, ‘Hey, this is what we did, and we did all we could,’ and he was a part of it,” she said.