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Minneapolis commemorates 1948 massacre of Palestinians, promotes #BoycottCoke Campaign

By Jess Sundin |
April 12, 2015
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 Minneapolis stands in solidarity with Palestine, commemorating the anniversary
Minneapolis stands in solidarity with Palestine, commemorating the anniversary of Zionist mass killing at Deir Yassin. (Photo by Sandra Glover)

Minneapolis, MN - Some 30 people braved rain, sleet, hail and snow for a protest to build the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and to remember the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin. The Minnesota Anti-War Committee (AWC) organized a bannering at the busy Lake Street and Nicollet Avenue intersection, complete with Palestinian flags, signs and a new banner that read, “Boycott Israeli apartheid, boycott Coke!”

As part as the ongoing international BDS movement, the campaign to boycott Coke was initiated last fall by the U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN). Coke is produced in settlements built on stolen Palestinian land and it supports Israel as it commits crimes against the Palestinian people. Palestinians have called for an international boycott of Israel - from companies like Coke, to ending U.S. military aid to Israel.

Protesters passed out information about the campaign to #BoycottCoke to people waiting at nearby bus stops, but foot traffic was light, due to severe weather. Carrying umbrellas with slogans calling for a Free Palestine, and wearing rain ponchos with Palestinian flags, the protesters soon set out for the Deir Yassin memorial.

Deir Yassin is a Palestinian village west of Jerusalem and the site of a massacre of over 100 men, women and children by Zionist paramilitary gangs on April 9, 1948. The remainder of the village’s 750 people fled for their lives. After their expulsion Palestinians’ homes were destroyed, their cemetery bulldozed, and their land claimed by Zionist settlers.

While by no means the largest massacre committed by Zionists in their drive to create the state of Israel, Deir Yassin is marked as a turning point. The massacre catalyzed the ongoing Nakba, the dispossession of over 750,000 Palestinians from their lands in 1948, and laid the groundwork for today’s apartheid Israel. While Deir Yassin was erased from the map, it remains a symbol of struggle in Palestinian memory.

Several police cars had rolled up at the start of protest and they followed as protesters marched from the busy intersection to the Midtown Greenway, a bike thoroughfare where the memorial is located. Chants of “Free, free Palestine!” and “Israel, Israel, you will learn, by the millions we’ll return!” rang out along the four-block stretch.

After flowers were placed at the memorial, the crowd moved indoors for several speakers to address the significance of Deir Yassin, and the ongoing Palestinian struggle.

Bassim Sabri, who owns the building where the memorial was installed, shared his own family’s experience, in the town of Qalqilya, not far from Deir Yassin. “In 1967, I have, along with my family, been invaded by the Israelis. I was eight years old, and I vividly remember the Israelis hit our town with bombing, and you name it. My dad was just in a nearby town. I escaped among some workers, because they wouldn’t let anybody out of town, to tell my father there is a war. Shortly after, the Israelis gathered the 25,000 people, or those who were remaining, into two areas, and I could never forget that. The two areas were one big field where it’s part of the soccer arena. They dug gigantic holes inside that field and we were all families standing around, surrounded by Israeli soldiers pointing guns at us. You can imagine what we think is going to happen.”

Sabri explained that his father, who understood Hebrew, heard a soldier say they were going to kill the townspeople. “My dad hugs us and starts crying. Everybody started crying.” He explained that a quick communication from the U.S. averted the massacre. “Today, you could have also been celebrating the death of some 20,000 Palestinians in Qalqilya.” He noted that today, Qalqilya is entirely surrounded by the apartheid wall, with only one entrance for 60,000 inhabitants.

The Minneapolis Deir Yassin memorial was commissioned by Nick Eoloff, who died in May 2014. Nick and his wife Mary Lou adopted Israeli prisoner of conscience, Mordechai Vanunu, and dedicated their lives to the struggles of the Guatemalan and Palestinian people. Their family members were present at Thursday’s protest and commemoration, including grandniece BethAnne Nelson Stolp, who shared memories of the Eoloffs.

“I grew up surrounded by a very pro-Israel message, but I have flashes of memory growing up, seeing Nick and Mary Lou at family events, and Uncle Nick who would have his Palestinian tie, or with the flag of Palestine on his lapel. What I always got from them was that so much of what has happened is not just the massacring and the expulsion, but the deliberate rewriting and denial of true history. History is being told in a way to influence the future to rewrite the past. To me, that’s why the Deir Yassin memorial is so important. It is a symbol of the Palestinian voice and the Palestinian story.”

AWC member Jennie Eisert spoke of the connection between Deir Yassin and today. “This day 67 years ago, would not have happened without the help of the U.S. The U.S. has had its hands in the apartheid state of Israel since its creation. Currently, military aid to the state of Israel comes in second only after Afghanistan. The state of Israel utilizes this aid heavily, the massacre on Gaza this summer is one of many countless examples that we have that really pushes this fact from guns to tanks to subs to fighter jets, etc. This aid that exchanges hands from the U.S. to the state of Israel is off the backs of workers here in the U.S., by our tax dollars. I’m sure you all have plenty of better ideas on where that money could be spent than Congress and the President - no matter who’s in the chair.”

Eisert, who is Colombian, shared one reason the AWC is eager to join the USPCN’s campaign against Coke, “Coca-Cola has a global reputation for being anti-union. In Colombia, they support paramilitary death squads who utilize tactics of intimidation, kidnapping, torture and assassinations of union leaders. We have been part of ‘Killer Coke’ boycotts in the past, protesting their bloody policies in Colombia. Today, we ask you to join us because of their oppression of Palestinians.”

The AWC will hold a BDS forum on April 19 at 2:00 p.m. at 4200 Cedar Avenue in Minneapolis. They plan to announce that 4200 Cedar, home to many progressive Twin Cities organizations, is the city’s first Coke Free Zone. The USPCN was founded in 2006 to revitalize grassroots organizing in the Palestinian community in the U.S., as part of the broader Palestinian nation in exile and the homeland. More information about the Coke Boycott can be found on their website at uspcn.org.