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Palestinian organizations ask Tampa Bay leaders for support

national flag of Palestine waving in the wind on a clear day.
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Tampa Bay area organizations are pressing officials to support Palestine as the siege in Gaza continues.

Groups like the Bay Area Dream Defenders are calling for leaders to cut off funding to Israel and support a ceasefire. They also want the Tampa Bay Palestinian community — one of the largest in Florida — to be heard.

As a Palestinian, Lama Alhasan said it’s been a difficult time for her and her community.

“I'm not okay. I don't know a single Palestinian that is,” she said.

Alhasan is an organizer for the Bay Area Dream Defenders. She and members of other organizations are pressing Tampa Bay area officials to support Palestinians.

Since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, at least 20,000 Palestinians have been killed, many of whom are women and children. The director of the World Health Organization said the north of Gaza no longer has a functioning hospital.

Alhasan said the Dream Defenders have talked to local leaders about pro-Palestinian causes in the past, but to no avail.

“We've had conversations with them, and we've escalated as necessary. We've tried to talk to them, we show up at their events. We've emailed them, we've called them, we're still not hearing anything back,” Alhasan said.

She said the primary thing leaders, including Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, can do is listen to Palestinians in the region.

“In Tampa Bay, there's one of the largest Palestinian communities in all of Florida. But the Palestinian community in Tampa Bay is being completely ignored," Alhasan said. "The Palestinian community itself has asked Mayor Castor for specific demands that she refuses to adhere to, one of which being recanting her original statement in full and complete support of the atrocities that were committed by Israel. She acted as if there's no Palestinians in the equation at all.”

She said the community also has specific demands for leaders like U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, which include supporting a ceasefire resolution introduced in the House, opposing Israel’s actions, and issuing a public apology for not listening to Palestinians.

Similarly, the Tampa Bay Community Action Committee laid out demands for the Tampa City Council, Mayor Castor and the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners to meet. In an Instagram post, the organization said they “do not want the city of Tampa to be complicit in the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza.”

“We're hoping to stop all relations with Israel, whether it be the mayor going over there, the police training with them or even our tax dollars going over there,” Laura Rodriguez, a member of community action committee said. “We want our money to stay within our city to help the residents that live here, and in turn that will help the Palestinians gain their self-determination.”

One of the organization’s demands calls for Hillsborough County to end the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator program, which is designed to establish and grow Israeli start-ups in the U.S.

During a Dec. 6 meeting, county commissioners approved $100,000 annually for the accelerator from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.

Several people spoke against the item during public comment, and more voiced their disapproval during Wednesday’s commission meeting.

“I call on this board to sever all ties with Israel," Ashlyn Langford, a resident of Plant City, said during public comment on Wednesday. "I request that you instead create a resolution demanding an end to all U.S. aid to Israel and condemn the displacement and genocide of the Palestinians and call for an immediate ceasefire.”

Alhasan and Rodriguez said funds for the accelerator should instead go towards helping the local community.

“That should be going to protect our people here. that should be going to help people with food, help people with housing, right?" Alhasan said. "We have so many people who are getting thrown on the streets because everything is so expensive. People are not protected in terms of their rent.”

Another demand from the Tampa Bay Community Action Committee calls for protections of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace, two pro-Palestinian organizations. The SJP chapter at the University of South Florida sued the state in November after Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration called to disband the group.

“Ron DeSantis put out a law that essentially is attacking the right to those student organizations to even exist on campus. And we think that it is a violation of a First Amendment right," Rodriguez said. "The city of Tampa and Hillsborough County should definitely not abide by that and stand up to Ron DeSantis, because that is something that we don't agree with."

Alhasan said the state’s actions are meant to silence Palestinians.

“And one way that they are helping to keep us from speaking out is by de-funding these chapters and kicking them off campus, she said. "It's also by increasing police presence in our communities to keep an eye on us. So instead of actually protecting us, they are trying to keep us silent.”

Alhasan said it’s important for leaders to uplift Palestinians and build relationships with the community.

“At minimum, call it out, stand up for Palestinians, let Palestinians speak. Give them the platform, follow the lead, uplift Palestinian voices. So if there's a local legislator that doesn't really know what's going on, don't make up stuff. Go talk to the Palestinian community,” she said.

She also asks supporters of Palestinians to not stay silent.

“We ask them to amplify Palestinian voices and we ask them to look to Palestine as a beacon of hope, because we can all learn so much,” Alhasan said.

Several groups are holding pro-Palestinian events across Tampa Bay in the coming days. The USF Students for Socialism will be at Thursday's Tampa City Council meeting to demand a ceasefire. There will also be a pro-Palestinian protest on Dec. 23 at Lykes Gaslight Park.

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