‘Stand for humanity’: Chattanoogans rallying for Palestine call for ceasefire, end to US funding in Gaza

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Signs and flags are held up during the Rally for Palestine in Coolidge Park on Saturday.
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Signs and flags are held up during the Rally for Palestine in Coolidge Park on Saturday.

More than 200 Chattanoogans gathered Saturday to show solidarity with Palestinians affected by attacks on Gaza.

In Coolidge Park, they called for an immediate ceasefire and for an end to American funding for Israeli military efforts.

"This is a stand for humanity, against anyone being killed," Ahmed Korra, an Egyptian attendee involved with the Muslim Student Association at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said at Saturday's rally. 

Organizers, including members of Chattanooga's Muslim community and Democratic Socialists of America chapter, sold scarves and stickers at the rally to raise money for medical aid for Palestinians.

(READ MORE: 'Shattered hearts': Sadness and anger as Chattanoogans rally for Israel)

Many attendees wore keffiyehs, traditional Arab headscarves often used to signal solidarity with Palestine. Before speakers took the stage, Muslim attendees prayed in the park. Later, the group marched across the Walnut Street Bridge.

Sarah Elghalban, a Palestinian woman and one of the rally's organizers, said she knows at least 83 of her own relatives who have been killed since Hamas's first attack on Israel on Oct. 7. Of those, 58 were younger than 18, she told the crowd, with 27 younger than 10.

"Yesterday I watched a video of my vote, and my money, burning my people alive," Elghaban said.

Many attendees drew parallels between Israel's involvement in Palestine and American colonialism and said they were frustrated by the Biden Administration questioning death tolls reported from the region. Medina Terzic wore a Bosnian flag around her shoulders and said she feels a close solidarity with Palestine because of the ethnic cleansing during the Bosnian War in the 1990s.

(READ MORE: How a pledge involving the Middle East came to be mandated in government contracts across Tennessee)

Jannat Saeed, who spoke at the rally, said many people around Chattanooga may be compassionate but don't know enough about the situation in Gaza.

"This is not just an 'other people' situation. It is a deep-rooted situation in our own home country," Saeed said in an interview. "A lot of people I know are just now hearing it for the first time. Even just understanding America's role in all of this is all we ask for."

Above the rally, a person stood with an Israeli flag hung where attendees could see. The flag was soon joined by two Palestinian flags, unfurled to cheers from below.

Michael Dzik, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Chattanooga, said he told his congregation to stay away from the rally Saturday. He has sympathy for civilian Palestinians, Dzik said, but is against Israeli land being returned to Palestinians since it is the Jewish homeland.

"When people criticize Israel, it's perfectly OK — 'I don't like the policies, I don't like the government, I don't like those types of things,'" Dzik said by phone Friday. "However, as soon as the criticism becomes, 'I don't think that Israel has the right to exist,' that kind of debate is antisemitic by definition."

Dzik said he's gotten many messages of support — from Jewish people, Christians and many he's never met before — and also helped to raise $100,000 as part of national Jewish Federation fundraising to rebuild in Israel. He's also increased security measures at the Jewish Cultural Center since the start of the conflict, Dzik said.

People attending the rally said they mourned the loss of all lives in Gaza, including Jewish people and Israelis who have been killed by Hamas.

Israel's response to attacks from Hamas have been disproportional, Faisal Saeed, a member of Chattanooga's Muslim community and chaplain for Chattanooga police, said in an interview. The conflict is much more complex than Judaism versus Islam, Saeed said.

"Some of these preachers will probably tell you that in the Bible, it says 'defend Israel,'" Saeed said. "But at the same time, just think about how many times in the Bible it says, 'save humanity, do good for humanity.'"

Contact Ellen Gerst at egerst@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6319.

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