Hundreds of protesters marched through Louisville on Sunday to call for an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Chants of “Free Palestine” and “occupation is a crime” echoed through downtown as demonstrators made their way from Waterfront Park to Metro Hall. Louisville Students for Justice in Palestine organized the march, the second demonstration in solidarity with Palestinians this month. It came after 11 days of fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas.

Israeli airstrikes killed more than 240 people in Gaza, including dozens of children, and Hamas rocket fire killed 12 people in Israel.

A ceasefire has been in effect since Friday, but Said Abusalem, an associate professor at University of Louisville who is from Gaza, said a lasting solution to the conflict is needed. He spoke from the steps of Metro Hall.

“Injustice is not fun,” he said. “We experience it every day of our life in Gaza. We experience it every day of our life in the West Bank. There are big, beautiful, nice roads for the settlers. And where do the Arabs go? ‘Find your own road.’ This is discrimination. This is apartheid. This is unacceptable in the 21st century.”

Abusalem said growing up in Gaza under Israeli occupation gave him nightmares for years, even after he moved to the United States. He said the recent fighting shows little has changed since his youth.

The violence ramped up about two weeks ago during the final days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Tensions were already high over plans to evict Palestinian families from the Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem.

Israeli police used tear gas and rubber bullets on worshipers at Al-Aqsa Mosque one of the holiest places in Islam, which is on a site sacred to Muslims, Jews and Christians injuring hundreds and prompting Hamas to retaliate.

“In one of the most sacred houses of Allah there, Al-Aqsa Mosque, they torture them going in,” Abusalem said. “They torture them coming out. We watched and watched [on] the 26th day of Ramadan.”

John Boyle

Hundreds of protesters marched through Louisville on May 23, 2021, to call for an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Palestinian families have frequently been removed from their homes to make way for Israeli settlements since the 1940s. Luna Maradweh, a Louisville resident who was born in Palestine, said the issue is particularly important to her because her grandparents were the victims of forced eviction.

“I’m angry that my paternal grandfather never got to return to his home after leaving in 1967, that he never got to breathe in the sweet air of his lemon…trees,” Maradweh said. “I’m angry that my maternal grandparents were forced to leave their homes in 1967 and have since died with a ‘Free Palestine’ almond on their tongues, having been deprived the right to return to their homeland.”

During her speech to protesters, Maradweh criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, and said the country is “losing the war on public opinion.”

Like Abusalem, Maradweh said the ceasefire doesn’t mean the conflict is over. She called for U.S. sanctions and continued demonstrations against Israel.

“Palestinians continue to live as second-class citizens on their own land,” she said. “The violent siege in Gaza has not ended. Illegal Israeli settlements continue to be built on stolen land. Palestinians continue to face extreme forms of violence by the Israeli occupation forces. There will be no rest until the racist, apartheid, Zionist regime is dismantled.”

John Boyle |

Protesters marched from Waterfront Park to Metro Hall on May 23, 2021.

Though Sunday’s March For Palestine was largely led by members of the Palestinian diaspora, people from other backgrounds also joined to lend their support.

Shachaf Polakow, a Louisville-based photographer, described himself as an “anti-Zionist Jew who grew up in Israel” during his speech. He said it’s important for Jewish people, especially Israeli citizens, to condemn Israel’s actions against Palestinians.

Polakow said the phrase “Never again,” which is often used to refer to the Holocaust, shouldn’t only apply to Jewish people but all persecuted people, including Palestinians.

“We believe that my friends here, Palestinians, should go and visit their land [and] their families and have the same rights that every Jew has these days,” he said. “And until they can go back to the land, there will never be justice, and therefore there will never be peace.”

John Boyle is a reporter and editor at WFPL news focused on Southern Indiana. He is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.