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More than a hundred people gathered at Waterfront Park on Saturday to commemorate Nakba, or “the catastrophe.”

That’s the name that Palestinians gave to the date in 1948 when they were displaced for the creation of the state of Israel — a date Palestinian-American Ibrahim Imam said he will never forget.

“My parents were two of those that actually had to become refugees and I was born in 1948 as a Palestinian refugee,” Imam said as he waved a Palestinian flag.

For Imam and others at Saturday’s rally, this year’s Nakba Day —- marked annually on May 15 —- took on particular significance amid renewed violence between Israel and Palestine.

Tensions rose earlier this month as protests erupted over Israel’s decision to forcibly evict Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Further escalation followed as Israeli police stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest mosque, and clashed with Palestinians there during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ended Wednesday.

Since Monday, the Israeli military has launched airstrikes and fired artillery into Gaza. Members of Hamas have also fired rockets into Israel. By the time the events began in Louisville on Saturday, at least 145 people, including 32 women and 41 children, had been killed in Gaza, as well as eight people in Israel.

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

Louisville residents gathered to rally in solidarity with the Palestinian people on Saturday, May 15, 2021.

Khalid Awad is a Palestinian-American community organizer in Louisville who said he is praying for his family who live near Gaza.

“My sisters and my father, I was talking with them this morning, and they were saying they can hear the bombardment from Gaza from my town which is in Hebron,” Awad said.

Awad said a diverse crowd of Louisville residents was there on Saturday to bring awareness to Israeli state-sponsored violence against people living in Palestinian territories. Among them were Syrians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Egyptians and others.

“People from all over the Arab world, in addition to many of our American friends and brothers and sisters,” Awad said.

The group gathered around 1 p.m. to commemorate the day. Their chants included “Free Free Palestine,” and others often heard at racial justice protests in Louisville, such as “No justice, no peace.”

They also prayed and read the names of those who died. Many waved flags and carried signs saying “Free Palestine,” “End the siege on Gaza” and “Jews against state violence.”

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

Children participated in the rally on Saturday, May 15, 2021.

State Rep. Attica Scott of Louisville was in attendance, as were advocates from Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice and Black Lives Matter Louisville. BLM organizer Chanelle Helm said she sees similarities between the treatment of Palestinians in Israel and Black people in Louisville.

“We’re abolitionists and so we believe in the end of the police state, we believe in the end of genocide against people of color, and so it’s very much important that we stand in solidarity with each other because we are going through the same thing,” Helm said.

Angelina Atieh, an 18-year-old Palestinian-American from Louisville whose parents became refugees in the Nakba said she wants Americans to know their tax dollars help fund the Israeli military.

“This is a solidarity movement and a movement for peace and for love and I think that should be the main motivator for people to be out here, to put pressure on our governments and for the international community to act,” she said.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.