New Yorkers protested on Friday, 17 March outside the Best Buy in Union Square to demand justice for the assassination of Palestinian youth leader Basil al-Araj on 6 March by Israeli occupation forces. The protest coincided with the mass funeral for al-Araj held on the same day in his hometown of al-Walaja, near Bethlehem. Al-Araj’s body had been confiscated and held hostage by Israeli occupation forces for 11 days until it was finally returned to his family; thousands of Palestinians marched in al-Walaja to his burial site.
The New York protest was organized by Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network. Organized outside the Best Buy electronics store, demonstrators called for the boycott of Hewlett-Packard (HP) products and for HP corporations to end their involvement and complicity in Israeli apartheid, occupation and settler colonialism. HP corporations are contracted by the Israeli state to create databases and other technologies for checkpoints, biometric ID cards and the Israel Prison Service, among others. There is a growing international campaign for the boycott of HP until the corporation cuts its complicity with Israeli occupation. Unfortunately, however, HP seems to be doubling down on its investment in Israeli apartheid, partnering with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Jewish National Fund (KKL/JNF) for a “Brand Israel”-promoting photo contest in occupied Jerusalem.
Friday’s protest followed a series of events and actions remembering al-Araj and demanding justice for his murder. On 12 and 13 March, protests in New York, Washington, DC, Brussels, Berlin, Vienna, London, Rabat, Tunis, Cairo, Amman, Beirut, Nahr el-Bared refugee camp and elsewhere joined demonstrators in Gaza City, Ramallah, Haifa, Dheisheh camp and elsewhere in Palestine to demand the Palestinian Authority end security coordination with the Israeli occupation.
Al-Araj was shot down by Israeli occupation forces on Monday morning, 6 March, resisting until the end. The prominent youth activist had gone underground following his release from a Palestinian Authority prison after a hunger strike; al-Araj and five of his comrades had been arrested by PA security forces in April 2016 in a case touted at the time by PA President Mahmoud Abbas as an important achievement for PA/Israel security coordination. They were tortured and imprisoned for five months without charges before being released after a hunger strike. Four of Basil’s comrades, Haitham Siyaj, Mohammed Harb, Mohammed al-Salameen and Seif al-Idrissi, have now been seized by Israeli occupation forces and are held without charge or trial under administrative detention.
Demonstrators distributed leaflets and information about HP’s involvement with Israeli apartheid and the struggle of Palestinian prisoners to passers-by and Best Buy customers while loudly chanting for Palestine. Chants included “1, 2, 3, 4, open up the prison door! 5, 6, 7, 8, Israel is a racist state!” and “End detention, stop the crimes! HP out of Palestine!”
Michela Martinazzi of Samidoun led chants and emceed the rally portion of the protest, when several organizations and individuals presented statements about justice in Palestine and the assassination of al-Araj.
Sapphira Lurie of Fordham Students for Justice in Palestine honored al-Araj’s burial day by reading out his final statement, shared publicly by his family. It had been written in advance in case of al-Araj’s killing at the hands of occupation forces while he was living underground.
“Greetings of Arab nationalism, homeland, and liberation. If you are reading this, it means I have died and my soul has ascended to its creator. I pray to God that I will meet him with a guiltless heart, willingly, and never reluctantly, and free of any whit of hypocrisy. How hard it is to write your own will. For years I have been contemplating testaments written by martyrs, and those wills have always bewildered me. They were short, quick, without much eloquence. They did not quench our thirst to find answers about martyrdom. Now I am walking to my fated death satisfied that I found my answers. How stupid I am! Is there anything which is more eloquent and clearer than a martyr’s deed? I should have written this several months ago, but what kept me was that this question is for you, living people, and why should I answer on your behalf? Look for the answers yourself, and for us the inhabitants of the graves, all we seek is God’s mercy.”
On behalf of the ANSWER Coalition, David Jamesnovitch read the statement from leftist Palestinian political party, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, urging mass participation in al-Araj’s funeral and calling for the organization of symbolic funerals and protests to mark the occasion. “The Front said that mass participation in the burial of the struggler al-Araj and the organizing of symbolic funerals in Palestine and in exile represent a tribute to the martyr, upholding his values and principles as a leader among young Palestinians, dedicated to the culture of resistance as a way of life and as a means of resisting the occupation and all of its projects.”
He also reminded participants about the national march in Washington to support Palestine and confront AIPAC on Sunday, 26 March, noting that a bus will be running from New York City to the protest and that tickets are available through ANSWER.
Nick Maniace of Samidoun presented its report on al-Araj’s funeral and the organization of events in support, noting that “His body will be returned without conditions, after an ongoing struggle for 11 days to demand the return of the captive body as occupation forces attempted to impose numerous conditions upon the funeral. Palestinians called for broad participation in the funeral and organizers throughout Palestine planned to travel to join in the mass tribute to al-Araj’s life and confrontation of the occupation.”
Joe Catron of Samidoun read a new call issued by Palestinians to end security coordination, urging the organizing of events and actions on 17 April, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day. “It was Basel’s part in this fight that made him a target, and it is this that makes his assassination an assault on all those who strive for freedom and dignity. Basel embodied the revolutionary politics for which he fought. His refusal to surrender to the colonial regime, one that mirrored countless others who lost their life for the cause of freedom and justice, only renews our collective determination to struggle for liberation and return.”
Samidoun will protest again in New York City on Friday, 24 March, at 5:30 pm outside the Best Buy in Union Square at 52 E. 14th Street in Manhattan. The protest will once again demand an end to HP’s profiteering from Israeli apartheid and will focus on the case of Palestinian administrative detainee and hunger striker Mohammed Alaqimah, who will reach his 28th day of hunger strike against his imprisonment without charge or trial on Friday. All are welcome to attend and participate in Friday’s demonstration. Samidoun activists will also join in the 26 March protest in Washington, DC to support Palestine and protest AIPAC.