Grand Rapids, MI – On December 12, a second vigil for the martyrs of Palestine was held in front of Grand Rapids City Hall before the final Grand Rapids City Commissioners meeting of the year, where a number of speakers urged the city again to take action on a list of pro Palestine demands.
The vigil, organized by Palestine Solidarity Grand Rapids, came just a day after a protest was held in Gaslight Village in East Grand Rapids.
A crowd of 100 came to recognize and pay respect to the 17,000-plus martyrs in Gaza and specifically to commemorate Palestinian academic and poet Refaat Alareer. Alareer, along with his family, was targeted and assassinated by occupation forces after gaining an international following for his writings on Gaza and his social media ground reportage.
Eduardo Montiel and Kellan Martin, two members of Palestine Solidarity Grand Rapids, co-emceed the event and brought up a number of speakers to read selections from Light in Gaza: Writing Born of Fire published by Haymarket Press.
“Alareer knew he was marked for death, and yet continued to fight. He spoke for those who could not, and now leaves the rest to us. It is not just a fight the Palestinians we must wage – it is a fight for all oppressed people of the world,” said Montiel.
Barbara Howard, also a member of Palestine Solidarity Grand Rapids, read Alareer’s poem If I Die, posted November 1 on his social media account. “If I must die/let it bring hope/let it be a tale,” wrote Alareer.
Those in attendance were able to lay flowers and observe a poster listing the names of 7000 martyrs. The vigil comes a month after Palestine Solidarity Grand Rapids’ first call to flood the city commissioners meeting, which saw over three hours of passionate speeches addressed to city officials.
The city has since taken no action, despite an Action Network letter-writing campaign of 4000 participants.
The night proceeded with public comments to the commissioners. Danny Celaya, a local resident, pointed out the Palestine Solidarity Grand Rapids has been marching in the streets with upwards of 300 people for several weeks while the city continues to ignore its residents. “When I last spoke, you said it was beyond the scope of this city – but Dearborn and Dearborn Heights said ‘no’ and passed a resolution,” said Celaya.
Celeya, a Mexican immigrant, said he got over the fear of speaking up for justice once he saw an active movement for immigrant rights taking place. He added the city commissioners are scared to stand in solidarity with Palestine because of possible repercussions, saying, “I will not be silent in this moment.”
The local demands include passing a resolution condemning the government’s active role in the genocide of Gaza and for the city of Grand Rapids to divest entirely from Israel. The Palestine Solidarity Grand Rapids is also asking the commissioners to use their direct line to Congresswoman Hillary Scholten to urge her to take a stand against the massacre of Palestinians. Scholten’s office has declined to directly meet with the group, so far, despite Palestine Solidarity Grand Rapids’ best efforts through a number of channels.
Scholten has been supportive of Joe Biden and Israel, and recently signed House Resolution 894, which equates anti Zionism to antisemitism and says the slogan “From the river to the sea” is a call for the genocide of Jewish people.
Scholten traveled to Israel in 2019 and remarked “there’s an exciting vibrancy of democracy” in “this small and mighty country” located in “not the best neighborhood” and that she felt “safe” and recognized the need for strong defense after witnessing a sniper targeting Hezbollah at the Lebanon border.
The Palestine Solidarity Grand Rapids, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Students for Justice in Palestine – Grand Valley State University, and local group Comrades Collective held a joint event last week and marched to Scholten’s local residence with over 200 people to present a list of demands. The groups have been organizing events every week – the biggest Palestine protests in the city’s history – to keep up pressure.