Tuesday July 23rd, 2024
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Sudanese Musician Nadine El Roubi on Marching for Palestine in NYC

“The community I craved was here. Across the street was the community we had come to protest against.”

Nadine El Roubi

Sudanese Musician Nadine El Roubi on Marching for Palestine in NYC

I was on the bus to New York from Worcester, MA – taking one of the trips I need to take every six weeks just to keep my sanity. This trip was more necessary than most. In the past week, more than ever, I craved community to fill the hole carved in my stomach by the gut-wrenching news of Palestine’s continued plight.

It began on October 7th, when Hamas managed to break through the Erez military checkpoint on the border of the Gaza strip. Simultaneously, in what appears to have been a coordinated attack, members of Hamas paraglided into a music festival, opening fire on party goers who were filmed escaping in panic on foot. These incidents, of course, went viral on social media. For a brief but vindicating moment, it felt as though Palestine had made a powerful statement. Having suffered countless attacks over the years at the hands of a disproportionately larger and more powerful army, watching their retaliation unfold was like watching your favorite underdog boxer come back from swinging from the ropes.

And yet – that moment turned into a scapegoat for the current genocide taking place in Palestine. Israel, it seems, is eager to deliver the final knockout punch. Half of the entire world is on the sidelines, cheering them on. And most of them only joined the fight about five minutes ago.

The week since the attack I, along with the rest of the Arab community, watched news around the Israeli-Palestinian crisis turn into a circus. I saw horrible takes, pure ignorance, hateful comments, shocking statements – all the result of what can only be described as Goebbels-levels of brainwashing by Western and Israeli media. Irony.

In America, we live in the belly of the beast. The morning of my bus ride to New York, my Sudanese roommate and old highschool friend sent me a picture of an Israeli flag hung on the corner of our building. An eerie, lone flag draped in the stagnant dusk where not even an American flag could be seen waving proud. My otherness hit me with a pang. We are not protected here.

On the bus I touch base with Yasmeen of Noor Studios, my Egyptian friend and collaborator who, along with her business partner and roommate Bex, graciously open their home to me when I visit. We talked over our plans for the weekend and where we’d meet. “We’re all going to a Palestine protest at 3. Come.” I didn’t know who “we” was, I didn’t know where, I didn’t know how. “Okay,” I said.

What I didn't say was that I had never been to a protest before. Somewhat embarrassing to admit. I have seen many from the comfort of my home, through a little screen, safe from rubber bullets and teargas. I was not in Sudan in 2019 when my people were taking to the streets in revolution against Omar Al Bashir's rule. I know people who were. I know that they saw real bullets. Real rape, terror, kidnappings. I know they saw friends and family members die. I also know that now, millions of Sudanese people are displaced across the world due to the war between Sudan’s military and the RSF. Homes and livelihoods have been irreparably destroyed. I said “Okay”. I was really thinking, why? What does anyone protest for? What do people die for? What’s the point?

***

A shower and change later, I was in Times Square, walking back and forth, following Yasmeen’s glitchy location that couldn’t have been right but it was all I had, while frantically messaging the group chat I had been added to. A scattered conversation between a string of nameless numbers and faceless greyscale figures was rolling in at intervals.

Remember to wear a mask!!

What kinda mask???

If anyone is making extra posters could you make one that says free Palestine end apartheid or it’s not a conflict it’s genocide?

Bro I’m scared

If anyone has a portable charger can you bring it

We’ll be okay

Last time I protested I got shot by these police

What???

If they bring a riot squad we bounce

We stick together always

I scrolled through, and heard what I was seeing on my screen before I saw it in real life. Looking up, I followed the keffiyehs. Around the corner on Times Square, I saw a horde of people waving Palestinian flags, chanting various slogans in mismatched cacophony. Many were waving flags, holding up signs either printed on paper or written on old cardboard. I finally came across Yasmeen on the corner, holding up a sign that read “YOUR TAX DOLLARS ARE FUNDING GENOCIDE”.

We joined the swarm marching towards the Israeli embassy (what people kept calling “The Zionist Capital”) and in the eye of the storm I was able to take everything in. There were people of all ages, colors, ethnicities, marching proudly. Mothers in hijab with their daughters, holding them close as they walked, young girls hoisted on their fathers’ shoulders – one woman even had a pug in her arms wrapped in a keffiyeh. The community I craved was here. Across the street was the community we had come to protest against.

Separated by a wide street, on the other side of the sidewalk, a noticeably smaller group of Israeli people stood watching us. With one larger than life Israeli flag hung across the barricades and many donning smaller versions of what we know as the symbol of hate, the Israeli “protesters” were oddly quiet. They did not shout obscenities that I could hear, nor did they have any signs that I noticed. It occurred to me, with some amusement,  that their protest was much different than ours because they had nothing to protest. They were only there because we were, because we had to be. They had no Palestinian embassy to march to. They had no slogans. What could they possibly say? “Free Israel”, when Israel is free? “Let us commit genocide!”? “Save Israel!”? Save Israel from what? From the billions of dollars of funding it receives from the USA? From its allies in Germany and France, the former of which has criminalized the mere utterance of Palestine as anti-semitic? Save Israel from the consequences of its own occupation?

We passed the street they were perched on and did not see them again. To their credit, they did not interfere with our protest, mainly because they couldn’t. There were police everywhere, ready, armed, and donned with bands of zipties. Police, particularly American police, are known for their brutality. They seemed ready to go should the situation call for it. But I could see the restraint–indifference?-- emanating from their expressions. It was clear they had been given instructions to fall back, stay back, unless there were indications of violence. It was interesting to me, knowing that the Black Lives Matters protests had gone much differently. It almost made our protest feel like a farce – like they knew they’d already won. “Let them chant their little slogans,” is what their faces said. “It will do nothing.”

But I believe it did, and it will. I could see the faces of those not involved in the protests. Their awe, their intrigue. No one looked angry aside from passing irritation at their day being interrupted. Mostly, people looked curious. Sympathetic. I cannot say if it changed their minds about anything. But I can say with certainty that whoever those people were on their way to meet, the protest for the Palestinian people would be the first topic of conversation. And to be in the conversation is better to not be at all.

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