Hearing about the thousands of people, largely women and children, who have been killed during and since the Hamas attack in Gaza, one cannot help but be affected. Numerous islanders wrestle with their grief. Some attend March for Peace at the Courthouse on Wednesdays at 3 p.m. and Saturdays at noon.
“Today was, I believe, the fifth time there have been people out in Friday Harbor calling for a ceasefire in Gaza,” Adam Vimesy, one of the attendees, told the Journal Nov. 15.
The individuals are not part of a formal organization, but united by their common desire to see an end to the destruction and death of civilians in the Gaza Strip.
“Within this group is a diversity of backgrounds, opinions and understandings around the issue itself,” Vimesy said. “I myself happen to be Jewish and know that several of the people who have attended past demonstrations are also Jewish. None of them feel that calling for a ceasefire or asking to save Palestinian civilian lives contradicts this identity.”
On Nov. 12, according to Vimesy, over 20 people showed up from both San Juan and Lopez Islands to call for an end to the destruction.
“I’m out here out here because consciously I have to do something, whether all it is is just standing out here holding a sign and putting the word out there. I can’t sit idly by as my taxpayer dollars are funding genocide. That is actively happening in Palestine,” attendee Amanda Garcia said.
Others similarly stated disappointment, frustration and despair that their taxpayer money was going toward funding the killing of civilians in Gaza.
Attendee Bo Brown stated that as human beings, it is everyone’s responsibility to stand up against genocide.
“It’s really important to me, as a trans man, to show my solidarity with Palestine especially right now. A lot of rhetoric online is weaponizing queer identity against Palestinian solidarity and saying ‘You wouldn’t last five minutes in Gaza.’ There are queer people, trans people, in Gaza, and everybody deserves to level safely regardless of whether you are queer or whether you are homophobic,” he said.
The recent war in Gaza has resulted in increased hate crimes against both groups across the US. Three Palestinian students, for example, were shot in Vermont recently. One of the students may be paralyzed. The Anti Defamation League released a report showing a “significant spike in antisemitic incidents” since Oct. 7. Preliminary data from the ADL Center on Extremism, 312 incidents of harassment, vandalism and assault were recorded from Oct. 7 to Oct. 23, a 388% increase over last year, when the ADL received reports of 64 such incidents, the organization said.
On this particular day, Nov. 15, a protest was also scheduled at the Courthouse voicing support for Israel. The San Juan County Sheriff Eric Peter posted a message to the community calling on possible participants to remain respectful and peaceful.
“The Sheriff’s Office will have a presence in the interest of everyone’s safety while peacefully exercising their rights to free speech and assembly.
“The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office denounces acts of violence and threats of violence while supporting everyone’s constitutional rights to free speech and assembly within the confines of the law without inciting violence or causing public safety hazards.
“Just because groups or individuals disagree with one another, does not mean that they have to hate each other or commit acts of violence or threats of violence towards one another.”
The message also explained that there had been posters on light poles saying “Free Palestine,” which according to Town of Friday Harbor Code 14.04.090 is prohibited without a permit or approval from the town. Town Administrator Denice Kulseth said that Town of Friday Harbor Street crew employees will be removing any signs attached to light poles and other prohibited spaces in town when observed unless otherwise approved by the Town of Friday Harbor.
Peter appeared at the Courthouse Nov. 15, introduced himself assured people he and deputies were there not to intimidate anyone but to ensure everyone’s safety. He encouraged people to be respectful and reminded those present of the right to free speech.
Two individuals showed up to voice support for Israel, citing Israel’s need to defend itself, the number of Hamas suicide bombers that have come in from the Westbank over previous years, and the horror of the Hamas attack on Oct. 7. Only at one point, however, did Peter step in and calmly diffused an intense conversation between two parties.
“This is the first time we have encountered anyone with a different opinion on the crisis, beyond the occasional frowns — and one or two screamed insults — from passing cars. I hope that future engagement with differing opinions on the situation in Gaza is more productive than today,” Vimesy said. “I think most of the people I’ve seen showing up to call for an end to the violence in Gaza would prefer to engage in good-faith conversation with people coming at this from any view.”
There have been other protests locally since Nov. 15. On Nov. 26, islander Angela Light and a few friends placed signs shaped like gravestones with the death tolls of the Israeli and Palestinian people.
“I was going to release flowers and say prayers into the ocean, then I remembered I’m not the only one with all this pent-up unexpressed energy. We all need a space for our collective grief,” she said.