Zahra Al, a teacher and Fresno State alumnus, told the Fresno City Council on Jan. 11, “I am here for Palestine, I am here for Gaza. I am here to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire. I am not Palestinian, I am Native, Middle Eastern and Hispanic. But my heart is Palestinian.
“In the history of war crimes, genocide is regarded as one of the most grave crimes against humanity. Today at the International Court of Justice, South Africa, along with other nations, holds Israel accountable for the war crimes and genocide against the Palestinian people.
“[The genocide] is funded by us, the United States of America. [We need a] ceasefire now and to cease sending military aid in all forms. A minimum of $3.8 billion is sent from our tax money to Israel every year. Our money is used to kill Palestinians; our money is aiding a genocide.
“Will we build the Palestinians a monument as we did the Armenians? Do we remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Say no to the bombing of innocent civilians.
“I ask you: Are you going to stand by and do nothing to stop this genocide of Palestinians? I implore you: Stand with humanity, stand with Palestine. Say no to genocide. Say yes to a permanent ceasefire. Stop military aid to Israel, end the occupation and allow humanitarian aid to enter and reach the Gazans that desperately need it.”
Also speaking at the Jan. 11 City Council meeting, Lauren Lopez of Fresno said, “I stand before you today to address the recent statements made by [Council Member] Garry Bredefeld in the closing moments of our last City Council meeting. His words, as passionate as they were, are misleading. They have unfortunately been a blatant misrepresentation of the voices advocating for a ceasefire.
“Mr. Bredefeld has chosen to label those who call for peace ‘advocates for hate,’ specifically targeting those who seek a moral and just resolution for a permanent ceasefire in Palestine. He has utilized his platform to spread misinformation under the guise of defending freedom of speech, under the pretext of ‘defending freedom.’
“Mr. Bredefeld has engaged in a form of doublespeak, perpetuating Islamophobic rhetoric that only serves to gaslight community members and create an atmosphere of fear. This tactic of conflating activism with hatred is not only disingenuous but it is also harmful to our community.
“Last [month] in Fresno, Palestinian organizers were attacked in public while spreading awareness on the vile and murderous atrocities committed by Israel. Your inaccurate portrayal of Palestinian liberation has only emboldened bad faith actors within our community.
“Mr. Bredefeld’s story [begins in] October [and] neglects the decades-long aggression, occupation and the resulting human rights violations which Israel has carried out with unchecked destruction. Let’s not act as if it is okay for one of the most powerful militaries in the world to indiscriminately carpet-bomb innocent civilians, leaving a wake of over 10,000 dead Palestinian children in their path and call that justified self-defense.
“I’m asking you to join the growing list of cities that have adopted a resolution for a permanent ceasefire in order to preserve the further loss of innocent life. Let Gaza live, free Palestine.”
Miroku Nemeth, an adjunct professor of English at West Hills College and the College of the Sequoias attending the Jan. 15 MLK march, said, “I’ve noticed over the years of teaching teenagers, seniors in high school and community college students that almost nobody really watches mainstream news anymore. For quite some time, they’re all been watching alternative news sources.
“I asked them in surveys on where they get their news from or what they read. Some don’t even really know what a newspaper is anymore. They look at social media posts, they do deep dives into what they see in social media and they are better consumers, generally, of media.
“Social media is less controlled. There they can see, I think very overtly, that the lies that are put forth in the mainstream media are so egregious and so big. When you look at the reality, which they can see on social media, they can see children being killed. They can see because there’s almost no filters.
“With this kind of technology and in the way in which the people are using it it’s not controlled, it’s not centralized, it’s not the fourth branch of the government anymore. It still exists but it’s being discredited.”
As for criticisms of Generation Z, Nemeth thinks that is misplaced. “I think they are some of the most empathetic human beings. They have a morality-based sense of justice. They have a conscience, and it gives me hope. When I teach them to write about things, they find sources on TikTok or they find them on Instagram.
“We are in the midst of a genocide with 150 children a day being murdered. [These students] are gaining knowledge from social media outlets that aren’t so biased.”
Regarding the prospect of President Biden and Democrats losing the youth vote, Nemeth said, “Definitely yes, and in the Muslim community we’re not voting for Genocide Joe; there’s no way. He’s doubled down over the last 100 days.
“There are [more than] 30,000 dead Palestinian civilians. Personally, I know people who’ve lost 35 family members. Some have lost over 100 people in their [extended] families. People I have known for decades. This is not abstract to us.
“When we’re protesting, most of the people who are supporting us are not even necessarily connected [to Palestine]. They just have heart. If a person has a heart they’ll take action.”
Linking the colonization of Palestine to the colonization of America, Nemeth said, “I teach Yokut history as much as I can. California history. Nobody knows of their [the Yokuts] genocide. I was obliged to teach about the Holocaust, which I’m proud to do, but I never had to teach about Yokut genocide, Central Valley genocide. The population went from 70,000 pre-colonization to 600.”
These voices and others reflect the views and sentiments of many Fresno area residents. Hundreds have spoken at City Council meetings and demonstrated relentlessly for the past three months. People of conscience are requesting that the City of Fresno pass a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire. They are saying it’s past time to end the occupation.
The community is increasing pressure on elected leaders at every level to take a stand on this humanitarian crisis. The question remains: Will they act?