The sound of the call to prayer resonated through Astoria Park in Queens, New York, on an Eid that saw sunny weather and an opportunity for human connection after a year spent apart during the pandemic.
The conclusion to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan is usually marked with a celebratory breakfast, new clothes, and a chorus of “Eid Mubaraks” and “Alhamdulillahs.”
Plastic yard signs that read “Happy Eid” covered the park grounds. Men and women proceeded to their respective sections and laid out small prayer rugs on the grass to warm up for the big event with a short prayer. Children ran around as their parents tried their best to concentrate on their spiritual devotion.
But for Palestinian American Muslims and their allies it was a somber event that left them riddled with guilt. The violence “back home” in their motherland doesn’t inspire celebration. For many, it lights a fire instead.
“I’m here for two reasons: the Eid prayer obviously and second, unfortunately, today all over Palestine – in Gaza, the West Bank – we have people getting lynched,” said Anas Shuaib.
He added: “I’m a peaceful person. I want peace on both sides but peace doesn’t come at the price of people’s rights. When these things happen and the Palestinian people respond, I don’t feel bad when the Israeli government cries crocodile tears. They don’t care and the American government is behind them.”
Violence erupted in Gaza and Jerusalem over Israeli settlers’ forced displacements of Palestinians living in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Israeli police stormed al-Aqsa mosque – the third holiest site in Islam – during the final nights of Ramadan. The Palestinian militant organization, Hamas, fired rockets into Israel in retaliation – triggering an attack by the Israeli army. The conflict has also seen bouts of communal violence in Israel between Jewish and Arab citizens in mixed towns.
More than 120 people have died including at least 31 children, according to Gaza’s health ministry. Despite the disproportionate amount of deaths being in Palestinian territory, Joe Biden said “Israel has a right to defend itself”, provoking ire from Palestinian Americans and some progressive US lawmakers.
Among the angry in Astoria park were local politicians.
Tiffany Cabán, a candidate for New York city council, is a progressive who has earned endorsements from leftwing stalwarts of the national Democratic party, such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Standing inconspicuously under the shade of a tent in black headscarf, Cabán said it was important to show up for the Eid celebration.
“I have learned so much from our beautiful and rich Muslim community here. We have stood together in so many fights. I’m just sending so much love and solidarity to Palestinian families. I urge folks to stand in solidarity,” she said.
The speech before the prayer, led by Zohran Kwame Mamdani, the Astoria assembly person, garnered enthusiastic praise. In lieu of applause, “Takbir Allahuakbar” could be heard from every corner of the outdoor venue.
“We know our freedom, our joy, our struggle – is incomplete without the struggle of every other Muslim in the entire world. That goes from Palestine to Kashmir to the Uyghurs in China to our brothers and our sisters in Syria – to every single person across this entire globe. In the last few days when I have spoken up for our family in Palestine, I have been called many things but I’m so proud to be here today,” he said.
Mamdani, a hip-hop artist turned politician, is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. He is also a vocal supporter of the boycott, divest from, and place sanctions against Israel movement, which urges a cultural and economic boycott of Israel in a similar fashion to the campaign against apartheid South Africa.
Mamdani said the reaction to the current outbreak of violence felt different to previous such events, especially in light of recent condemnations of Israeli policy by prominent human rights groups.
“Me calling what’s happening in Israel ‘apartheid’ is not my opinion. It’s me citing the findings of the Human Rights Watch and international NGOs as well as Israeli NGOs. I am unwilling to depart from fact and entertain fiction just for the sake of political calculus. What I am so appreciative of in this moment – a moment of immense pain and struggle and tragedy – is that there is a light of hope.”
After the main event, an Eid prayer, families sprawled across the park and exchanged hugs and greetings. Many headed to the water to meet with friends and spend the remainder of the day enjoying the weather. Others like Diana Salahadin and her mother were headed home.
Salahadin said: “I’m a fashion design student. I always incorporate Palestine and the conflict in my designs. I’m feeling good because a lot more people are aware now. It’s about time. I know there’s a lot going on but I’m content with the awareness here. BLM started it. Everyone had enough already. The young generation is especially not afraid to speak. They protest and fight for what they want. They see change happening. Just educate yourself and listen to true stories of Palestinians.”
Salahadin’s mother, Amal Salameh, recalled the years she spent as a teenager in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, seeing forced and violent displacements of Palestinians from their homes.
“I was born in the old city of Jerusalem. I would love to go back. Even though I’m not there, it’s always in my mind. It is very important to me. It is a holy place and I love it so much. It is in my blood, I was studying there in high school at Sheikh Jarrah. It’s my best memories,” she said.
She added: “I grew up there with all of my friends. Traveling from my house to Sheikh Jarrah took 20 minutes. Now with the occupation, it takes two hours because of all the checkpoints. It is really sad and so unfair. They take everything. But we’re going to fight for it. In the end Palestine will be free, but you have to fight for it until our blood reaches our knees.”