Long Islanders rally for Palestinian rights, demand Blakeman drop support of settlements

Long Islanders rally for Palestinian rights, demand  Blakeman drop support of settlements
Long Island residents rally for Palestinian liberation outside Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman's office. (Courtesy of Farhana Islam)

Community members rallied outside the Nassau County Executive Building in Mineola Saturday to observe the anniversary of the Nakba, or the mass displacement of Palestinians during the 1948 Palestine War, and demand County Executive Bruce Blakeman stop his support of Israeli settlements.

Protesters also called on Blakeman to disband his citizen militia.

Nakba in Arabic means “catastrophe” and it refers to the “permanent displacement of more than half of the Palestinian population” after the Arab-Israeli war, according to the United Nations.

At least 150 Long Islanders gathered outside of the legislative building, where Blakeman’s office is located, for nearly three hours to sing songs, repeat a series of chants and give speeches at an event organized by the PALI Coalition, said Farhana Islam, co-founder of Muslims for Progress.

The PALI Coalition is a group of Long Island-based Palestinian and Muslim organizations calling for Palestinian liberation, which Islam said consists of an immediate ceasefire and then a long-term peace agreement that would lift the siege on Gaza, provide Palestinians with full mobility on the West Bank and allow Palestinians to have self-sovereignty.

“The pro-Palestinian community has been targeting Blakeman because of his open support of Israeli settlements. As sitting Nassau County executive in Long Island, he has taken active steps to legitimize illegal, internationally recognized Israeli settlements,” Islam said. “[He’s] been praising them as a vibrant community, not recognizing any settler violence.”

Blakeman showed up at JFK Airport to send off a Long Island native who was catching a flight to Israel to rejoin the Israeli Defense Force soon after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks. The county executive also pushed fund-raisers for the Israelis on his social media. Islam cited both of these acts as examples of Blakeman’s support of Israel.

Palestinian members of the community are also worried about Blakeman’s citizen militia, Islam said.

A Nassau County ad with a March 31 application deadline called for county property or business owners, specifically former law enforcement and military veterans, to apply for an emergency sheriff position. Blakeman has not yet disclosed how many individuals applied to the program.

Nassau County Minority Leader Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) said she received multiple reports that the special deputy sheriffs have been secretly training at night at the county police academy in Garden City.

A spokesman for Blakeman did not confirm or deny to Blank Slate Media whether special deputy sheriff training has begun, but News12 reported that seven Nassau residents have completed their deputy training.

“[The militia] came about just after the pro-Palestinian protests, so the militarization, the promotion of violence and the direction that he’s bringing the county is threatening to anybody who opposes him,” Islam said. “We’re hoping that he can backslide the militia, see if he can disband it and try to go back on that because it’s a direct threat to us as a community.”

She said the rally itself was “reverent” and “somber” as those gathered swayed to the beat of drums.

Though the rally was peaceful, one man began yelling profanities at the demonstrators before police officers escorted him away from the building, Islam said.

The demonstration comes during a time of tension between local Israeli and Palestinian communities, with pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian marches taking place across the island.

Just two weeks ago, dozens of Palestinian and Muslim community members spoke out at a Sewanhaka Central High School District meeting against what they called an offensive history lesson about Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Teacher Deirdre McIntyre used a document that prompted students to role play as an Israeli and a Palestinian at the Sewanhaka school May 2. Community members said the script included factual inaccuracies and Islamophobic stereotypes.

School administrators ended the meeting with promises to work together with members of the Palestinian community to foster a safe, inclusive environment. And some members of the board are following through on that promise to show up for the community, Islam said.

One school board member who was present at the board meeting two weeks ago attended the rally wearing a sweatshirt that read “Palestine,” Islam said.

“The school district has responded so well. We’re so pleased with their response and they’re walking the walk,” Islam said. “They [the board member] made a promise to show up and listen to the community and they were actually there at the rally.”

Efforts to identify and speak with the board member were unavailing.

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