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Pro-Palestinian demonstrators rally for Rafah in Winter Garden

“Winter Garden has not heard enough of our voices.” 

A group of seven pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered Saturday to protest Israel’s incursions into Rafah with aid from the United States. The “Eyes on Rafah” protest took place at noon at the main entrance to Winter Garden Village on Daniel's Road. 

It was part of a worldwide movement, which began with a viral AI-generated image of a massive tent city with tents spelling out "All Eyes On Rafah" that was meant to call attention to the devastation after Israeli airstrikes killed at least 45 people in a refugee camp there. Approximately 1.4 million Palestinians — half of Gaza's population — had gone to the southern city near the Egyptian border, seeking shelter from the Israel-Hamas war, now in its eighth month. One million people have fled Rafah since the city came under attack. 

Samira, a Winter Garden resident, in a green tank and black pants, her head wrapped in a keffiyeh against the sun, led the protest, calling chants through the megaphone hanging against her hip.

Daniel Webster, whaddya say? 

How many kids did you kill today? 

Free, free Palestine!

Long live, Palestine! 

From the river to the sea

Palestine will be free

"Winter Garden has not heard enough of our voices,” Samira, who declined to share her last name, told VoxPopuli in a quick interview. 

She said that the impromptu group of demonstrators — unaffiliated with any organization for the day’s rally— was in Winter Garden to call out Republican Congressman Daniel Webster’s support for military aid for Israel.  

“Daniel Webster in April voted to send $ 26 billion to Israel, most or at least half of which is unconditional military aid to Israel,” she explained. “So as we are saying, End the genocide, as we are saying, Palestine is our red line, Daniel Webster is saying that he will continue to fund and support genocide. 

“Our tax dollars are being used to kill men, women, and children," she continued. "Gaza, Palestine, right now, has more child amputees than any other place in the world. And our local governments, including the police, our state government, our federal government, all support this.”

[Webster, elected to Congress in 2010 on the Tea Party wave, is running for re-election in Congressional District 11, which includes parts of Orange, Lake and Polk Counties and Sumter County. He's currently in a three-way primary race for the Republican nomination. The election is Aug. 20.]

Asked what she thought about the proposal President Joe Biden floated about 10 days ago to end the fighting, release the remaining hostages, bring much-needed humanitarian aid into the area and withdraw Israeli soldiers, Samira said it’s not enough, that the time for a ceasefire was in October when the war began.

The Israel-Hamas war started when Hamas attacked Israel, on Oct. 7, 2023, killing approximately 1,200 Israelis and taking 250 people hostage. As it sought to eliminate Hamas, Israel has killed upwards of 35,000 Palestinians. On Saturday, Israel rescued four hostages, killing 274 Palestinians during its mission. 

“Empty statements from Joe Biden will not save us,” Samira said. “We demand a ceasefire first, an end to military aid to the Israeli occupation, the stopping of illegal settlements, and the end of the occupation entirely so that we can have a free Palestine within our lifetime.”  

Winter Garden police
Winter Garden police officers hang back from the demonstration on June 8, 2024, while awaiting word on whether demonstrators could use a megaphone. They ultimately decided they could, as long as the rally didn't get too loud.

Mid-interview, the protest caught the attention of seven Winter Garden police officers, who came over to investigate Samira’s use of a megaphone, something they said was not permitted by city ordinance

Last month two protestors were arrested by Orlando police at the Stop the War rally for Palestine in Lake Eola Park after the two tried to block police from reaching a protestor with a megaphone, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Police sprayed demonstrators with tear gas. 

This situation played out differently. The officers were courteous; the demonstrators respectful. 

Samira said she thought she had permission to use the bullhorn because she'd been allowed to use one at the last Winter Garden rally she organized. But she turned the volume down to the point where one officer said he couldn’t tell if she was using the loudspeaker or just projecting her natural voice. The officers ultimately decided that if the demonstration stayed peaceful and didn’t get louder, she could use the megaphone.  

“Everyone has a right to protest,” said another officer.

1 Comment

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