Supporters of Palestine are protesting Philly news coverage. Here’s what they want to see from outlets going forward

The Philly Palestine Coalition organized the rally and criticized media coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict, calling it “minimal.”

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Protesters march down the street.

Supporters of Palestine march on 6th Street toward Independence Mall led by Rami Ibrahim. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

What you need to know

More than 160 people gathered outside of WHYY’s studio at Independence Hall Thursday afternoon to protest the news coverage of Palestinian people in the escalated conflict between Israel and Hamas.

“We’re here to call attention to the local media blackout and silence on Palestinian voices, and the objective and biased reporting on Israeli occupation,” said Indigo Jordan, an organizer with the Philly Palestine Coalition.

The rally, which began around 12:15, was organized by the Philadelphia Palestinian Solidarity Coalition and its allies, which included university student organizations from Temple, Drexel, Swarthmore, UPenn, the University of Delaware, and Haverford, as well as local Black, Puerto Rican, and Filipino groups, including  Black Lives Matter, Anakbayan Philadelphia, and  Philly Boricuas.

A man holds a Palestinian flag at a rally
‘There’s no two sides to this anymore than there were two sides to slavery or apartheid or genocide of indigenous Americans,’ said Palestinian American novelist Susan Abulhawa. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“Western news outlets have failed and have been doing their audiences a severe disservice,” Philly Palestine Coalition member Nada Abuasi said. “By deliberately excluding necessary context in their analysis of current events they have contributed to the violent dehumanization of Palestinians.”

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“We need to have an emphasis on Palestinian voices and truly delivering the context that is necessary for readers and viewers to be able to come to the conclusions on the occupation and the apartheid state,” said Jordan.

Indigo Jordan at the rally in front of WHYY studios
Indigo Jordan joined supporters of Palestine protesting media coverage of the Israeli Palestinian conflict outside WHYY News’ studios in Philadelphia on October 12, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Several members of the Philadelphia Police Department and its Civil Affairs Unit stood on either side of the rally-goers. Demonstrators held Palestinian flags and held signs that included “Spotlight on Gaza. Where’s the Coverage?”; “Jews for a free Palestine”; and “Tell the truth about 75 years of apartheid in Palestine.” Many wore the Palestinian keffiyeh, the black and white checkered scarf that has become a symbol of Palestinian identity and nationalism.

When speaking with WHYY News, Palestinian Rami Ibrahim said the media is painting a picture that the conflict arose out of nowhere, with hardly any discussion of the displacement of Palestinians over several decades.

“This is what people don’t understand, 75 years of constant oppression, lives being murdered, Palestinian homes being demolished, Palestinian land being stolen. Gaza alone [has] been locked down for 16 years. We’re talking about being locked down, nothing allowed in or out for 16 years. This is not something that has just been unprovoked.”

The conflict between Israel and Hamas has provoked strong reactions from local communities. Ribhi Mustafa, a Palestinian Philadelphian, told reporters the issue has never been about religion.

“There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Jewish people who condemn the actions of the Israeli government,” Mustafa said. “Judaism is a religion. Zionism is an ideology. A Jew and I, we’re brothers. We’re the sons of the same father. We believe in one God. There is no difference between us. It’s the ideology that’s the problem. Zionism was created to take over and eradicate and exterminate the Palestinian people. This has nothing to do with religion, period.”

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Members of the coalition and its allies delivered speeches and chanted in front of the entrance of WHYY’s studio, drowning out the continual live radio broadcast from an outdoor speaker. After the speeches concluded, members of the crowd took in safety information and proceeded down N. 6th Street to the headquarters of the Philadelphia Inquirer. By the time the crowd reached the Inquirer’s building, it grew to 250 people.

At the intersection of 6th and Market, members of Philly Stands With Israel held a counter protest. At one point, one of the members of the group was seen making obscene gestures at the protesters and shouting curse words at them.

Muslim artist Tone Trump spoke with WHYY News outside of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s headquarters, saying the small group of counter protesters doesn’t represent the entire Jewish community.

“There’s people that are Jewish that played parts in saving and changing my life,” Trump said. “I don’t want to do anything to harm them. One of my Jewish brothers posted something today talking about his concerns for his grandparents. I’d be lying if I say I don’t sympathize with that. You know what I mean? I’d be lying to say that, you know, as much as I love Palestine… This isn’t a Muslim issue. This is a humanity issue.”

People waving Palestinian flags at the protest
A growing crowd of pro-Palestine demonstrators gather for speeches on 6th Street near the Liberty Bell. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Last Saturday, Hamas launched a surprise attack on civilian and Israeli military targets from the Gaza Strip and took hostages. The escalation occurred on the Jewish Sabbath and the Simchat Torah holiday, a day after the 50th anniversary of the start of the Yom Kippur War. In response, Israel has conducted hundreds of airstrikes.

The region has since been under siege by Israel, cutting off electricity and barring the entry of fuel, food, water, medicine, and more into the territory. U.N. Human Rights chief Volker Turk on Tuesday said the “sieges” were illegal under international law. The Palestinian Ministry of Health said health services “have reached a critical stage, medicines, medical consumables, and fuel will run out imminently.”

In an Instagram post this week, the Philly Palestine Coalition said local media outlets “have historically censored pro-Palestinian organizers and used false balance journalism to create pro-Zionist narratives which subvert necessary context for the ongoing resistance to Zionist occupation of Palestine.” Zionists are supporters of the establishment and development of a Jewish homeland in Israel.

In an interview with WHYY News on Wednesday, Palestinian American novelist Susan Abulhawa criticized media narratives surrounding the ongoing conflict.

“There’s no two sides to this anymore than there were two sides to slavery or apartheid or genocide of Indigenous Americans or any other instance of massive power asymmetry,” Abulhawa said.

Protester waving a Palestinian flag during the march
Waving Palestinian flags, supporters of Palestine lead a march down North Sixth Street. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

She received criticism for organizing the  Palestine Writes Literature Festival at the University of Pennsylvania in September, receiving backlash for hosting “speakers with a history of antisemitic remarks,” according to the The Philadelphia Inquirer. She said “one of the tricks of Zionism is to conflate antisemitism with criticism of Israel.”

“My whole family was destroyed,” Abulhawa said. “Expelled, robbed, humiliated, battered,  in every conceivable way by the Jewish state, by Israel. And somehow I’m not allowed to critique that.”

Regarding coverage of the conflict, she said the media can’t “start the clock when Palestinians fight back.”

“This stuff didn’t start with Hamas’ attack,” Abulhawa said. “Everything Palestinians do is a response. A nation state does not have a right to self-defense against the people they are oppressing. It makes no sense. It makes zero sense. It makes no moral sense. It makes no legal sense. It makes no ethical sense, and it makes no historic sense.”

According to the BBC, Israel’s death toll from the attack has hit at least 1,200. More than 1,100 Palestinians have died following Israeli air strikes on Gaza. At least 22 Americans are among those killed.

Roughly 2 million Palestinians live on the Gaza Strip. For more than 16 years, the area has been under a blockade by Israel and Egypt that restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of the country.

Multiple Delaware Valley leaders voiced their support for Israel following the attack.

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