Poetry for Palestine fundraiser brings Tacoma arts community together

Amidst the struggle for Palestinian liberation, the arts fundraiser, which supports the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, aims to provide humanitarian aid to displaced Palestinians.  

On Friday, Feb. 16 at 7 p.m., you walk into an open hall at the First United Methodist Church of Tacoma, 621 Tacoma Ave. S., where university students greet you. As they distribute raffle tickets and collect donations from the public for the event’s fundraiser, they gesture to a poster booth, a concession stand and a table displaying stickers, children’s books, shirts and artwork for sale or raffle donated by local artists. 

The flag of Palestine and LGBTQIA+ pride flags hang down from the windows, with Christmas lights strewn from column to column, leading the way to the stage. 

“This event is an opportunity to gather in community and grieve through creative expression. It was so powerful hearing poetry shared in both Arabic and English as well as seeing the intergenerational turn out for the event,” wrote event speaker Aysha Kloub, a school teacher of Palestinian descent, in an email to the Ledger. 

At least 85 people of diverse backgrounds attended the event to stand in solidarity with Palestine and Palestinian people and listen to spoken word poetry deeply rooted in the grief of cultural genocide. Speakers at the event space donated by Common Good Tacoma included transgender, BIPOC and Asian folks and people of Palestinian and Arabic descent. 

The free poster table stood in the main hall, showcasing anti-genocide and social justice posters donated by the Visionary Leadership of the Palestinian Feminist Collective. One free handout encouraged the public to call on the Tacoma City Council to demand action. 

A February report on the situation at the Gaza Strip estimates that 1,700,000 internally displaced peoples have fled Gaza to seek refuge since Oct. 7. At least 396 internally displaced people and 158 colleagues of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) who were sheltering on agency premises have perished, leaving 1,383 people injured, according to the UNRWA

Talks of ceasefire, solidarity in action, healing and justice that night were sparked by the poetry readings, which covered the stories of brave Palestinian people, along with emotional, well-crafted poems about injured or dying children in Gaza and poems about indigenous lands and the strength of Palestinian culture.  

The event featured six speakers who read poetry written by themselves or by well-known Palestinian poets, three short breaks for the raffle drawing and an open mic session for anyone who had poems or thoughts to share about the loss of life, culture and land. 

“Healing justice for us means it’s a much more communal and collective way of understanding healing from the ravages of capitalism, militarism, imperialism,” said Pastor Shalom Agtarap of Common Good Tacoma and the church. 

Tacoma Poet and event co-host Ever Jones speaking before the crowd. Photo by Elissa Blankenship.

Over the past few months, the UNRWA has faced multiple bombardments by Israeli forces, leaving just 7 out of 23 health care centers operational amidst a growing crises for medical care, food and sanitary water, according to the UNRWA.  

Artwork and poetry, for some locals actively tuning into the crisis in Palestine, have become a sustainable way for people to share their emotions, thoughts and lived experiences through creative expression. 

Three poems read by speaker Aysha Kloub during the event were Seven Skies for the Homeland by Hiba Abu Nada, My People by Samer Abu Hawwash and Um Siti and the Queen of Falasteen written by Kloub. 

“Some of the art was made specifically thinking about this Poetry for Palestine event, so there is just some really intentional, beautiful pieces over there,” Tacoma poet Ever Jones said during the event, referencing the display table. 

A fundraiser count made on Sunday, Feb. 18 revealed a total of $2,100 which was raised both online and during the event, according to Pastor Agtarap. 

Tacoma Artist and Educator River Reier urges people to write to the Tacoma City Council and take a stance on American munitions aid being supplied to Israel under the Biden Administration. 

“I’ve been trying to use my artwork to kind of draw some attention to what’s happening in Palestine and Gaza right now, and so this event I think was a really great way for me to try to use that art to try to raise some funds,” Reier said. 

One of the art pieces Reier donated was a drawing of a pomegranate in the shape of Palestine. A chunk of the fruit, drawn in the shape of Gaza, symbolizes a missing piece of the Palestinians’ indigenous land and culture dismantled by Israeli occuptation. 

The fruit itself, a staple food of Palestinian and Arab cultures, was placed upon a kufiya background which symbolizes Arab resistance and Palestinian resistance to occupation. The color scheme of the drawing respresents the Palestinian flag, according to Reier. 

Donations to further the cause can be made directly to the UNRWA in support of Palestinian refugees who have been displaced by this conflict overseas. 

Raffle fundraiser artwork and items for display at the event table. Photo by Elissa Blankenship.

Featured photo caption: Tacoma arts and poetry community gather at the church in solidarity for Palestine. Photo by Elissa Blankenship.