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Q&A: Janna Alshabah of Free Palestine BloNo

Janna Alshabaha protesting for Palestine.
Janna Alshabaha protesting for Palestinians.

Janna Alshabah’s grandfather was just 4 years old when he was forced to leave his home in the Palestinian territories. The family was driven out by the Israeli occupation, said Alshabah. Her grandfather, terrified by what was going on around him, hid behind a rock as his family fled. Had he not been found by his mother and led to safety, Alshabah wonders if she would even be here at all.

A third-generation American and a sophomore at Bloomington High School, Alshabah was inspired to found the group Free Palestine BloNo in order to raise awareness about the plight of Palestinians. To this day, she said, Palestinian children are enduring the same terror her grandfather did so many years ago.

“Whenever I told my friends about this, they didn't know anything,” Alshabah said of life in the occupied territories. “Now they know, but that's because of Instagram. And because of me. It's not taught in schools at all."

Alshabah said it’s not any easier to learn the truth about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the media, which she said tends to be biased in favor of Israel.

“And it hides real things that happened,” she said. “If you're not getting the information from firsthand Palestinians over there, then you're not going to get the real story.”

Alshabah founded Free Palestine BloNo as a way to tell the real story. The group held a vigil in Bloomington last week to draw attention to what Alshabah says are routine attacks on Palestinians during the holy month of Ramadan. The attacks are getting far too little notice, she said.

“And it's just really demotivating in a way because you want to tell people about this. Because there's no way that most people are going to be OK with the fact that what's going on over there is occupation and genocide.”

Alshabah said she plans to organize more vigils and more community outreach, telling the stories of Palestinians to anyone willing to listen. Prior to last week’s vigil, the group canvassed the Downtown Bloomington Farmers Market. Alshabah said plenty of people refused to stop and talk, which she expected.

“But then I also had a few people who actually listened for about 30 seconds to a minute’s time. And they learned so much in that minute.”

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