Step 1, Protest for Palestine; Step 2, Get Arrested, Step 3, Live to Tell the Tale
Current Events
Dec 19, 2023
Image source: Twitter; photo by Mehdi Chebil/Hans Lucas via Re for PBS Newshour
The way things are going, we will be hitting the streets and the polls for at least another month according to the latest hints from the right-wing government of Israel. In the meantime, getting our lawmakers’ attention to majority sentiments is not just our civic duty, but our civil right.
(Have you called your elected officials to demand a ceasefire? Here’s how to do it.)
I was recently on a podcast talking about how to protest safely, having attended trainings and been a trainer for street actions in the past. While my expertise lies mainly as a medic, the basis of what I know about the history of direct action and action medicine is from my colleagues at Phoenix Urban Health Collective, to whom I am forever indebted.
While you don’t have to be a doctor or nurse to be a medic, I happen to be a practicing physician. One of my duties is to treat people who are sick, but when I see the same sickness happening again and again, my focus must shift to address the root cause of that illness. Putting Browndages (we don’t use the J&J version in our house) on a problem is a quick fix, but not the final solution. Which naturally brings us to Palestine.
I Had to Learn For Myself – Why Palestine?
My whole life I wondered about Palestine and why people who were so oppressed didn’t just leave. Even when I protested for Palestine in college, I thought, well hijrah (migration) was better if it provided freedom of religion, but I’ll march because everyone else is. Obviously this details how little I understood of the region and history.
Before medical school, I learned about Gazans from some Palestinian colleagues, who told me these were the strongest women in the world. But why be strong when their kids are being kidnapped (we don’t say “detained” in our house) and killed on a regular basis behind a dehumanizing wall?
I was stupid enough to ask a dear Palestinian friend about 10 years ago why Palestinians continued to stay where they were systematically being squeezed out or extinguished, and she answered, “Because that’s exactly what they want. They want us to leave our land, and we will die for it.”
Well damn, Gina. (Side note: You have to have watched the show “Martin” to get that reference.) That wasn’t her name, but Alhamdulillah, she remains my friend to this day despite my ignorance.
So I hit the books and learned, why Palestine? In my lifetime, I was told by Brown, Black and the whole rainbow of people that it’s “complicated;” but I knew watching a 12-year-old unarmed boy on TV get shot despite his unarmed father’s best efforts to protect him was anything but complicated. It was simple. “One day” I would understand, and Gina made that day finally come.
Almost 30 years ago, before the blockade and genocide of Gaza, my hot-blooded friends and I protested outside the Israeli embassy in our college days. Since then, every Ramadan, and every couple of years when Israel “mowed the grass,” we continued to witness the brutality of occupation in Palestine..
Image source: Unsplash; photo by Merch Husey
And now as a mom of 4 of my own kids and khalto to 3 more Palestinian ones, I know quick fixes don’t work. Neither do calls, letters, protests or even educating people because at this point, the whole world knows what has and is happening in occupied Palestine, and they simply do not care. I’ve done all those things, but I never put my body on the line for Palestine, for my own holy land, the way Palestinians did.
So, when I received a message a few weeks ago, late on a Monday night, that a sit-in was being planned at my senator’s office with the possibility of arrest the very next day, my colonized brain quickly shot out, “Oh, but this could affect my work and record.” Followed by, “What if Canary Mission puts me on its list?”
Getting Trained to Be Arrested as a Form of Protest
These types of civil actions are usually clandestine, on a need to know basis, and very few details about what and how are provided. I casually asked my husband if he was okay with me being arrested, to which he replied, “No, but be back home by Wednesday. I have to go out of town.” He didn’t ask for details, whats or hows. I love this man.
My intention was to force a ceasefire in Palestine, and I signed on at first, “to see.” I wasn’t yet sure that I was willing to be arrested for it. So I hit my prayer rug before bed with du’a for guidance and purification of my intentions, topped off with a tasbeeh of hasbee Allahs. Palestinians have shown us the power of that prayer. I went to sleep feeling butterflies in my stomach and in my heart. But I knew the best things I’d ever done, I’d done scared.
We’d been advised of what color to wear the next day so I entered my closet and immediately found the pants I thought I lost eight months before. I’d torn the house apart looking for them! These are the most comfortable pants in the world, and knowing I had them back so unexpectedly was my sign from Allah (S). He knows I’m very easy to please.
By the end of that morning’s training, I was sure I was willing to be arrested because:
1. The action was well organized with jail support and pro bono legal support.
2. Organizers had been arrested multiple times for civil disobedience and were pros.
3. At least three of us were Jewish anti-Zionists, and since I’d never met one before, I cried happy, overwhelmed tears.
4. The worst charge would be trespass, a misdemeanor, and for physician licensure, I’d have to report it, but it wouldn’t affect my renewal.
5. If Canary Mission doxxed me, I owned my own practices, and no one could fire me.
6. All the numbers I needed were written in Sharpie on my arm, because my phone would be taken in an arrest. I didn’t have to mark myself with Sharpie to be identified in death. I was blessed to be able to do this.
Dr. Uzma Jafri being arrested and escorted by police a few weeks back. Image source: Instagram.
After 2-3 hours of peacefully taking over the small waiting area of the senator’s office, we were advised by his staff that we needed to leave or they’d “have to” call the police. The owners of the space at such actions warn protestors that they’re going to call the police, then the police come and warn everyone to leave or risk arrest. Then the police asks again to the effect of, “Do you understand you’re being arrested?” Ample opportunity to cease and not be arrested should be provided.
Did you know that we pay senators AND their rent through our taxes, which is what I knew to be true as well? As my case is ongoing, I think that’s all I can say in addition to, as taxpayers we had a right to be inside the senator’s office as long as we wanted to, and I was sitting on a couch I bought. It was nice, too.
We knew the police had arrived when our phones slowed down because they had jammers to block signals. They also have software to pull data from phones, so we turned them off. Best practice. My last phone call was an incoming one from my son: “Ammi, I don’t think this is a good idea. Don’t do anything stupid. I love you.” At least I know he listens when I drop him off with his friends.
Everyone who didn’t want to risk arrest left the building to protest on the sidewalk, and two plain clothes officers came to warn us with the final rendition of “this is your last chance to get out.” I had my tasbeeh and just kept silently reciting hasbee Allah because the key to being arrested is, say nothing, say nothing, and then say nothing some more.
Once we were sealed inside the glass-walled office, about 20 riot-geared police officers entered and put handcuffs on us one at a time. They asked, “Do you understand you’re being arrested?” No Miranda rights are required unless you’re on a bad police sitcom. I didn’t answer so they shrugged and cuffed me. Resisting arrest can escalate charges to a felony, so we all complied because this was a peaceful protest, and we were going to maintain peace. Then a pair flanked and marched each of us outside past 20 more riot gear clad officers.
We walked out chanting, “Ceasefire now.”
What Happened After I Was Arrested
Our duos of officers led us to a long line of police SUVs surrounded by 20 or so more riot-clad officers, quite a reception for just 10 peaceful protestors AND such a good use of tax dollars! The very young officer in my pair asked if I had anything to poke him with and I assured him I did not. Short guys have never been my type, especially those who haven't even cut their wisdom teeth yet. That part I didn’t say because “peaceful,” right?
Image source: Colorlines
Each of us got our own police SUV. Again, excellent use of taxes. A police SUV has a hard plastic bench in the back with very little leg room for a small person, which I am not. There was a thick plastic shield between the officers and me. They asked for my name, date of birth and address, which I provided as advised by the legal team during morning training. I’d spent the whole day reassuring myself that I could handle the smell of jail pee and sleep sitting up, or just stay up for days on end because my medical training prepared me. I just wanted to get processed and to jail ASAP.
Processing usually takes place at a precinct. It was 8 minutes away from the senator’s office, but my young officers got lost for 25. In the process, their turns were not gentle and I swayed uncomfortably with my hands behind my back. But I maintained my posture with firm feet and composure, reciting hasbee Allah while I looked out the window. I knew they were watching me through the rear view mirror even though their conversation was about how they wanted nachos and how lost they were. No kidding.
By the time we arrived at the precinct, we learned that the printer there wasn’t working. We were seated in a conference room at tables in a U-shape, far from each other. The rule still was: Say nothing. And while a few officers furiously typed on computers, a pair of officers marched each of us out individually. We had no idea where they were being taken, and assumed it was to mugshots and fingerprints. One of the typers was actually wearing a pouch that read “This is the way.” Talk about not getting the assignment!
By that time, I was ready for jail or, really, anything. Even though my beads were on my cuffed wrists, prayer was on my lips. No one could take that away from me, and I was super relaxed.
It actually surprised me when I was lifted to my feet, uncuffed, asked to rub my index finger on a Sharpie (not enough taxes for ink pads?) and provide a single print. I was handed a paper (I guess the printer finally worked) and walked outside, flanked by my duo who said, “Okay.”
“You’re free to go.”
“Wherever you want. Just get off our property.” And they closed the door. Wah wah.
Again, if my tax dollars are paying for it, it’s not theirs, but I was pretty shocked and headed to the sidewalk, which IS public property. As each one of us trickled out, we welcomed each other there. Pretty anticlimactic, but I was told by the seasoned ones that this can happen.
We each got a ticket for trespassing and were sent home after a big show of force and probably several thousand in tax dollars. A court date was listed on the ticket for a long weekend. Our support and legal teams were already on their way to jail when we called them to turn around and pick us up. It only took them 10 minutes because they can read maps.
In the end, I was able to pray Maghreb and get home in time for dinner with my family. My initial appearance in court was rescheduled by the legal team and will now be January 17th Insha’Allah, with my nine new friends. Getting arrested together creates a bond I’ll be able to explain better after a few more arrests. For now, we’re family.
In the meantime, anyone who worries about a nebulous “permanent record” or ruining lives and careers with a misdemeanor, remember who can get elected POTUS and SCOTUS in this country. I think we learned these stories so we’d have an excuse not to act.
Image source: Pexels
But as Prophet Muhammad (saw) said, “Whoever among you sees evil, let him change it with his hand. If he cannot do so, then with his tongue. If he cannot do so, then with his heart, which is the weakest level of faith.” [Sahih Muslim]
And because Palestinians have only ever shown us the strongest of iman, we must be ashamed to be the weakest.

Stay tuned to Mommying While Muslim podcast this month for our emergency series "What’s Going on in Palestine," publishing every Thursday at 6 p.m. EST, and email if you want to come on as a guest expert.
Dr. Uzma Jafri is originally from Texas, mom to four self-directed learners, a volunteer in multiple organizations from dawah resources to refugee social support services, and runs her own private practice. She is an aspiring writer and co host of Mommying While Muslim podcast, tipping the scales towards that ever elusive balance as the podcast tackles issues second generation Americans have the voice and stomach to tackle.

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