Some Southwest Philadelphia residents oppose city's plan to remove memorial to Palestinians

TaRhonda Thomas Image
Wednesday, November 29, 2023
Some Southwest Philadelphia residents oppose city's plan to remove memorial to Palestinians
Some Southwest Philadelphia residents oppose city's plan to remove memorial to Palestinians

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As the conflict continues in the Middle East, it's creating debates even here in Philadelphia. One of them is over a display in support of Palestinians who have died. The city now says it will take the display down.

"It's been here for about a month," said Philadelphia City Councilmember Jamie Gautier, whose jurisdiction includes Clark Park in Southwest Philadelphia where the memorial is located.

The memorial features hundreds of white flags circling a tree. The flags all have hand-written names on them.

"Each flag represents a single human life," said Bennett Kuhn, a community member who helped create the display alongside other residents, faith leaders and artists.

The display also features lines of string surrounding the tree in a wide circle. On those strings are pieces of paper with names on them. All the names on the flags and paper represent Palestinians who have died in the Israel-Hamas war this past month and in prior conflicts.

"The flags on the ground each represent the lives of a person who died in 2014. And the papers that are hanging from the trees represent the lives of people who have died this year," said Kuhn.

The memorial has been in Clark Park for a month. Gautier has noticed that some of her constituents go there to grieve.

"Palestinian residents of our community who come to this space to cry, to pray to reflect," she said.

It's why she and residents were disheartened to see a sign that was posted in front of the display on Thanksgiving Day. It stated that Philadelphia Parks and Recreation intends to remove the temporary memorial because of policy.

"They have a policy that memorials can only remain up for 15 days," said Gautier adding that she thinks this circumstance should be different.

"This is about what the community wants," she said. "This is about allowing the community to heal."

The Commissioner of Parks and Recreation, Orlando Rendon, released a statement to Action News that reads in part:

"The memorial in Clark Park has remained on public property for more than 15 days and now exceeds PPR's policy regarding temporary memorials and displays. The City realizes that temporary memorials and displays in public spaces are often a response to a sensitive situation, and seeks to be respectful in any action taken with regard to the placement, relocation, or removal of such displays. PPR has been unable to contact the organization and/or individuals responsible for this display to discuss the removal. Individuals or organizations claiming responsibility for the display may retrieve any content from the display prior to its removal by PPR."

Kuhn and Gautier disagree with the city's claim that it tried to reach out to people who created the display.

"We want to show our solidarity with those communities and that's what this is," said Kuhn.

Some are now wondering if the city is enforcing its policy or being political.

"What I've heard in our community is a tremendous amount of concern," said Kuhn.

The memorial was supposed to be removed on Monday. Crews postponed it until Tuesday and then decided to pause the action as city leaders agreed to meet with community members on Wednesday.

"I appreciate the opportunity for a conversation," said Gautier.

Now she and others wait to find out if the memorial will remain.

"I'm not taking a political stance on this," she said. "I care about my constituents."