South Paterson’s business district becomes a ghost town. Why did all of the stores close?

In South Paterson, the streets were plunged into darkness as stores, restaurants, bakeries, and pharmacies shut down for the day. The sight of metal gates being pulled down over storefronts and “closed” signs facing outward became a common scene on every block.

Business owners across the globe displayed signs on their doors, informing the public that they had closed their establishments in solidarity with the “Global Strike for Gaza.” This international initiative aimed to raise awareness and demand a cease-fire in the region.

Amjad Abukwaik, the owner of Sheefa Pharmacy on Palestine Way, expressed a deep personal connection to the situation in Gaza. He made the difficult decision to temporarily close his business as a way to honor the human cost of the conflict and show solidarity with those facing unimaginable hardships.

Abukwaik, who had lost 30 of his family members in Israeli airstrikes, explained that the choice to close down his business was not driven by politics, but rather by a sense of humanity. Alongside other business owners, he gathered at Gould Park on Monday, urging for an immediate cessation of the bombardment in Gaza and for the United States to actively pursue measures that would lead to long-lasting peace.

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The bustling shopping and dining district, usually teeming with activity, was an uncommon sight as businesses shut down en masse. It was a scene that hadn’t been witnessed since the days of COVID lockdowns. Palestinian activists and grassroots organizations spearheaded the strike, which followed the United States’ recent veto of a United Nations resolution urging a cease-fire.

Activists and supporters of the strike took to social media, specifically X (formerly known as Twitter), to spread the message using the hashtag #StrikeForGaza. They called upon individuals to participate by staying home from school and work, as well as refraining from making any unnecessary purchases.

Videos and photos circulating on social media platforms depicted deserted streets and closed shops in various locations, including the occupied West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Moreover, in the Detroit metropolitan area, which is home to a significant Arab American community, approximately 100 businesses decided to close their doors on Monday, as reported by TCD Dearborn News.

In South Paterson, a neighborhood affectionately referred to as “Little Palestine,” business owners from Syria, Jordan, and Turkey, including both Muslims and Christians, united in a strike. The strike was organized through a combination of late-night messages on Saturday and word-of-mouth and text message communication on Sunday.

Rania Mustafa, the executive director of the Palestinian American Community Center in Clifton, expressed that individuals have been driven to take action amidst the conflict, even if it means temporarily sacrificing their own livelihoods.

Ghassan Yousef, the owner of Al-Quds Super Market in Paterson and Kanoon Restaurant in Clifton, expressed that his businesses have experienced a significant decline of 40% in the past two months. This decrease in customer activity can be attributed to the fact that individuals who are mourning or distressed tend to avoid shopping or dining out. Despite the financial impact, when he was informed about the decision to shut down on Monday, Yousef swiftly complied without any hesitation.

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Yousef expressed his willingness to close his business for an entire month in order to take a stand against the perpetrators of violence. He emphasized the importance of unity and collective action in challenging the decision-makers and putting an end to the senseless killings. According to Yousef, this is the minimum effort required to make a difference in such a situation.

In Gould Park, there were school-age children whose parents opted to keep them out of school. Heyam Asmar, a resident of Paterson, shared that she made the decision to keep her five children at home. She even sent notes to the schools, informing them that her children were showing their support for the strike in Gaza.

Asmar emphasized the importance of ensuring that both our children and the local community comprehend the current situation.

According to a statement from Dan Juan, the interim director of communications, the Paterson school district has observed an unusually high number of student and staff absences in four local schools known for their significant population of students with Arab ancestry. On Monday, a total of 101 staff members were absent, although information regarding student absences is not yet available.

Juan acknowledged that the Israeli/Gaza War has caused significant distress among the staff and students within the District. He emphasized that the District values and respects their right to express their emotions and opinions pertaining to the conflict. Furthermore, Juan reiterated the District’s commitment to offering emotional and mental health support to anyone within the school community who may require it.

According to Gaza health authorities, the Israel-Hamas war has resulted in the deaths of over 17,700 Palestinian people in Gaza. Shockingly, about two-thirds of these casualties are women and children. The devastating impact of the conflict has forced approximately 90% of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents to flee their homes. This dire situation unfolded after Hamas, a group labeled as a terrorist organization by the United States and other countries, launched an attack on October 7th, resulting in the deaths of 1,200 individuals, including numerous innocent civilians.

South Paterson’s business district has transformed into a ghost town, leaving many wondering about the reasons behind the closure of numerous shops.

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