Protesters gathered in Washington, D.C. demanding an end to the Israel-Hamas conflict, as Gaza casualties exceeded 9,200. Despite US pleas, Israeli PM Netanyahu rejected a temporary halt.
The recent demonstration at Freedom Plaza, located just a short distance from the White House, marked another event in a series of global protests demanding an immediate halt to the ongoing Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip. This relentless assault has persisted for 29 days, ever since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel, which tragically claimed the lives of 1,400 individuals.
By the evening, approximately 150 individuals had gathered in Lafayette Park, positioned at the fence surrounding the White House. Their unified voices echoed through the air, fervently calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities. Simultaneously, an additional few hundred individuals could be seen meandering in the vicinity of the park.
According to Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesperson for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the primary objective at present is to establish a cease-fire. He emphasized that without a cease-fire, it is impossible to carry out any humanitarian aid, treat the injured, or even remove the deceased.
Simultaneously, the demonstrations in New York, London, and Paris aligned with the protest occurring in Washington.
Voting hinges on a cease-fire
Several speakers highlighted Biden’s endorsement of Israel’s military campaign and his refusal to support a cease-fire. Notably, one individual, affiliated with the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, referred to the president as “Genocide Joe.”
Nihad Awad, the national executive director at CAIR, effectively highlighted the division that the Gaza war has created between the Democratic Party and Arab Americans as well as young voters.
Awad, a Palestinian American, conveyed amidst resounding applause that the language comprehended by President Biden and his party solely revolves around the language of votes in the forthcoming 2023 elections. Our resolute message remains unaltered: Absence of a cease-fire shall result in the absence of votes.
He made it clear that there were no votes cast in Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Wisconsin, or Pennsylvania. These swing states played a crucial role in securing Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. Awad emphasized that his statement was made in a personal capacity, clarifying his intention behind the electoral threat.
He made it clear that if a cease-fire is not called for immediately, there will be no support for him in any voting scenario. Awad’s appeal to boycott the Democratic party in the upcoming elections coincided with a video released by progressive Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Michigan, where she also urged for the same course of action.
In a video, Tlaib, the sole Palestinian American representative in Congress, asserts that Joe Biden endorsed the genocide of the Palestinian people. She emphasizes that the American populace will not overlook this stance. Tlaib urges Biden to promptly endorse a cease-fire, cautioning that his support in the upcoming 2024 elections may be compromised if he fails to do so.
Address the current situation promptly
Some individuals at the protest, including Joan Nicholson, an 89-year-old resident of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, were motivated by their enduring empathy towards the Palestinian cause. Conversely, Xochitl Aldama, a 25-year-old from Tampa, Florida, expressed attending the protest as a result of her recent shock and dismay at the extensive devastation witnessed in Gaza. Additionally, there were those who were compelled to participate due to their own experiences of personal tragedy.
Laila El Haddad, a 45-year-old Palestinian American author, expressed her purpose of joining a massive gathering alongside numerous individuals to demand justice from her country for its involvement in war crimes and crimes against humanity. In a conversation with USA TODAY, she revealed the distressing news that her aunt, three adult cousins, and her cousin’s wife tragically lost their lives due to an Israeli airstrike on their residence in Gaza City, which she learned about just the day before. Determined to make a stand, she emphasized her presence at the event as a means to convey a resolute message: the time for tolerating such atrocities has come to an end.
The crowd goes beyond Freedom Plaza
The number of participants in the rally remained uncertain by the late afternoon of Saturday, as the crowd overflowed from Freedom Plaza and extended onto the surrounding streets.
The U.S. Park Police stated that they were unable to disclose crowd sizes for any event when asked. Despite attempts to contact them, the D.C. Metropolitan Police did not provide an estimate of the crowd’s size.
Following the conclusion of the speeches just before 5 p.m, a procession of protesters, spanning two city blocks, departed from the plaza and proceeded towards the White House. Arabic pop music filled the air as participants enjoyed carrot sticks and crackers. Notably, some marchers carried symbolic coffins symbolizing the victims of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.
The majority of the demonstrators gathered outside the White House for approximately half an hour, engaging in chants before eventually dispersing.
According to Metropolitan Police Officer Elizabeth Grannis, one individual was apprehended for committing property damage during the protest in Washington, D.C. The suspect allegedly spray painted the windows of a business located in the 700 block of 17th Street, NW, as stated in a police announcement on social media.
In a social media update on Saturday evening, the traffic police informed that individuals were gradually dispersing from Lafayette Park, and the authorities are making preparations to reopen the previously closed roads.
At the White House complex, demonstrators were still being monitored by the police, as confirmed by Grannis. Anthony Guglielmi, the spokesperson for the U.S. Secret Service, informed USA TODAY that the protesters were still present, but an incident-free resolution was achieved when an attempt to trespass at a gate was addressed. Secret Service personnel confirmed that no arrests had been made.
The ADL claims the protest showed no concern for Israel’s hardships
The speeches delivered at Freedom Plaza were replete with sorrow regarding the devastation inflicted upon Gaza and indignation towards the ongoing conflict. However, it is noteworthy that during the Saturday event, none of the speakers publicly denounced Hamas or its assault on Israel, as stated by Meredith Weisel, the director of the Anti-Defamation League for the capital region.
During an interview, Weisel expressed his disappointment, stating that there was a complete absence of recognition towards the suffering endured by Israelis. Furthermore, he highlighted the concerning trend of legitimizing and justifying acts of violence against Israelis.
A contingent of protesters proudly displayed a banner adorned with the hashtag #AlAqsaFlood, which Hamas had coined to describe their audacious assault in the previous month.
There are individuals present today who are actively addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, as mentioned by Weisel. However, the majority of the individuals we have observed on the public platform have been providing justifications for the events that occurred on October 7th.
Protesters in Paris, London, and New York demand end to Gaza conflict.
Scores of demonstrators were seen marching through the streets of Midtown Manhattan towards the United Nations building on Saturday evening, as evidenced by circulating online images. The New York City Police Department confirmed temporary road closures due to the protest, but no arrests were reported. According to a text message from a City Hall spokesperson, Mayor Eric Adams was actively monitoring the demonstration.
No response was received from U.N. press officers on Saturday evening via email. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, demonstrators at the Port of Oakland in California climbed aboard a U.S. military ship that was thought to be en route to Israel on Friday.
On Saturday afternoon in London, a significant number of demonstrators flooded the Oxford Circus shopping and tourist district, resulting in the arrest of at least 11 individuals. The streets were effectively blocked as the demonstrators passionately chanted slogans in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
London’s Metropolitan Police stated that the disruption caused by this behavior is hindering the city’s normal operations, and they are taking swift action to restore the road’s functionality.
Thousands of individuals in Paris took to the streets, rallying for a cessation of hostilities in the wake of the October 7 assault on Israel. This marked the first authorized mass assembly by officials. Among the marchers was Wahid Barek, a retired 66-year-old, who expressed his opposition to the loss of life among both Israelis and Palestinians. In an interview with Reuters, he lamented the tragic deaths of innocent civilians on both sides, emphasizing their lack of involvement in these acts of violence. He concluded by deeming such circumstances truly disgraceful.
Demonstrators in Berlin, Istanbul, and Ankara, Turkey marched through the streets to express their opposition to the bombing of Gaza.
Toddlers and grandmothers join protest in D.C.
At 2:30 p.m., Pennsylvania Avenue and adjacent streets were filled with demonstrators as speakers commenced addressing the composed yet invigorated gathering. According to organizers, 40 buses transporting attendees were unable to access the plaza due to street closures. Consequently, the passengers traversed beneath skies adorned with streaks of clouds, striving to approach the rally as closely as possible.
The gathering encompassed individuals utilizing wheelchairs, young children, and individuals from diverse racial backgrounds donning the keffiya, a customary scarf worn in Arab regions. Numerous individuals grasped signs advocating for the cessation of the conflict in Gaza, with a few connecting the Palestinian struggle to global occurrences, exemplified by a placard stating: “From Palestine to Mexico, these barriers must be dismantled.”