As Israel continues its fourth week of intense bombardment of the besieged Gaza strip, huge crowds of protesters have gathered to call for a ceasefire in Washington, D.C. as well as in other capital cities around the globe.
Saturday’s turnout is a continuation of protests that have emerged across the world in response to Israel’s intense retaliation for the October 7th Hamas terror attacks, which killed more than 1,400 people, including civilians and soldiers.
The nonstop Israeli bombardment has killed almost 10,000 people in Gaza, many of them civilians and a large portion of them children. Israeli airstrikes have targeted hospitals, schools, refugee camps, and ambulances, sparking outrage from the international community and warnings from rights groups that the strikes may constitute war crimes.
A livestream showed crowds almost filling Freedom Plaza, located nearby the National Mall and White House. Organizers told CNN they expected tens of thousands to attend.
The protests are “a testament of just how much more support has grown around the Palestinian solidarity movement and that people really want to see change come,” said Iman Abid-Thompson, director of advocacy at the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, one of the groups organizing the Washington D.C. protest, in an interview with CNN.
“This has now become a choice of morality,” she went on. “And I think you either choose to speak up and support the Palestinians or you choose to support a genocide.”
The protest drew Americans from cities across the country who traveled to the national’s capital on hundreds of buses organized by local community groups and progressive organizations.
In a statement, the International People’s Assembly, which also helped organize the protest, said “the march is set to be the largest in favor of Palestine in US history.”
Video from the demonstration show crowds of protesters, many of them wearing the kaffiyeh – a patterned scarf that has become a symbol of Palestinian identity – and carrying Palestinian flags. “Stop the massacre” and “Let Gaza live” read signs in the audience.
Multiple organizers directly addressed President Joe Biden, leading chants of “Biden, Biden, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide” and “no ceasefire, no votes.”
Over 450 organizations have endorsed the march, says the International People’s Assembly. In addition to an “immediate ceasefire,” the protesters are also calling for an end to US military aid to Israel and an end to the blockade on Gaza.
Palestinian activist and writer Mohamed el Kurd addressed the crowds, calling on them to consider “our martyrs’ lives, their grievances, their hobbies, and most of all I want you to consider the fear – the fear that they must have felt as warplanes soared over their heads.”
Rapper Macklemore also took to the stage, saying, “I don’t know everything, but I know enough that this is a genocide.”
“We have been taught to just be complicit, to protect our careers, to protect our interests,” he said. “I’m not gonna do it anymore, I’m not afraid to speak the truth.”
“This wave of protests that we are leading in the U.S. and across the world are amongst the largest we’ve seen for Palestine and speaks to the reality that Palestinians have had enough,” said Yara Shoufani, an organizer with the Palestinian Youth Movement, in an email to CNN. “For 75 years, the Palestinian people have been facing colonization and military occupation, and in the case of Gaza it has been an open-air prison due to Israel’s blockade.”
Shoufani said the protest serves as an opportunity to communicate the growing anti-war sentiment among a large swath of the American people, particularly as the president and other top officials have continued to avow support for Israel.
“We are making it clear to the U.S. administration that we reject this appalling act and reject Biden’s refusal to call for a ceasefire despite 66% of Americans supporting a ceasefire,” she told CNN, referring to the $14.3 billion military aid package for Israel passed by Congress this week. “We aim to send a message to the American public to join us in this mass movement, which is growing by the minute, and stands for freedom and justice.”
“And lastly, we aim to send a message to our people in Gaza that they are not alone: that we will not sit idly by while our government funds their genocide,” she added.
Abid-Thompson said the demonstration also serves as an opportunity to “showcase and center the dignity around Palestinian lives” and avoid normalizing mass Palestinian casualties.
Israeli authorities have rebuffed calls for a ceasefire, saying no ceasefire would be possible until all hostages are freed. Israel maintains it does not target civilians and its attacks on the strip are intended to eradicate Hamas, the militant Islamist organization that governs Gaza and is considered a terrorist group by the US and EU among other countries.
Demonstrators take to the streets across the world
In addition to Washington, D.C., pro-Palestinian protesters are also marching in other major cities across the world Saturday to demand a ceasefire.
Thousands of people gathered at London’s Trafalgar Square for the city’s third consecutive weekend rally, carrying Palestinian flags and banners bearing the phrases “Ceasefire now” and “Stop bombing children.” The Met Police estimated a turnout of 100,000 for the first solidarity march.
“40,000 people packed into Trafalgar Square today to stand with Palestine and demand a #CeasefireNOW,” the organizer of the event, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, posted on social media Saturday. London’s Metropolitan Police has not released any figures for the size of the demonstration.
Pro-Palestinian demonstrations also took place in other cities across the UK on Saturday, including Manchester, Oxford, Newcastle and Liverpool.
Thousands also took to the streets across Europe and Latin America to call for a ceasefire on Saturday, with demonstrations taking place in capital cities such as Paris, France; Berlin, Germany; Santiago, Chile; and Caracas, Venezuela.
Demonstrations also emerged in Philadelphia and New York in the US.
US officials have warned the Israelis uproar over the massive scale of civilian casualties has grown and may make it impossible for the IDF to carry out its stated objectives, as CNN previously reported.
In New York last week, hundreds of protesters from a Jewish organization calling for a ceasefire were arrested at Grand Central Station.
And on Friday, protesters at the Port of Oakland attempted to delay a military ship reportedly transporting military aid to Israel, according to CNN affiliate KABC-TV.
For Tahia Islam, an organizer with the People’s Forum in New York, increasing American support for the Palestinian cause is a natural outgrowth of social justice movements in the past years, including the 2020 protests over the death of George Floyd.
“So many people are connecting this moment to the ways of feeling what they know about the US government and what they’ve seen in the past few years of other protest movements, popular movements here,” she said in an interview with CNN.
She pointed to US military aid for Israel as one key point of contention.
“There’s a lot of clear energy that we don’t want all this money diverted into war, we want it for health care, for education, for housing,” she said.
“Our voices don’t feel represented at all,” she said. The protest offers a chance to “make a statement to the rest of the world” and to “disrupt the status quo.”
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