Tens of Thousands Gather in D.C. to Demand Ceasefire in Gaza
By Rana Nejad
Edited By: Alexandra Huggins
Over 300,000 people showed up on Saturday afternoon in peaceful protest of the war in Gaza, which started after Hamas launched a brutal surprise attack on Israel on October 7th. The demonstrations, which started in Washington D.C.’s Freedom Square, stretched back to the Capitol before concluding with a march to the White House.
Organized by nine groups and joined by over 500 organizations from across the country, the march aimed to advocate for a cease-fire and an end to the blockade on the Gaza Strip. Alongside several pro-Palestinian groups, other civil rights movements including student organizations, Black activists, labor unions, antiwar parties, and numerous US-Jewish groups showed up in solidarity. Organizations coordinated travel arrangements from 22 different states, spanning locations such as Texas, Florida, Kentucky, and Puerto Rico.
I spoke with a woman who requested anonymity, having traveled to DC from North Carolina solely for the protest. She shared that upon learning about the nationwide protest, she felt compelled, along with her friends, to attend and condemn the atrocities inflicted upon innocent civilians in Gaza. She described the experience of being surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people as “empowering” and said it provided a “sense of hope” after weeks marked by sadness and frustration.
Another woman I spoke to added, “Sometimes, [the] U.S. media can create the impression that there’s insufficient backing for the humanity of Palestinians.” She expressed that speaking out against the killing of innocent civilians served as a hopeful and constructive outlet for channeling the pent-up emotions of hopelessness, despair, and anger in light of the unchanging U.S. policy regarding the ongoing conflict.
U.S. officials have refrained from explicitly calling for a cease-fire but did urge Israel on Friday to implement a “humanitarian pause” in its military operations. This pause is intended to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza and secure the release of over 240 Israelis who Hamas currently holds hostage. Israel declined the proposed humanitarian pause, insisting that any form of cease-fire depends on the release of the hostages.
Recent figures from the Ministry of Health in Gaza indicate that approximately 10,000 Palestinians, predominantly civilians, have been killed due to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza following Hamas’s initial attack that killed more than 1,400 Israelis. In an article released late on Sunday, the Washington Post spoke with former and current Israeli military officials about the logic behind Israel’s indiscriminate military campaign—questioning the legality of such actions under international law.
Intense emotions permeated the atmosphere as signs and speakers accused Israel of committing genocide. Amidst the demonstrations, numerous participants chanted the phrase “from the river to the sea,” a call for freedom stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, which some interpret as a demand to eliminate Israel entirely. A statement from the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRCGW) cited that such chants “are rooted in the belief that Israel should not exist” and reiterated that Israel had the right to protect itself after a brutal terrorist attack.
Humanitarian organizations that provide care on the ground in Gaza, such as Doctors Without Borders, have called for a ceasefire. In a tweet on Saturday, the group stated: “This is a new low in an endless stream of unconscionable violence. The repeated strikes on hospitals, ambulances, densely populated areas, and refugee camps are disgraceful. How many people have to die before world leaders wake up and call for a cease-fire?”
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), an American-Jewish organization calling for a fair and peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has also spoken out in recent weeks calling for an immediate ceasefire.
President Biden is encountering strong opposition from a faction within his own party over the handling of the conflict. In response, Biden conveyed his concern for the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians in an October 25th statement, asserting that “Both Israelis and Palestinians possess an equal entitlement to live together in safety, dignity, and peace.” Despite these statements, numerous demonstrators marched along Pennsylvania Avenue, chanting “Genocide Joe” in reference to the President’s perceived failure to sufficiently denounce the significant civilian casualties in Gaza.
Nehad Awad, who serves as the Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), addressed the crowd during the Saturday protest, urging individuals to voice their support for Palestinians and appealing to President Biden to advocate for a cease-fire.
“The children of Gaza, the people of Gaza, rely on your voices, on your activism, and do not be scared, do not be intimidated by the university officials or the governors of your states when they declare that your activism is illegal,” Awad said.
President Biden, a vocal advocate for human rights, is currently under scrutiny from numerous pro-Palestinian voters at the dawn of an election year. People across the United States and worldwide are eagerly awaiting the U.S. administration’s response to the ongoing conflict, questioning whether Biden can uphold his reputation as a champion of human rights.