By Ron Kampeas
November 5, 2023
WASHINGTON (JTA) — Thousands of people protested against Israel and the U.S. government’s support of it in downtown Washington D.C., with some rushing the White House fence with cries of “Intifada” and “Free Palestine.”
The protest, which began at 2 p.m. on Saturday and lasted into the evening, called for a ceasefire in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, a demand Israel and the Biden administration have rejected. It filled at least four blocks around Freedom Plaza, just west of the White House. The gathering dwarfed a pro-Israel protest held in the same area several days after Hamas terrorists invaded Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,400 people, most of them civilians, and abducting more than 200.
Israel declared war on Hamas following the attack and has since then killed more than 9,000 people, including thousands of children, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza. What portion of those deaths are civilians is unknown. Israel says it has killed at least a dozen Hamas commanders and takes significant measures to avoid harming civilians.
There were similar protests drawing tens of thousands across major cities internationally, including in London, Paris, Istanbul and Berlin. Pro-Palestinian rallies also took place in Cincinnati, San Francisco and Provo, Utah.
The protesters in Washington were mostly young, including families who brought their children. Many protesters wore the black and white keffiyeh that is a symbol of Palestinian solidarity. One Dupont Circle book store that sells items promoting the Palestinian cause notified clients a day ahead of the protests that it had run out of the scarves.
Slogans printed on cardboard, on banners and shouted in chants ranged from calls for a ceasefire to calls for the end of Israel as a Jewish state. “We don’t want a Jewish state, we want 48!” went one chant, referring to the region’s status prior to Israel’s founding in 1948. Another chant, “From the river to the sea” is considered by many to be an antisemitic slogan calling for the elimination of Israel.
The most popular chants were “Free Palestine!” and “Intifada,” a word meaning “shucking off” that was the name of two violent Palestinian uprisings. The second intifada, from 2000 to 2005, killed an estimated 1,000 Israelis in a series of terror attacks, including on buses, at cafes and at recreational centers.
As evening set in, some protesters crushed up against the fence surrounding the White House complex, with some scaling the fence to wave a Palestinian flag, and others daubing the fence with red paint. There was one reported arrest for defacing a nearby McDonald’s with the word, “Gaza.”
Israel has refused a ceasefire until the hostages are returned and Hamas is deposed, aims shared by President Joe Biden, although there are differences between the U.S. and Israeli governments about how and how much Israel should facilitate the entry of humanitarian relief into Gaza. Biden is pressing Congress to approve $14 billion in emergency assistance for Israel.
Speakers at the rally blamed Biden for what they said was an emerging genocide.
“Today, we are here because the White House, the headquarters of war and imperialism, is forced to look at its own crimes directly,” one speaker said. “Every single Palestinian death, every shattered child, every home destroyed, every heart broken is blood on Biden’s hands. The Zionist colonists who are carrying out these unspeakable killings are fully equipped and paid by the White House that we can see from here.”
The rapper Macklemore also spoke at the rally. “I know enough that this is a genocide,” he said to cheers. He said he he had been urged to remain silent. “We have been taught to just be complicit to protect our careers to protect our interests. And I’m not going to do it anymore, and I’m not afraid.”
Some protesters brought small body bags marked with the names of children killed by Israeli counterstrikes. There was a smattering of Jewish pro-Palestinian protesters at the rally, bearing placards with slogans like “My grief is not your weapon.” Two Jewish groups that have placed the blame for the conflict primarily on Israel and that accuse it of genocide — the anti-Zionist Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow, held a rally last month at the U.S. Capitol calling for a ceasefire.
Washington Jewish organizations advised constituents before the march not to counterprotest.