Thousands of people gathered at Freedom Plaza, near the White House on Saturday, January 13th, to demand a ceasefire in Gaza and an end to United States aid to Israel.
Amidst a sea of multi-colored flags, chants of “Free Free Palestine” resonated, and signs demanding a “Cease Fire Now” and an end to the “War in Gaza” were prominently displayed.
Some protesters accused the Israeli government of apartheid and U.S. President Joe Biden of genocide.
Since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas conflict, which escalated following an attack by Hamas on Israel, over 23,000 Palestinians have been reported killed.
The Washington rally was part of a worldwide series of pro-Palestinian protests occurring in major cities such as London, Rome, and Johannesburg.
The American Muslim Task Force for Palestine and other aligned organizations spearheaded the march to highlight what they consider to be Israel’s “crimes against humanity.” They assert that acknowledging a fully recognized Palestinian state aligns with U.S. national interests.
The task force also demanded that Israeli officials be held accountable for what they referred to as the “Gaza genocide” and urged the initiation of credible peace negotiations to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Many attendees traveled long distances to express their dismay over the war and the U.S. support of Israel’s military actions, which have led to thousands of casualties and displacement in Gaza.
According to Oxfam, the Israeli airstrikes have led to the displacement of 1.8 million out of the 2.3 million Palestinians residing in Gaza, leaving substantial portions of the besieged region, situated between Israel, the Mediterranean Sea, and Egypt, in ruins and covered in debris.
One of the speakers addressing the Washington crowd through a video link was Al Jazeera journalist Wael al-Dahdouh, who lost his wife, daughter, two sons, and a grandchild to Israeli airstrikes.
During his address, al-Dahdouh shed light on the dire circumstances faced by Palestinians in Gaza as they endured Israeli bombardment.
Al-Dahdouh said, “The people are paying an exorbitant price, and are living a disastrous life. People do not have sustenance, food or drink, a place to sleep, a bathroom, and what is necessary for a life, not for a decent life, rather what is basically necessary to maintain life.”
Merveen Adwan, a former Gaza resident now living in Montgomery County, voiced her distress to the Washington Post, stating, “Israel is committing genocide under the eyes of the whole world, with the aid of the U.S., and the rest of the world accepts that. If there is no justice in Gaza, that means there can be none in the whole world.”
Other attendees like Ahmed Jarrar and Mahmoud Khalil, founders of Toronto 4 Palestine and Montreal 4 Palestine, respectively, emphasized the importance of attending the rally in the U.S. capital as a moral obligation.
Mariam Khalid, an 18-year-old from Chicago, highlighted her dual identity as an American and an Arab woman, protesting against her tax dollars contributing to what she termed a “genocide.”
The protest, which saw heavy police presence, remained mostly peaceful, although D.C. Police Chief Pamela A. Smith reported some instances of illegal behavior.
The march concluded near the White House with chanting and singing, even as President Biden had left for Camp David earlier in the day.
The event included speeches by various activists and political figures, including presidential candidates Cornel West and Jill Stein, along with Ilyasah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X. They all called for an immediate ceasefire and criticized the U.S. government’s involvement in the conflict.
The protest on Saturday follows Israel’s rejection of South Africa’s allegations at the International Court of Justice that Israel is engaged in genocide in Gaza.
Israel contended that the increasing casualty count in Gaza was an inevitable outcome of its conflict against a militant force that has positioned itself within civilian regions and aims to replicate the attacks of October 7.