A demonstration drew thousands to the White House and the streets of downtown Washington on Saturday afternoon as participants from across the country called for an end to the continued violence between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
“Free, free Palestine, killing children is a crime,” the crowd chanted, several holding Palestinian flags, cardboard boxes decorated as coffins and posters with graphic images of the wounded.
Demonstrators started arriving around 1 p.m. for the event, which was organized online by a diverse collection of more than 40 groups. Organizers said many arrived by bus from cities such as Chicago and New York, and many others drove from as far as Florida to participate. Police blocked off several streets, including 15th Street NW in front of The Washington Post’s offices, so that protesters could march.
“It’s an exceptionally large number of protesters,” said Araz Alali, a D.C. police spokesman, who said there were no disturbances during the protest.
Sab Sab, 25, took a bus from Ohio to contribute his voice to the chants.
“I’ve been protesting every Friday in Cleveland, so I wanted to come out to the national protest,” Sab said, walking with his wife and cousin. “I’m here to ask for an end to the war and the siege on Gaza.”
Mounia Bounkenafet, 38, of Falls Church, Va., marched with her four children, ages 3, 5, 7 and 12.
“Sometimes when they watch the news on Gaza, they start crying in front of the TV,” Bounkenafet said. “I don’t even want them to watch, but they’re curious, and when they ask I tell them the truth: ‘This is a big crime.’ ”
Bounkenafet said she thinks the United States should stop funding Israel, as one of her daughters pumped a fist in the air and shouted along with protesters.
Israel has said that it is responding to rockets fired into its territory from Gaza, and is trying to destroy tunnels through which militants have conducted raids into Israel. In addition, the Israelis have said they have issued warnings before attacks, and have accused militants of hiding arms amid civilian facilities.
The language used during the protest ranged from calling the violence “genocide” to focusing on peace for both sides. Many Jewish Americans were among the crowd, said Shelley Cohen Fudge, 57, of Silver Spring, Md. She is the D.C. metropolitan chapter coordinator for Jewish Voice for Peace.
“We have Arab Americans, Jewish Americans, people from Pakistan, people from all walks of life here,” she said. “There are many Jewish Americans who are very upset by the very disproportionate situation — it’s not a war, it’s an assault and an invasion.”
Caya Cagri, 60, of Kensington, Md., and her sister, Beyhand Trock, 59, of Bethesda, Md., don’t agree in all their views about the conflict, but both showed up to support peace in Gaza.
“Our mother’s Jewish and our father’s a Muslim,” Cagri said, explaining the family’s Turkish roots. “They had three daughters; one married a Jew, one married a Muslim and one married a Catholic.”
Cagri’s husband is Catholic and Trock’s is Jewish.
“They taught us to be accepting of other people, we’re all in one world — it’s about treating people with humanity,” Cagri said. “There are so many commonalities if people took the time to understand.”
“People have to leave their racism at the door,” Trock said. “Palestinians have the right to exist as humans and not under occupation.”
The sisters said the Muslim side of the family was in attendance Saturday but the Jewish side was not. They said that even in their family, conversations about the conflict were difficult to sustain without becoming emotional.
“Both sides feel victimized,” Trock said. “We also have our disagreements,” she added, gesturing at her sister, “but we don’t shoot each other.”
Zainab Chaudry, 32, of Columbia, Md., who is Maryland outreach director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that Florida teenager Tariq Abu Khieder , 15, who drew national attention for a video that appeared to show Israeli soldiers beating him while he was on a family trip in the West Bank, was among those in the crowd. Khieder posted a photo to his Instagram account showing his now-healed face as he posed in front of the White House on Saturday.