Thousands of protesters gather in DC to call for a cease-fire in Gaza

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(WASHINGTON) — Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters came together Saturday to call for a cease-fire and an end to the siege on the Gaza Strip at a march in Washington, D.C.’s Freedom Plaza. The protest was organized by nine groups and has participation from over 500 groups from around the country, according to organizers.

Photos of the peaceful march, which called for a cease-fire and the end to the Israeli government’s siege on Gaza, that started in retaliation of Hamas’ surprise terror attack on Israel on Oct. 7, show thousands gathered in the streets of D.C. Following a rally, the protesters marched to the White House.

“Israel, with the full backing of the U.S. government, is carrying out an unprecedented massacre in Gaza. Thousands of Palestinians are being killed with bombs, bullets and missiles paid for by U.S. tax dollars,” A.N.S.W.E.R., a group called Act Now to Stop War and End Racism which is one of the groups organizing the protest, wrote on its website.

According to A.N.S.W.E.R., 300,000 people showed up to the protest.

U.S. officials have resisted calling for a general cease-fire, but have urged humanitarian “pauses” to allow civilians to exit Gaza and for aid to flow in.

Other groups leading the organization of the protest were Palestinian Youth Movement, American Muslim Alliance, The People’s Forum, National Students for Justice in Palestine, Al-Awda: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN), U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR), Maryland2Palestine.

The groups arranged transportation from 22 states, including Texas, Florida and Kentucky, and Puerto Rico.

Nearly 9,500 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, since Israel began a bombing and ground campaign in the Gaza Strip after the Hamas attack killed more than 1,400 Israelis, according to Israeli officials.

Doctors Without Borders, which has physicians providing care on the ground in Gaza, called on Saturday for a cease-fire.

“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?” the group said in a Tweet.

“Gaza is being bombed by the hour. Its people are denied food, water and electricity by Israel. Tens of thousands more people are likely to die. We must ACT!” the group organizing the protest wrote on its website.

Numerous speakers took the stage speaking to a massive crowd, chanting, “Free, free Palestine.”

“We formed this coalition, a small group of organizations, 15 days ago and if you walk around here now we can see that in two weeks time there has come together the largest demonstration in U.S. history to support the Palestinian people,” said Brian Becker, the national coordinator of the A.N.S.W.E.R. coalition, a group of anti-war and civil rights organizations.

“We send a strong message to Joe Biden. If you stand with genocide, then we charge you with genocide,” Becker said.

President Biden is facing vocal opposition from a small group in the progressive wing of his own party on what they suggest is his bias toward Israel and against Palestinians following the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel. Biden said on Oct. 25 that the lives on both sides are precious.

“Israelis and Palestinians equally deserve to live side by side in safety, dignity, and peace,” the president said during a joint news conference with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Nehad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations, took the stage at Saturday’s protest to encourage people to speak out in support of Palestinians and called on President Biden to call 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.

“We appeal to [President Biden] to take a moral position to recognize 2.3 million civilian residents trapped in Gaza and under the attack of the Israeli war,” Awad said.

“Mr. President, enough is enough. Call for an immediate and unconditional cease-fire right now,” Awad said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday he used his most recent face-to-face meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make the U.S. case for temporary pauses in the fighting, which he argued were critical to protecting civilian lives, allowing humanitarian aid to move into Gaza and boosting efforts to free the scores of hostages held in the enclave for nearly a month — laying out the administration’s updated strategy for managing fallout from the conflict.

Israeli officials have claimed that their goal is to eradicate Hamas and said they are against a ceasefire.

Dr. Omar Suleiman, the founder of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research and a professor at Southern Methodist University in Texas, also took the stage before protesters.

“We are sick and tired of the rhetoric. We are sick and tired of the occupation. We do not just demand an end to the current bombardment of Gaza. We demand an end to the occupation. We demand an end to apartheid. We demand freedom in every sense of the word,” Suleiman said.

American Rapper Benjamin Hammond Haggerty, better known by his stage name “Macklemore,” told the crowd he has been discouraged from speaking on this conflict, but he felt compelled to attend the protest and called for a cease-fire.

“They told me to be quiet. They told me to do my research, to go back, that it is too complex to say something, to be silent in this moment. In the last three weeks, I’ve gone back and I’ve done some research. And I am teachable, I don’t know enough but I know enough that this is a genocide,” Macklemore said.

“I’m not afraid to speak the truth,” Macklemore said.

Mohammed El-Kurd, a Palestinian who grew up in Jerusalem and became known for his protest of the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, also took the stage imploring people to consider the fear Palestinians living in Gaza “must have felt” while under attack, minutes before they were killed.

“I want us to take a few minutes to consider the magnitude of loss of life currently happening in the Gaza Strip. I want us to consider what it means to lose 10,000 people; for 10,000 people to be killed by Israeli war planes. Consider their families and their grief. Consider their lovers. Consider the people missing them. Consider our martyrs’ lives,” El-Kurd said.

“We cannot sit in the corner quietly as they kill our people,” El-Kurd, said. “We need to speak out.”

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