Hundreds gather near White House to support Palestinians
On Sunday afternoon, 8 October, hundreds of Palestinian Americans and allies gathered at Lafayette Park near the White House. Then they marched to the State Department to demonstrate solidarity with Palestinians following surprise rocket attacks from Gaza on Saturday.
Most demonstrators were Palestinians, though activists from other communities came to show their support, including liberal Jews, Black liberation activists, communists, socialists and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Many came with their families, small children and dogs.
One by one, speakers stood in front of the White House fence and expressed their solidarity with Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.
"After 75 years, it's only a matter of time that retaliation becomes the only option," said a speaker from the group Maryland 2 Palestine.
"What we're seeing right now is unprecedented. It is something that many of us have never seen in our lifetimes, and the message that armed resistance fighters are sending us right now is that we will see liberation within our lifetime," the speaker said, followed by drum beats and applause.
"There are so-called progressives trying to undermine and stigmatise Palestinian resistance. Let me tell you something. If you can't stand firmly in solidarity with the Palestinian people, you ain't no kind of progressive," said Sean Blackmon, with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, a communist party.
Demonstrators alternated between different chants, including "Resistance if justified when people are occupied"; "One, two, three, four, occupation is a war. Five, six, seven, eight, Israel is a racist state"; and "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free".
After the speeches, the demonstrators marched down Constitution Avenue to the State Department, as the police blocked off traffic for their route and passersby stopped to watch and take pictures, with some joining in the march.
Among the marchers was Sameh Nasereddine, a Palestinian from Jerusalem who has been in the US since the 1990s and has been going back and forth since then. The rest of his family relocated to the US three years ago.
"We moved because the situation was really getting hard," he told The New Arab. He came out to demonstrate because, he said, "We are here in solidarity with Gaza, which has been under siege for years and years now. What we've seen in the news is like a prison break. Finally, people are breaking out, and a lot of countries, superpowers, are calling us terrorists."
He said, "We are not terrorists. We are very peaceful, and we are very hospitable, actually. But we have to break out of our prison cells. We've been imprisoned for no reason, and 75 years later, we're still asking for our basic rights, and nobody seems to care in this free new world."
He then emphasised that he is not against Jewish people, but his problem is with Israeli government policy.
His daughter, Maryam, a recent high school graduate born and raised in Jerusalem and who plans on pursuing her university degree in the US, told TNA, "My heart is still there. I'm here because I can't be back home. We show up where we can."
She said, "We've witnessed more than killings. We've been teargassed. We've been shot at. Our homes have been invaded. My grandpa went to jail. My cousins went to jail. Everyone in my family has been to jail or tortured in one way or another. This is for them. This is for everyone back home."
Sunday's demonstration in the US capital was one of many worldwide that was quickly organised following the outbreak of attacks the previous day.
The rocket attacks from Gaza, though appearing to give Hamas the upper hand in the first hours, have caused heavy civilian casualties, the deadliest attacks on Israel since the 1973 war.
As of Saturday evening in the US, the death toll for Israelis stood at around 700 and for Palestinians at about 400, an unusually high proportion for Israelis, leaving many Palestinians fearful of what comes next.