Washington sees 'largest pro-Palestine march in US history' as Israel bombs Gaza

Washington sees 'largest pro-Palestine march in US history' as Israel bombs Gaza
For one day in Washington, Palestinian flags outnumbered American flags on Pennsylvania Avenue as part of what is believed to be the largest pro-Palestinian demonstration in US history.
5 min read
Washington, D.C.
05 November, 2023
Some protesters led chants while others sat in front of the White House during a national march for Palestine in Washington, DC. [Laura Albast for The New Arab]

For one day in Washington, Palestinian flags outnumbered American flags on Pennsylvania Avenue, as tens of thousands of demonstrators descended on the US capital in what is believed to be the largest pro-Palestinian demonstration in US history.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, protesters gathered to demand a ceasefire of Israel's nearly month-long assault on Gaza. The military campaign – which has so far killed almost 10,000 Palestinians – has been continuous since the surprise attack by Hamas on 7 October that killed more than 1,400 Israelis.

Before the official start of the demonstration, it was clear it would be substantial. Hours before the gathering at Freedom Plaza (now nicknamed by protesters as Gaza Plaza) in downtown Washington, DC, protesters could be seen with their signs, keffiyehs, embroidered clothes, and flags throughout the city and suburbs; chartered buses from different states lined the streets downtown; and multiple cars parked along the protest route were decorated with Palestinian symbols.

As the crowd grew in numbers at Freedom Plaza, their chants and drumbeats could be heard from blocks away.
One by one, the speakers took the stage, defiantly insisting that they would not stop demonstrating until a ceasefire was reached.

Among the most adamant was Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations. Speaking in his personal capacity as a Palestinian American, he warned that US President Joe Biden could lose votes in 2024 if he did not pressure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to order a ceasefire.

"The language that President Biden and his party understand is the language of votes in the 2023 elections and our message is: No cease-fire, no votes," said Awad to a cheering crowd, noting that 66 percent of Americans support a ceasefire.

"No votes in Michigan, no votes in Arizona, no votes in Georgia, no votes in Nevada, no votes in Wisconsin, no votes in Pennsylvania," he said, naming the swing states that Biden won in 2020, starting with Michigan, the US state with the highest proportions of Arabs and Muslims.

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He said he was told that voters have short memories and that they'd forget by next November. But he warned that wouldn't happen, as led a chant saying, "In November, we remember."

The crowd continued to chant: "Free Palestine"; "Ceasefire now"; "From the river to the sea Palestine will be free"; "From Palestine to Mexico, the border walls have got to go"; and "Biden, Biden, you can't hide! We charge you with genocide!"

Across the sea of flags and keffiyehs, many attendees represented themselves and their affiliations through their signs. One sign read 'Queers for Gaza', while another read 'Jews demand a ceasefire'. Some held signs representing their state or city, with one reading 'Michigan for Palestinians', and another reading 'Baltimore for Palestinians'.

Ed Trager, a healthcare worker, who had traveled to Washington on a chartered bus from Michigan, had a suggestion for where his tax dollars should go. "Instead of bombing hospitals and schools, they should be building them," he told The New Arab.

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There were strong Black and Native American contingencies, and Black vendors selling T-shirts reading: Palestinian Lives Matter, using the same logo as the Black Lives Matter T-shirt. A Black speaker from the state of Georgia discussed their local struggle to shut down plans for a police training compound nicknamed Cop City. He also brought up the practice of US law enforcement traveling to Israel for training. 

A short walk away from Freedom Plaza, near the Washington Monument, the Mexican community had set up a display for Day of the Dead. Listed on their publicly displayed schedule of events was a moment of silence for Palestinians; a display with their traditional marigold flowers included a keffiyeh; and a large white board featured the iconic sketch of the Palestinian boy Handala, and this time he had a Native American sister drawn in the same style.

It took the entire crowd at least two hours to make the 10-minute walk from Freedom Plaza to the White House, a testament to the high turn-out, with the numbers difficult to gage, as participants continued to join the demonstration well into the evening.

Some appeared to be joining the march spontaneously. One woman, wearing her medical scrubs and a backpack, as though she'd just finished her shift at a nearby hospital, joined the march midway, yelling as she started walking, "Does anyone need a medic?"

Among the protesters that had packed into the front of the White House was Mohammad Lafi, who had traveled with a group of Arab friends from North Carolina.

"I have family in Palestine, and Palestinians have been facing persecution and genocide for over 75 years. I don't even know where to begin to be honest with you," he told TNA.

"We hope we can raise awareness and reach some hearts and minds that may be listening to us, and hopefully get some people off their butts in Washington so that they can help with the ceasefire," he said.

His friend, Walid Bouche, whose family is from Algeria, said: "They're trying to erase and destroy the Palestinian culture. We're here to say Palestine will always be here."

As the sun set, and marchers continued to crowd into the walkway in front of the White House, a large group sat down on the ground in protest. Others marched in circles. As night fell, many held up their phone flashlights for light. 

Some formed dance circles, as others danced to the rhythm of the roaring chants. Protest leaders said they wanted to be loud enough for the US administration to hear them. The news, however, had reported that the Bidens were away on vacation for the weekend in Delaware.