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Israel-Palestine war: Washington sees largest pro-Palestine protest in US history

More than 100,000 marched in the US capital, with demonstrators saying Israel's bombing of Gaza had awakened public consciousness
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators listen to speakers during a rally at Freedom Plaza in Washington on 4 November 2023 (MEE/Umar Farooq)
By Umar A Farooq in Washington

The capital of the United States saw more than 100,000 protesters fill Washington DC's streets on Saturday afternoon in support of Palestine and to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, becoming what organisers, attendees and observers said was the largest pro-Palestinian protest in US history.

The demonstration, which gathered at Freedom Plaza in downtown Washington before marching towards the White House, saw people coming from all across the US. It was organised by several groups, including the Palestinian Youth Movement, the National Students for Justice in Palestine and the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights.

Organisers said in a press statement on Sunday that the turnout was over 300,000.

The event was also supported by hundreds of other organisations and groups. Tens of thousands made their way on buses from all corners of the country.

Given its status as the country's capital, and being home to the three branches of government, Washington hosts protests of varying sizes on a regular basis.

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But Saturday's demonstration, according to protesters who spoke to Middle East Eye, was unlike anything seen in the capital before, not only in terms of size but also as a reflection of shifting attitudes in the US.

Several in attendance told MEE that the ongoing Israeli bombing campaign of Gaza, which has so far killed more than 9,000 Palestinians according to the health ministry, had triggered an awakening in the country's public consciousness. 

"I've posted different things on my Instagram, and people would DM me asking me what this is all about. Then [sic] they learn about it," said Tone Trump, a Muslim artist from Philadelphia, told MEE.

"It's waking up the world, and not just their hearts but their minds. Even myself, I have been learning so much over the past few weeks."

Demonstrators waved Palestinian flags, held placards accusing Biden of being complicit in genocide against Palestinians, and chanted "Free, free Palestine!" The protest drew comparisons to major anti-war protests throughout US history, including opposition to the Iraq War in 2002/03, and the mass mobilisation against the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

"This was a watershed moment for the Palestinian cause. US politicians can no longer say that they are in any way acting in the interests of their citizens," Yara Shoufani of the Palestinian Youth Movement said in a statement shared with MEE.

"What we saw today confirms that across the US there is resounding support not only for a ceasefire in Gaza, but also for Palestinian liberation and an end to the Israeli occupation of our land."

Follow our live blog for all the latest on the Israel-Palestine war

It also brought together a list of prominent and well-known personalities as speakers at the rally, including American rapper Macklemore.

“First and foremost, this is absolutely beautiful to observe today,” he told the crowd.

“They told me to be quiet. They told me to do my research, to go back, that it’s too complex to say something, right? To be silent in this moment. In the last three weeks I’ve gone back and I’ve done some research… I’m teachable. I don’t know enough. But I know enough that this is a genocide.”

'Inspiring and edifying'

The crowds were diverse in race, gender and age, but the protest appeared to consist of mostly young people.

Current polling has shown that less than half of Millennials and Gen Z Americans believe the US should publicly support Israel's war on Gaza, and in another poll only 32 percent of respondents between the ages of 18-34 approved of Israel's response to the 7 October attacks from Palestinian groups.

Catherine Wilkerson, a 74-year-old physician from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who has been advocating for Palestine for more than two decades, said the youth in the US are a source of inspiration as she continues her own activism.

"It is really inspiring and edifying. My daughter in Seattle is going to a protest there with her husband. My son who had to stay back with our grandchildren is going to a demonstration in Hamtramck," she said.

Protesters gather at Freedom Plaza on 4 November 2023.
Protesters gather at Freedom Plaza before beginning a march to the White House on 4 November 2023 (MEE/Umar Farooq)

Gregory’s Coffee, located about seven blocks away from Freedom Plaza, became a watering hole as demonstrators stopped by to grab a cup of coffee on their way to the rally. While there were many Starbucks locations much closer, many attendees were also participating in a boycott of that coffee chain, after it launched a lawsuit against its union for standing in solidarity with Palestine.

The coffee shop was filled with men and women alike wearing keffiyehs and carrying placards, and it was a mix of people stopping in before they went to the protest and those who were on their way back.

Khalil, a Palestinian man originally from Nablus and who travelled to Washington from Rhode Island, said that Saturday's protest was a sign that many people in America were finally realising what Israel was doing to Palestinians.

He went on to say that the amount of support for Palestine is heavily underreported in the American media, showing a video of the city hall of Worcester, Massachusetts raising the Palestinian flag in front of its building. The news was ignored by all but two local news outlets.

But as more Americans are turning away from cable channels and obtaining their news from social media and other outlets, Khalil said they are being opened up to more perspectives as well as facts when it comes to Israel and Palestine.

"People are starting to see the truth," Khalil said.

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