WASHINGTON – Hours after Israel launched an air strike on a Gaza media tower, hundreds of protesters marched from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Capitol on Saturday afternoon to protest Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people.
“People think they can be neutral about this. That’s absolutely wrong, ”said 17-year-old Alexandra-Ola Chaic, who was traveling to the rally with her Palestinian family from Burke, Virginia. “We have to do what we can to make this an issue that has political support.”
The protest was one of several planned across the country for Nakba Day. The Palestinians observe every May 15 to commemorate the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948 during the Israeli War of Independence. The protest in Washington was organized by local branches of the Palestinian Youth Movement and American Muslims for Palestine, but news of the march largely spread through social media and word of mouth, including during Friday prayers in local mosques.
The crowd that gathered varied in age and background and included many families with young children.
Ruth Soto, 25, from Northern Virginia came with her sister to show solidarity with the Palestinians. She said the displacement of the Palestinians felt personal to her because her family fled the war in Central America to come to the US illegally.
“We saw the fight when we were evicted from home,” she said. “That way we can help them.”
Palestine-born Zeina Hutchinson came from Ashburn, Virginia to protest with her husband and two sons, ages 12 and 13. She said it was important to her that her sons remembered their Palestinian roots and continued to fight for people’s independence. Ms. Hutchinson reiterated the wish of many demonstrators that the government end aid to Israel and sanction the country because of the current conflict.
“I am here to call on Congress, every elected representative, to condition aid to Israel and sanction Israel. Because what is happening is incomprehensible, ”she said.
Omar Hudhud, a senior at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, came with his sister Salma and mother Inam, who is Palestinian and was born and raised in Jerusalem.
“Seeing a lot of people of different races and differences,” he said, “just made it feel like we were all together.”
Inam Hudhud said she felt helpless when she saw footage of rocket attacks on Palestinian communities. “It hurts my heart,” she said. “At least I can come here and protest. It’s the best i can do “
Protests also broke out in other parts of the world on Saturday::
Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters, many waving Palestinian flags or wearing traditional kaffiyeh scarves, gathered in the city center Auckland, New Zealand, as well as at smaller rallies across the country. The march was planned weeks in advance for Nakba day. The protesters called on New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to condemn Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and to expel Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand.
Natasha Frost contributed to the coverage.