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Tens of thousands gather for pro-Palestinian march in D.C. to demand Gaza cease-fire

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Washington, D.C., on Saturday. It was one of the biggest pro-Palestinian protests in the U.S.
Tyrone Turner
/
DCist/WAMU
Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Washington, D.C., on Saturday. It was one of the biggest pro-Palestinian protests in the U.S.

At least tens of thousands of people gathered in the nation's capital on Saturday for one of the biggest pro-Palestinian protests in the U.S. since the Israeli bombardment of Gaza began in response to the attack by Hamas militants last month.

Protesters are pushing for a cease-fire in Gaza, where health officials say thousands of Palestinians have been killed in Israeli airstrikes.

The event, organized by several pro-Palestinian groups, began with an afternoon rally at Freedom Plaza, before crowds began a march in a loop past the White House a few blocks away.

Protesters hold cloth bundles with the names of Palestinian children who were killed by Israeli attacks.
Tyrone Turner / DCist/WAMU
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DCist/WAMU
Protesters hold cloth bundles with the names of Palestinian children who were killed by Israeli attacks.

At the rally, speakers' chants and messaging centered on calls to end U.S. funding for Israel in the war, accusing President Biden of backing a "genocide" of Palestinian people.

Nour Jaghama, a Palestinian organizer for the anti-war organization Code Pink, asked the crowd: "Why we can hear these words and firsthand accounts from Gaza yet the genocide still continues? Why do only 18 representatives and only one senator support a cease-fire?"

At Saturday's rally, protesters held a moment of silence for those killed in Israel's response offensive. More than 9,480 Palestinians have been killed by Israel's military attacks over the last four weeks, according to Gaza's health ministry.

A massive crowd gathered in downtown Washington, D.C. to support Palestinians.
Tyrone Turner / DCist/WAMU
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DCist/WAMU
A massive crowd gathered in downtown Washington, D.C. to support Palestinians.

Israel has tightened its siege on Gaza City in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, the focus of its expanded ground offensive in its stated campaign to defeat Hamas after the militant group carried out attacks on Israeli communities on Oct. 7 that killed about 1,400 people.

The event drew supporters from cities across the country, selling out bus seats for many departure points including Portland, Maine; Boston; Columbus, Ohio; Miami; and at least 10 buses from New York City.

People pause to pray during the rally. Protesters came from across the country to join the rally.
Tyrone Turner / DCist/WAMU
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DCist/WAMU
People pause to pray during the rally. Protesters came from across the country to join the rally.

Younass Barkouch, 24, came from Jersey City, N.J., to attend the march. He said that while his family comes from Morocco, he is protesting first and foremost as an American.

"I was raised to believe that the United States condemned atrocities, war crimes, heinous government acts wherever they saw them. Regardless of who committed them," he said.

He believes Israel's response has been disproportionate. He wants a cease-fire and for mediators to come together to resolve the conflict.

Ammara Rana, 39, grew up in Maryland. As a Muslim herself, she said, it was emotional to see the show of solidarity for a Muslim-majority people.

"The unity is amazing — to see so many Americans come out — and I hope Joe Biden sees what he's losing," Rana said. "He's going to lose the vote if he doesn't do anything to stop this."

"We all voted for him for equality," she continued. "And if he doesn't give everybody that right, then he's hopefully not going to be our next president."

Protesters walk underneath a large Palestinian flag. Protesters are pushing for a cease-fire in Gaza.
Tyrone Turner / DCist/WAMU
/
DCist/WAMU
Protesters walk underneath a large Palestinian flag. Protesters are pushing for a cease-fire in Gaza.

Pedro Kremer, 48, was raised Jewish in Argentina and now lives outside D.C. He says he was taught that Jews seek justice "everywhere and for everyone."

"What is happening right now is the farthest that justice can be," he said.

Protesters march through Washington, D.C., on Saturday. U.S. officials have so far stopped short of demands for a cease-fire, but pressed Israel on Friday for a "humanitarian pause" in its military offensive.
/ Pierre Kattar for NPR
/
Pierre Kattar for NPR
Protesters march through Washington, D.C., on Saturday. U.S. officials have so far stopped short of demands for a cease-fire, but pressed Israel on Friday for a "humanitarian pause" in its military offensive.

His stance, questioning Israel's leadership, has created a rift between family and friends, he says — even his best friend, who called him antisemitic. Kremer, who pushed his baby in a stroller during the march, said there's no difference between the value of his son's life or that of a child living in Gaza.

All attendees NPR spoke to at the march expressed support for a cease-fire.

U.S. officials have so far stopped short of demands for a cease-fire, but pressed Israel on Fridayfor a "humanitarian pause" in its military offensive to allow more aid to enter Gaza and for the release of the more than 200 hostages being held by Hamas.

Protesters gather outside the White House on Saturday. President Biden has requested more than $14 billion in military aid for Israel.
/ Pierre Kattar for NPR
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Pierre Kattar for NPR
Protesters gather outside the White House on Saturday. President Biden has requested more than $14 billion in military aid for Israel.

Israel rejected such a pause, saying any sort of cease-fire is contingent on the release of hostages. Later Friday, an Israeli airstrike had hit an ambulance near Al Shifa, a main hospital in Gaza. Palestinians said more than a dozen people were killed in the strike; Israel's military said the target of the bombing was Hamas, whose members Israel says have been using sensitive sites for cover.

The U.S. has given billions in military aid to Israel for years. President Biden last month asked Congress for more than $14 billion in military aid for Israel.

Emma Bowman reported from Los Angeles. Laurel Wamsley reported from Washington, D.C.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Emma Bowman
Laurel Wamsley
Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.