Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Thousands gather outside White House to protest war in Gaza



WASHINGTON — Thousands of people from cities across the country gathered outside the White House on Saturday to protest the Biden administration’s policy toward the Israel-Hamas war, many dressed in keffiyehs and red clothes to symbolize what they say is a red line that Israel crossed.

Hundreds of protesters held a red banner that stretched around the White House, urging President Joe Biden to change his approach to the war in Gaza.

“Biden, Biden you can’t hide, we are your red line,” protesters chanted.

NBC News has reached out to the White House for comment.

“The intention is to draw a red line where Biden won’t draw one when it comes to Israel’s genocide in Gaza, and say we as the people are drawing the red line today to say enough is enough,” said Nas Issa, a protester from the Palestinian Youth Movement. “It’s time for an arms embargo, and it’s time to end this.”

Some of the protesters boarded buses to the protest from cities including New York City, Philadelphia and Boston, according to one of the organizing groups’ X posts.

“Sometimes it feels a little helpless because everyone talks about the fact that it started October 7. Meanwhile, there’s been decades of oppression, illegal detentions, illegal occupations, illegal settlements,” said Ibrahim Daboud, who drove to D.C. from Nashville.

Daboud attended the protest with his two sisters. The three siblings of Palestinian descent traveled from Canada, Tennessee and North Carolina for the protest.

Daboud and his sister Dania voted for Biden in 2020 — their third sister attending the protest is not an American citizen — but neither plan to support him this November.

“I regret everything,” Dania Daboud said of her 2020 vote, adding that she “will never vote for him again.”

Similarly, Qais Musmar, who traveled from Springfield, Virginia for the protest, said that he voted for Biden in 2020, adding, “I kind of regret it right now.” He said he would probably vote for an independent candidate in November, though “there’s a lot that [Biden] could do” to change his mind.

Ehab Abutavikh traveled from near Paterson, New Jersey to participate in this protest, his first, with his cousin and aunt. Abutavikh’s family is from Gaza and about a dozen family members have died in the war, he said.

He said his message to the White House was that they needed to “open their eyes” and “end what’s happening.” Abutavikh was not old enough to vote in 2020 and said he does not know yet how he plans to vote in November.

Organizers and politicians, including Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein and Socialism Party candidate Claudia De la Cruz, railed against the Biden administration during speeches in the park directly across from the White House.

“Biden can stop the genocide that is currently happening in Gaza,” De la Cruz said. “He could stop it, but it goes against all his interests. And so we are here to say that we are the red line.”

The messages from protesters ranged from pushing for an end to the war and a change in U.S. policy, to calls against a two-state solution.

“We don’t want no two state, we’re taking back ’48,” some protesters chanted, referring to the 1948 war that led to the establishment of the state of Israel.

A group of protesters also yelled, “say it loud, say it clear, we don’t want no Zionists here.”

Hundreds of signs dotted the crowds, many with messages like “lift the siege on Gaza now” and “genocide is our red line,” but a few had controversial messages including a sign that said “f— Israel, stand with Hamas.” Another sign displayed a Star of David with red handprints around it.

A handful of protesters wore green headbands that appeared to be similar to those worn by members of Hamas.

One protester wearing the headband said that it was “Hamas’ one,” though the protester said he does not speak Arabic and was not sure what it said. When asked if he supported Hamas, the protester, who would not give his name, said that he “wouldn’t say supporter, I would say maybe sympathizer.”

Hamas is designated by the U.S. to be a terrorist organization and spearheaded the Oct. 7 attack on Israel where about 1,200 people were killed and around 240 taken hostage, according to Israeli officials. More than 36,000 people in Gaza have been killed since the war began, according to the Gazan health ministry, and it is unclear how many are civilians versus militants.

But the vast majority of protesters did not espouse pro-Hamas views.

Rob Stephens, who lives in D.C., said that he wanted to join the protest because his mother was a Holocaust survivor.

“I think she would be here too,” he said, adding that she would be “appalled.”

Stephens voted for Biden in 2020 and plans to vote for the president again this November because he does not “want a fascist, wannabe Hitler,” appearing to refer to former President Donald Trump.

Multiple statues in Lafayette Square across from the White House were vandalized during the protest with spray paint, graffiti and painted red handprints. Protesters attached signs reading slogans such as “Hands off Rafah! Stop the genocide!” to statues. Some graffitied slogans such as “free Gaza,” “kill pigs” and “f— pigs” to the statues.

Police said they attempted to arrest one person who climbed a statue, but members of the crowd intervened. The police deployed pepper spray and the person got away.

Biden is currently in France, not at the White House.

The president’s rhetoric toward Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has become increasingly critical in recent months.

Just days ago, Biden said in an interview with Time magazine that there was “every reason” to believe that Netanyahu was prolonging the war for political gain. Biden has previously said that Netanyahu was making a “mistake” with his handling of the war.



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