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Hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters rally in the rain in DC to mark a painful present and past

Hundreds of protesters gathered within sight of the US Capitol, chanting pro-Palestinian slogans and expressing criticism of the Israeli and US governments.

WASHINGTON — Hundreds of protesters gathered within sight of the U.S. Capitol, chanting pro-Palestinian slogans and expressing criticism of the Israeli and U.S. governments as they marked a painful present — the war in Gaza — and a past – the exodus of some 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced to leave what is now Israel when the state was established in 1948.

About 400 protesters braved constant rain to gather on the National Mall on the 76th anniversary of what is known as the Nakba, the Arabic word for disaster. In January, thousands of pro-Palestinian activists gathered in the nation’s capital in one of the largest protests in recent memory.

There have been calls for Palestinian rights and an immediate end to Israeli military operations in Gaza. “No peace on stolen lands” and “End the killing, stop the crime/Israel out of Palestine” echoed through the crowd.

“Biden Biden, you will see that genocide is your legacy,” they said. The Democratic president was in Atlanta on Saturday.

Reem Lababdi, a sophomore at George Washington University who said she was pepper-sprayed by police last week when they broke up a protest encampment on campus, acknowledged that rain seemed to be dampening the numbers .

“I am proud of every person who came out in this weather to express their opinion and send their message,” she said.

This year’s commemoration was fueled by anger over the ongoing siege of Gaza. The latest war between Israel and Hamas began when Hamas and other militants stormed into southern Israel on October 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking 250 others hostage. Palestinian militants still hold around 100 prisoners and the Israeli army has killed more than 35,000 people in Gaza, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants.

President Osama Abuirshad, executive director of American Muslims for Palestine, gestured toward the dome of the Capitol building behind him.

“This Congress does not speak for us. This Congress does not represent the will of the people,” he said. “We pay for the bombs. We pay for F-16s and F-35s. And then we do the poor Palestinians a favor and send them food.

Speakers also expressed anger at the violent crackdown on several pro-Palestinian protest camps at universities across the country. In recent weeks, long-term encampments have been dismantled by police in more than 60 schools; just under 3,000 protesters were arrested.

“Students are the conscience of America,” said Abuirshad, who compared the university protests to earlier protest movements against the Vietnam War and against apartheid South Africa. “That’s why the authorities are working so hard to silence them.”

After the Arab-Israeli War that followed the creation of Israel, Israel refused to allow them to return because it would have resulted in a Palestinian majority within Israeli borders. Instead, they became a seemingly permanent refugee community that today numbers some 6 million people, most living in slum-like urban refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the occupied West Bank. by Israel. In Gaza, refugees and their descendants make up around three-quarters of the population.

At several points during the rally and subsequent march, demonstrators issued a call and response, with the speaker naming different cities in Israel and the occupied territories. The response: “raageh!” — Arabic for “I’ll be back!” »

Protesters marched for several blocks on Pennsylvania and Constitution avenues, while police cars closed the streets in front of them. A lone counter-protester, waving an Israeli flag, attempted to walk near the front of the procession. At one point, one of the protesters tore down his flag and ran away.

As tensions mounted, members of the protesters’ “security team” formed a tight phalanx around the man, both to hinder his progress and to protect him from the hotheads in the crowd. The confrontation ended when a police officer intervened, took the man away and told him to go home.


Associated Press writer Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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