For Arabs accustomed to a post-9/11 United States that considered liberation movements terroristic and regarded Islam as a national security threat, the scenes in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 4 were a sight to behold.
People as far as the eye could see waved Palestinian flags, carried signs that listed Israel’s atrocities, and called for a ceasefire in Gaza. The Free Palestine National March on Washington was a symbol of how much discourse has changed, both in our humanization of Arabs and our understanding of Israel as a settler colonial state — but also how much remains undone.
“The Palestinian struggle is a struggle around land. It’s a struggle around rights,” said Mohammed Nabulsi, 31, of Houston, Texas, an organizer with the Palestinian Youth Movement, one of the groups who planned the event. “[This march] demonstrates the organization and growth of political power amongst Arabs, Palestinians, and Muslims. It’s good to see the fruits of the labor of the generations before.”
The march began at Freedom Plaza, where dozens of speakers detailed the struggles against colonialism and apartheid, calling for an immediate ceasefire, return of land, and ending U.S. aid to Israel. The speeches came from an eclectic selection of activists representing groups like Stop Cop City, Naturei Karta International Jews Against Zionism, and Landback, as well as public figures ranging from journalist Mohammed El-Kurd to rapper Macklemore.
Around 4 p.m., the march departed up 14th street, turning left on K street and looping to the White House, where protesters chanted “Genocide Joe has got to go.” If one waited at a point to watch the dense march, it would have taken over an hour to pass, with organizers estimating an attendance of over 300,000 people. The solidarity at the march was a testament to the extent to which Americans have been horrified by the recent footage from Gaza, as well as the organizing by the coalition who planned it, which included Al-Awda, the People’s Forum, and ANSWER.
For many, the protest was not just about solidarity, but also honoring their own family. Ranya Palmer, 52, came from Albany, New York with a sign that read, “The Old Will Die. We Will Never Forget. Grandchildren of 1948. Children of 1967,” a rebuttal to the first Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, who said “the old will die and the young will forget.”
“[Our] family was forced to flee [from Nablus, Palestine] and eventually ended up in Amman, Jordan, where they lived as refugees. […] When [my mother] and my grandmother were allowed to return to Nablus, there was a Jewish family living in their home,” said Palmer, “It upsets me that my tax dollars go to this year after year.”
In 1948, Israel violently seized 78% of Palestine, killing over 10,000 and displacing over 700,000 of the region’s Arab inhabitants in what is referred to as the Nakba, meaning catastrophe. Then in 1967, Israel displaced about 300,000 Palestinians by the end of the Six-Day War, during which they conquered more land, razed Palestinian villages, and forced refugees out of camps. This context was fresh on protesters’ minds, but people convened because of the Israeli siege on Gaza that has killed over 10,000 Palestinians, including over 4,000 children, since Oct. 7.
“What we experienced in the 1800s was settler colonization and that project is the exact same thing that we’re seeing our Palestinian relatives experience today. My ancestors did not survive for us to allow this to happen to a whole other people,” said community organizer Krystal Two Bulls, 38, of the Oglala Lakota and Northern Cheyenne Territories. “The United States needs to stop funding apartheid, stop funding genocide, stop funding settler colonialism.”
Outraged that only one Senator has called for a ceasefire and the House of Representatives passed a $14.3 billion aid package to Israel, people came from all over the country to protest. Signs abounded with messages like “Stop U.S. Backed Israeli Genocide Against Palestine” and “United States of Arms Dealers.”
To visualize the violence, bloody body bags with the names of those killed in the conflict lined Freedom Plaza. Many at the march reported coming due to the duty they feel as tax-paying contributors to the bloodshed.
“We could stop this right now if Biden would veto aid to Israel,” said Joanie Weber, 60, a mail courier who came from Lake Hughes, California with her friend. “We were both sitting in our house crying and feeling useless, so we decided to show up.”
The march was diverse, as people of all ages came to demand an end to the genocide and build a longterm peoples movement, which could include the sovereignty of Puerto Rico and hundreds of indigenous nations, as well as the liberation of workers from the hegemony of international capitalism.
“Palestine’s destiny is our destiny as Puerto Ricans who are also occupied,” said Rafael Olivera Cintron, 24, of Orlando, Florida.
This sentiment was echoed by Sean Emory, 25, who is a Socialist Alternative member from Philadelphia, “The creation of Israel, the development of the occupation, the continued expulsion of the Palestinians, was done […] for the interests of international capitalism,” said Emory.
Many felt alone in their secluded part of the United States and were in awe of the community they witnessed. Robert Nowak, a 74-year-old retired man from North Bennington, Vermont was one of them. “When I demonstrate for the Palestinians [in Vermont], I’m on the corner by myself.”
The march did have policy demands, but raising awareness and building the movement for the future was equally central. As some of the speakers explained, understanding the system and the suffering it causes is the first step to changing it.
“[My family] was kicked out of their homes in the 1948 and 1967 horrors. So they had to flee and come here as refugees,” said Abdullah Badwan, 26, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, “[The US] needs to listen and understand the pain that’s been ongoing for 75 years. They need to stop funding and supporting a regime that’s killing innocent kids.”