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Voices from Largest Pro-Palestinian Protest in U.S. History: Stop the Siege on Gaza Now!

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Tens of thousands marched from Washington, D.C.'s Freedom Plaza to the White House Saturday in the largest pro-Palestinian demonstration in U.S. history. Democracy Now!'s Messiah Rhodes, María Taracena and Hany Massoud spoke to protesters who condemned the U.S. government’s support for Israel and called for a ceasefire in Gaza. We also play excerpts from speakers at the protest rally, including lawyer Noura Erakat, musician Macklemore and writer Mohammed El-Kurd.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

As the Health Ministry in Gaza says the death toll from Israel’s bombardment of Gaza for the last month, since October 7th, when Hamas attacked, has reached nearly 10,000 Palestinians. People took to the streets around the world this weekend to call for a ceasefire. They marched in Paris; in London; in Jakarta, Indonesia; in Milan, Italy; in Dakar, Senegal; in Athens, Greece; in San Francisco; in Turkey and more. On Saturday, in Washington, D.C., tens of thousands, perhaps 100,000 — organizers say as many as 300,000 — people marched from Freedom Plaza, which they dubbed “Gaza Plaza,” to the White House in the largest pro-Palestinian demonstration in U.S. history. Democracy Now! was there. Democracy Now! producers Messiah Rhodes and María Taracena spoke with some of the protesters.

PROTESTERS: Free, free Palestine! Free, free Palestine! Free, free, free Palestine! Free, free, free Palestine!

AHMAD MALKAWI: I’m Ahmad Malkawi. I’m here to support stopping the war in Gaza now.

MESSIAH RHODES: How far did you travel to get here? And what would you say to Joe Biden if he was here right now?

AHMAD MALKAWI: I traveled nine hours from Kentucky, Louisville, Kentucky. Joe Biden, stop. Please stop the war. No more war.

OMAR ALKHALDI: My name is Omar Alkhaldi. We traveled from Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s absolutely unbelievable, what’s going on in Palestine right now. How many more children need to die?

MESSIAH RHODES: How does it feel to see all this support here right now?

OMAR ALKHALDI: Hamdulillah, Alhamdulillah. It’s very, very nice. We have a lot of people here today. There’s over maybe 100,000 people here in support of Palestine. And that shows that the crimes of Israel are coming out. Right? They’re losing the media war at the end of the day. A lot of people are being complacent with what’s going on in Israel, and they’re on the wrong side of history, unfortunately.

SARAH: My name is Sarah [phon.]. I’m an Egyptian American. And I am inspired to be here to stand for what is right. And what is right is to stop the genocide and to stop the ethnic cleansing.

MARÍA TARACENA: And who are you here with?

SARAH: I’m here with my family, my mother.

SARAH’S MOTHER: I feel terrible. I can’t sleep during the night. I can’t imagine what’s gone on. They kill kids, infant, women. That’s not fair, not fair for anybody, any human being.

MARÍA TARACENA: What is your message to mothers in Gaza?

SARAH’S MOTHER: I support her all the way. I wish was here right now. I feel sorry for her, but I can’t do anything, just to come here to support her.

PROTESTERS: Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now!

NASSER ABU SITTA: Nasser Abu Sitta. I’m from Gaza, Palestine. And I am here to urge everybody who is making decisions in this government to stop killing children, stop destroying the city. That’s not how wars are fought. This is not how we resolve the problems. We are just making it worse.

MARÍA TARACENA: You’re from Gaza. Do you have family there? Are you in touch with anyone there right now?

NASSER ABU SITTA: I do. We are in touch on and off as situations allow.

MARÍA TARACENA: How are they? What are they describing to you? And what does it feel like to be here as this is happening?

NASSER ABU SITTA: They have been through so many wars, and this is the most horrifying experience they ever had. They are, just day and night, bombardment, behind them, above them, around them. And they are lucky to be alive. That’s how they look at it.

MARÍA TARACENA: Where in Gaza is your family?

NASSER ABU SITTA: Well, it depends what day you’re asking. They moved four times so far, from one place to the other.

PROTESTER 1: [chanting in Arabic]

JEFF WALKER: My name is Jeff Walker. I think it’s important for us to be here today because we see oppression happening all over the place, you know, and I think, like, if we allow oppression to continue to happen without saying nothing, then it’s going to continue to exacerbate.

MESSIAH RHODES: And why is it important to bring your kids here today? Why be here today?

JEFF WALKER: I always tell them to be on the right side of history, you know? And absolutely, it’s because the things that’s happening to Palestine are the things that we’ve also been subjected to, you know, in our time in America here, as well. And so, I tell my kids to understand what’s going on in this country, and let them know that — give them a quote that Malcolm X said, you know: The media will have you praising oppressor and shaming the oppressed. And so I just want my kids to mindful of, you know, how Palestinians stood up for us and spoke up around Black Lives Matter, then we also gotta speak up for them, as well.

MARÍA TARACENA: What’s your name? Where are you from? And what inspired you to be here with your children, with your family?

RAJA DIAZ: I’m Raja. My name is Raja Diaz [phon.]. I’m Palestinian. This is Suhaila. She’s just turned 1. And we just had a beautiful birthday party for her, right after everything happened. I was going to cancel because of what’s happening in Gaza. But then I looked at the children there, and I said, “For the children’s sake, I’m going to have something for her and other children to enjoy,” because they — what crime do they have? They don’t know what’s happening. And I’m here with my Palestinian children to give a voice for the Palestinians that are there back home that have no voice and are being killed by this brutal occupation and genocide that the U.S. — we live here, and our tax dollars are supporting this. And this is a big problem, a big issue, and we want this to end as soon as possible. We don’t want no money for Israel. They’re committing war crime after war crime, and nothing is being done. It’s ridiculous. No other place in the world gets this immunity. No other place.

MARÍA TARACENA: What’s your message to mothers in Gaza that have lost their children and have lost sometimes multiple of their family members?

RAJA DIAZ: It’s absolutely horrific. You know, me and my mom, we watch these videos, and we just cry and cry and cry. But we’re going to tell them: Be strong and keep moving forward, because we’re not going to stop fighting for you.

NAWAL KHALIL: They killed our kids! They don’t have gun! They don’t do any crime! Why? Why? I ask why then. This is the blood on your hand! You killed the kids! Why? This what they do for you, these kids. Oh my God!

MESSIAH RHODES: What are you holding? What’s your name?

NAWAL KHALIL: My name is Nawal Khalil. I am here because — to support Gaza. They killed babies. Babies, they don’t have gun. Why? Why? I want to ask why then. Why they kill the babies? Give me an answer, please! Please!

PROTESTER 2: They give them time to kill. This is our president. He give more time, long time, to kill more.

PROTESTERS: What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now! What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now! If we don’t get it? Shut it down!

HADDY ALREZ: My name is Haddy Alrez. I live in a suburb of Philadelphia. So, we drove down. These are my kids and my nieces and nephews. My parents lived through the 1948 wars and were displaced and were in the Occupied Territories since — until 1973, until they left with five kids, me being the youngest, to the U.S., just to provide us with a better life. So, seeing all of this unfold and listening to my parents’ stories feels like a repetition of what happened in '48. And to somebody in our family, that is a personal experience for all of us. Even though I grew up in the United States, you know, we live it through our parents and our parents' stories. And it feels like it’s 100-fold now. You know, it was very traumatic for them, what they went through. They lived in caves, they lived under trees, until they made their way to the West Bank. Their town, my father’s village, was completely annihilated. Nothing is left. When I went to visit, the one time I went to visit in the mid-'90s, I went with my dad. And I'll never forget him standing on the side of his village, what used to be his village, that’s overcome with all just bush and overgrown in a small canyon, and how my dad looked looking out into the land, which he never went back to for 22 years.

MAHMOUD: My name is Mahmoud. I’m a physician in Boston. Come here in solidarity with the Palestinian people, who are going through a genocide right now. As a healthcare worker, we stand with our healthcare colleagues in Gaza right now who are under undescribable circumstances to do their jobs. And right now the situation is beyond belief right now. They’re doing surgeries without anesthesia. They’re doing surgeries without electricity or without water. It’s just something no doctor should ever, you know, be quiet about. I’m carrying this poster in solidarity of the healthcare workers in Gaza. Some of the people who passed away over there are colleagues of us, physicians. Some of them were faculty at the medical school over there. The previous dean of the only medical school in Gaza was killed in an Israeli strike. So, the least we could do is, you know, to let the people their names and show their pictures, and let them know, you know, that they’re not numbers. And they died trying to do what they took an oath to do, is to save human life.

PROTESTERS: Free, free Palestine! Free, free Palestine! Long live Palestine! Long live Palestine! Free, free Palestine! Free, free Palestine!

AMY GOODMAN: Just some of the voices of the tens of thousands of people — some say 100,000; organizers, 300,000 — who came to Washington, D.C., from around the country Saturday to join the largest pro-Palestinian demonstration in U.S. history. Before the march to the White House, speakers addressed a rally in a packed Freedom Plaza, which they dubbed “Gaza Plaza.” We begin with Noura Erakat, Palestinian human rights attorney, associate professor at Rutgers University.

NOURA ERAKAT: We are all here to charge this administration with genocide. … Israel and the United States are jointly complicit in the ongoing Nakba in Palestine. Together, they are rending international law worthless and irrelevant. Every single tribunal, from Nuremberg to Rwanda, from Bosnia to Cambodia, every prosecution at the ICC, was meant to atone for our moral failures, to protect us from ourselves.

And today we fail to stop. Today we fail to stop the skies from crashing down in white phosphorus flames onto Palestinian dreams, memories, potential, onto Palestinian babies not old enough to beseech you to have mercy upon them.

We are here now with them and for them to demand a ceasefire. We are here because Palestine reveals the naked hypocrisy of Western universalism. It reveals our enduring colonial reality, and it offers a glimpse into a future without colonialism.

Falastin, Falastin, where a valiant peple have always existed, where survivors and fighters continue to affirm that they belong to a land upon which there is a life worth living. [speaking in Arabic] We — we — are like olive trees like the ones that our ancestors planted. We are unshaken. We are unmoved. We are undeniable. Stand with us in this promise. We promise, Palestine still promises, that we will all be free! Free, free Palestine!

MASTER OF CEREMONIES 1: Macklemore on deck.

MACKLEMORE: Peace, everybody. You know, first and foremost, this is absolutely beautiful to observe today. I didn’t expect to be on a microphone, but — there are thousands of people here that are more qualified to speak on the issue of a free Palestine than myself. But I will say this. They told me to be quiet. They told me to do my research, to go back, that it’s too complex to say something, right? To be silent in this moment.

In the last three weeks, I’ve gone back, and I’ve done some research. And I am teachable; I don’t know enough. But I know enough that this is a genocide. And we are scared. We are watching it unfold. We have been taught to just be complicit, to protect our careers, to protect our interests. And I’m not going to do it anymore. I’m not afraid to speak the truth!

You know, my daughter — my daughter said to me this morning, she said — she’s 8 years old. She said, “Dad, when we protest today, when we march today, how are the people in Palestine going to know that we’re showing up?” Look at this. Look at this. The world is watching what we do right now in this moment of injustice!

There is no side in humanity. We lead with our hearts. We speak the truth. We shut down the propaganda. And we march forward. Free, free Palestine!

PROTESTERS: Free, free Palestine!

MACKLEMORE: Free, free Palestine!

PROTESTERS: Free, free Palestine!

MACKLEMORE: Thank you.

MASTER OF CEREMONIES 2: The very courageous comrades of the Palestinian Feminist Collective.

SARAH IHMOUD: Over 10,000 Palestinians have been martyred, and 70% of those killed in this genocide thus far are women and children. Today in Gaza, there are half a million displaced Palestinian women and girls. Fifty thousand pregnant women are waiting to give birth, with 5,500 expected to deliver next month, without water, without food, without fuel, without life-saving medicine or medical equipment.

PROTESTERS: Shame!

SARAH IHMOUD: Shame! Women have resorted to taking birth control pills to stop their menstrual cycles because of a lack of sanitary pads. Shame!

PROTESTERS: Shame!

SARAH IHMOUD: This targeting of Indigenous women’s bodies and sexualities is woven into the genocidal fabric of Israeli settler colonialism.

PROTESTERS: Shame!

SARAH IHMOUD: But our love and care for each other, our insistence to live, our persistence to give birth to the next generation of Palestinians on our homeland, to hold ground amidst the most unlivable conditions, is a testament to the fact that we refuse to die quietly! We refuse the terms of our vanishment. We are a people who teach life and keep creating life, in spite of genocide, through our revolutionary love, our love for each other and our love for our homeland. And that love is something the colonizer can never take away from us! To know this, to feel this love deeply, is to know that we have already won.

MASTER OF CEREMONIES 1: Next up, we have brother Nihad Awad from the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

NIHAD AWAD: From the beginning of the bombardment of Gaza, we spoke to President Biden the language of logic, the language of law, the language of humanity. We appealed to him to take a moral position, to recognize 2.3 million civilian residents trapped in Gaza under the attack of the Israeli forces from every imaginable type of modern weaponry, to call him to call for a ceasefire. All these calls and the calls from the world community fell on deaf ears.

PROTESTERS: Shame!

NIHAD AWAD: Shame!

PROTESTERS: Shame!

NIHAD AWAD: Shame!

PROTESTERS: Shame!

NIHAD AWAD: Shame!

PROTESTERS: Shame!

NIHAD AWAD: Shame!

PROTESTERS: Shame!

NIHAD AWAD: Shame!

PROTESTERS: Shame!

NIHAD AWAD: Shame!

PROTESTERS: Shame!

NIHAD AWAD: Shame!

PROTESTERS: Shame!

NIHAD AWAD: As the images of the genocide increased, he dehumanized the Palestinians and dismissed their suffering. He denied — he denied the dead Palestinians the right to be acknowledged as dead.

PROTESTERS: Shame!

NIHAD AWAD: Shame!

PROTESTERS: Shame!

NIHAD AWAD: Shame!

PROTESTERS: Shame!

NIHAD AWAD: Shame!

PROTESTERS: Shame!

NIHAD AWAD: He insisted that should be — there should be no ceasefire. The State Department asked their staff not to talk about deescalation.

We have discovered the language that President Biden understands, and let me share it with you. The language that President Biden and his party understand is the language of votes in 2024 elections. And our message is: No ceasefire, no votes. No ceasefire, no votes. No ceasefire, no votes. No ceasefire, no votes. No ceasefire, no votes. No ceasefire, no votes. No votes in Michigan. No votes in Arizona. No votes in Georgia. No votes in Nevada. No votes in Wisconsin. No votes in Pennsylvania. No votes in Ohio. No votes for you anywhere, if you do not call for a ceasefire now.

After hearing — after hearing this message in the past week and a half, and the fact that 60% — 66% of Americans support a ceasefire, the president, the secretary of state, Democratic senators and representatives started to change their tone.

We will make our voices heard more and more. In November, we remember. In November, we remember. In November, we remember. In November, we remember. In November, we remember. A White House official told a friend of mine that the community has a short memory. A few months, then they will forget. And let me tell them — let me tell them: In November, we remember. In November, we remember. In November, we remember.

MASTER OF CEREMONIES 1: Next up, we have Mohammed El-Kurd.

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: I want us to take a few minutes to consider the magnitude of loss of life currently happening in the Gaza Strip. I want us to consider what it means to lose 10,000 people, for 10,000 people to be killed by Israeli warplanes. Consider their families and their grief. Consider their lovers. Consider the people missing them. Consider our martyrs’ lives, their grievances, their hobbies. And most of all, most of all I want you to consider the fear, the fear that they must have felt as warplanes dropped over their heads, the fear they must have felt minutes before they were killed.

And I want you to compare that fear, I want you to measure that fear against your own fear. It does not compare. I understand it. We’re are all afraid of losing a job, of losing a friend, of being ostracized, of being shamed. I called my father earlier. I told him I was coming to this march. He said, “Stay away from the cameras.” We’re all afraid, but this fear does not compare.

They want us to think that we are paying personal prices, but we have our community. They want us to think that we are alone, but we have our people supporting us. If they come for you, if they come for you, if they take your job, if they fire you from school, if they expel you, do not think of yourself as a casualty. You are not a casualty. You are fuel for the movement. You are part of the struggle. They want us to be silent, but we know silence will not protect us. Fear and silence will do nothing but allow this carnage to go on unchecked. Silence is a sign of consent in the empire. Are we afraid?

PROTESTERS: No!

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Are we afraid?

PROTESTERS: No!

MOHAMMED EL-KURD: Are we afraid?

PROTESTERS: No!

AMY GOODMAN: Voices from Saturday’s massive rally in Washington, D.C., calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the largest pro-Palestinian march in U.S. history. Special thanks to Democracy Now! producers Hany Massoud, Messiah Rhodes and María Taracena.

When we come back, we go to Gaza to hear from the poet Ahmed Abu Artema, who inspired the Great March of Return. Last month he lost five members of his family. He speaks from his hospital bed. Back in 20 seconds.

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