Tens of thousands march in D.C., worldwide for ceasefire in Gaza
With the U.S Capitol in the background, tens of thousands of protesters rally during a demonstration to demand a ceasefire in Gaza at Freedom Plaza in Washington, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. | Jose Luis Magana / AP

WASHINGTON—Tens of thousands of people, waving Palestinian flags, some carrying mock coffins and chanting “Free Palestine,” marched in D.C. on November 4, filling Freedom Plaza to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and an end to U.S. military aid to Israel, which not only kills thousands in Gaza but fattens the profits of U.S. armament makers.

The far-right-dominated Israeli government and the Democratic Joe Biden administration reject those demands. The war could not be prosecuted by Israel without the support of the United States.

Biden and his Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, along with many Democratic lawmakers, instead advocate a “humanitarian pause” or “short pauses” to allow food, water, and medicine to get through in drips and drabs to the desperate and dying people of Gaza. When that “humanitarian aid” gets through, presumably, the killing can resume. Already, 10,000 Gazans have been killed, among them 4,000 children. An official with the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights, Craig Mokhiber, has resigned in protest over the fact that his organization has not been forceful enough in condemning what he calls the “genocide” being committed by Israel in Gaza.

Members of the Communist Party USA from Ohio marched on the White House in Washington. | Photo courtesy of the Anna Hass Morgan Club, CPUSA

Blinken calls for little “pauses”

Blinken told Palestinian leaders in the West Bank last weekend that the U.S. favors these “pauses.” Immediately prior to the meetings with Palestinian leaders, who demand a ceasefire, he sat down with Israeli leaders to advise them on how to prosecute the war in a more “humane” fashion.

Among the suggestions the U.S. has made to the Israelis, according to the New York Times, is that they switch from the 2,000-lb. bombs they are using to wipe out whole neighborhoods to more “humane” 500-lb. bombs that would wipe out only a few buildings at a time.

There are also reports in the Times that Israelis have pressed for a 25,000-increase in the number of assault rifles the U.S. has sent to Israel. They are talking about M16 rifles, weapons similar to the AR-15-style guns so popular among mass shooters who use them to mow down people in U.S. shopping malls, theaters, bars, and other places.

The Times said there is some “concern” at the State Department that the weapons could end up in the hands of illegal and violent Israeli settlers in the West Bank. That “concern” was not enough to delay the weapons transfer, however. The Israeli settlers drive Palestinians out of their homes and off the land in the occupied territories, with the military’s assistance. The Israeli government, as the U.S. knows, distributes firearms to these settlers.

The ceasefire advocates point out that without a ceasefire, negotiations to end the conflict can’t even start. Biden has been silent on negotiations. He recently floated, again, reviving the two-state solution—Israel in its old borders, with modifications, and a Palestinian West Bank-Gaza state. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he rejects a ceasefire unless Hamas, whose Oct. 7th attacks sparked Israel’s current assault, frees the 240+ Israeli hostages it now holds. He and his government adamantly reject the formation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

It should be obvious to the U.S., Israel, and everyone else that there is no military solution, no number of bombs, no number of Palestinian deaths that will eliminate Hamas or some type of replacement for it or end the conflict. The only path is the ceasefire followed by negotiations and diplomacy aimed at long-term solutions, including how to make into reality the two-state solution.

Many protesters, in D.C. and elsewhere, carried bloodied dolls or body bags meant to highlight Gazan children killed by Israel’s war, which many speakers described as genocide against Palestinians.

Hamas attacked on Oct. 7 by bulldozing down steel Israeli fences around Gaza, invading nearby Israeli settlements, killing dozens of unarmed civilians at an outdoor holiday party and via rockets on southern Israeli cities. It killed 1,400 people—including U.S. citizens—and took more than 240 hostages. Of those killed in the initial attack, about half were soldiers and half civilians.

Israel has responded with a month-long round-the-clock retaliation, including thousands of tons of bombs and attacks it says target Hamas officials, especially its military wing. But the bombs hit and destroy apartment buildings, public buildings, and refugee camps.

The retaliation has resulted in more than 10,000 dead and hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to southern Gaza, according to the Palestinian health authority. There, the refugees are jammed up waiting at the one open crossing, at Rafah, to escape into Egypt. And Israel bombs them there, too, trashing promises that the area will be safer. Most of the dead are civilians, including thousands of women and children.

The D.C. march was one of dozens worldwide, with 30,000 people in London’s Trafalgar Square and 25,000 blocking main streets and intersections outside the U.S. consulate in Toronto. The Berlin march was notable for the high number of Jewish participants joining their Palestinian colleagues to demand an end to the German government’s stand backing Israel’s bombing—a stand supported by all the major German political parties.

Several thousand people marched in Paris between the Place de la République and Place de la Nation, carrying Palestinian flags, chanting “Palestine will win!” and “Macron, accomplice,” referring to French President Emmanuel Macron.

In a tweet, U.S. Labor Against War and Racism proclaimed, “Union strong at the National March for Palestine in DC!” It said participants included young Auto Workers members from the New York area, News Guild members, Communications Workers, Theatrical and Stage Employees, National Writers Union members, and United Federation of Teachers members to “demand a ceasefire and an end to taxpayer-funded genocide in Gaza.”

Public university professors, who are unionized, and unionized nurses joined the protests in San Francisco. Weeks before, the Oakland Education Association passed a resolution denouncing genocide in Gaza and demanding a ceasefire.

Also seek an end to military assistance

The dominant themes of the marches, in D.C. and elsewhere in the U.S., were not just a ceasefire to stop Israel’s assault on Gaza but also an end to U.S. military aid to Israel.

While the marchers demand an end to U.S. military support, Biden rejects that stand and just asked Congress for an emergency $14 billion appropriation for extra arms aid to Israel. That prospect delights U.S. weapons manufacturers. It also led the marchers to link the aid to the genocide.

Anti-war activists carrying a mock coffin protest outside the White House during a demonstration demanding a ceasefire in Gaza in Washington, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. | Jose Luis Magana / AP

Hidden in the Biden request for $106 billion more military aid is a clause that stipulates that the details of all future military aid to Israel under a certain dollar amount will be kept secret from Congress and the American people.

In the U.S. , both parties are competing to see who can be more pro-Israel. Besides Biden’s stand, the new House Republican Speaker, Mike Johnson, R-La., brought up a pro-Israel anti-Hamas resolution as the first order of business, sidetracking a pro-ceasefire resolution by Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., and 18 colleagues. Johnson’s resolution passed overwhelmingly.

D.C. demonstrators at the rally banged drums, blew trumpets, chanted “Free Palestine” and “Long live the intifada,” referring to uprisings by Palestinians against the Israeli occupation.

Many U.S. participants said Biden’s stance will cost him votes, from some Democrats, from young voters, and from Palestinian-Americans, notably in the key swing state of Michigan, home to the nation’s largest concentration of that group.

Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal said Sunday that she was for an immediate “total” ceasefire and that, “for the first time, as a strong Biden supporter, I fear for his re-election prospects because of his stance on the war.”

The catch to not backing Biden, however, as she put it, is that “the danger of a Trump election is far too horrible to fathom.” She said she hopes that Biden will change course and that the campaign to re-elect him can then start immediately.

The marches occurred as Israel’s war in Gaza passed the one-month mark. Since the war began, Netanyahu has formed a “unity government,” including the main opposition party. Its leader, Benny Gantz, told Sky News correspondent Mark Stone that “Everything that happens in Gaza right now is rightly connected to break Hamas and release the hostages. All the rest are simply details.”

Some of the hostages’ families have taken to the streets of Israel, though, charging the right-wing government with catering to ultra-nationalist settlers and not caring whether their loved ones die.

Some D.C. marchers brought signs advocating other causes which have allied themselves with past pro-Palestinian protests, the New York Times reported. They included Black Lives Matter, demands for reparations for slavery, universal health care, climate justice, and worker rights.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.