WASHINGTON: A weekend of protests brought tens of thousands of people out on US streets, with the majority demanding a halt to Israel’s military operation in Gaza.
The pro-Palestine protesters were mainly Muslims getting restless as Israel plans to advance with a military offensive. Some demonstrators also included Jews and Christians, albeit in small numbers.
Pro-Israel groups, including those formed by Muslims, were also out in the streets, supporting the Israeli offensive.
Almost daily protests have been held in New York since Thursday as thousands of pro-Palestine demonstrators take to the streets to denounce Israeli bombings in the Gaza Strip. Calling for an end to Israeli occupation, protesters took up multiple blocks in Times Square and other areas.
Pro-Palestine and pro-Israel protesters face off in cities; FBI chief warns of domestic threat
In Washington, one group was hugely outnumbered by pro-Palestine demonstrators — about 200 supporters of Israel gathered outside Freedom Plaza near the White House, compared to an estimated 10,000 who marched around the White House supporting Palestinians.
Some protesters are also trying to dial down the tensions. At the White House rally, some supporters of Palestine urged Americans to “look at the wider issue” instead of focusing entirely on Hamas’ attacks.
“Not all of us hate Jews or Israelis,” said M. Nabeel, a Palestinian. “But we too need a place to call home, a place to live peacefully.”
In Los Angeles, thousands of demonstrators carrying Palestinian flags and signs denouncing Israeli apartheid were seen marching down Wilshire Boulevard on Saturday afternoon.
Concerns about the fallout of the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict also caused Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a 2024 presidential front-runner, to demand the US government not to accept refugees from Gaza as “they are all radicalised”.
“If you look at how they behave, not all of them are Hamas, but they are all anti-semitic,” said Mr DeSantis. “None of them believe in Israel’s right to exist,” he claimed.
One of Mr DeSantis’s 2024 rivals, former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, concurred with him over not accepting refugees from Gaza but warned against making generalisations about them. “It’s dangerous when you categorise people like this.”
But the generalisation has started, or at least that’s how a group of Pakistanis felt who gathered at a South Asian restaurant in Northern Virginia after a pro-Palestinian rally in Washington.
“This week, at least a dozen passengers asked me ’Why do you Muslims support terrorists attacking innocent citizens,” said N. Khan, a cab driver in Washington.
“I told them those were Hamas fighters, not ordinary Palestinians. I also told them all Muslims are not terrorists.”
The growing tensions forced FBI Director Christopher A. Wray to warn Americans that he expects a spike in domestic threats.
“In this heightened environment, there’s no question we’re seeing an increase in reported threats, and we have to be on the lookout, especially for lone actors who may take inspiration from recent events.”
Fox News reported that Director Wray also asked the public to continue sharing intelligence with them.
Published in Dawn, October 16th, 2023