Thousands of demonstrators brandishing Palestinian flags of red, black, green and white flooded the streets Saturday morning in a march from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference at the Washington Hilton to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings on Pennsylvania Avenue.
The Palestinian Solidarity March started at 10:30 a.m. and later joined several thousand other activists at the Mobilize for Global Justice rally on the National Mall and Ellipse, which brought together an estimated 50,000 protesters.
D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey kept a close eye on the Palestinian activists, holding his baton in his hand while watching the crowd.
According to CNN, more than 3,800 Metropolitan Police officers were called in from regular weekend leave to help maintain order, and forces from Virginia and Maryland added to MPD’s numbers.
“These people are here to exercise their First Amendment right, and I am here to make sure that they will be able to do that,” Ramsey said.
“Usually we will get some minor acts of civil disobedience during protests, but everything has really remained peaceful today.”
There were no reported acts of violence during the day-long demonstrations.
An estimated 3,000 activists packed the roads during the Palestinian Solidarity feeder march, many holding posters reading “Our taxes fund Israeli war crimes,” and “Palestinians are victims of the New Holocaust.”
“This is how we express ourselves,” said Ramin Elamine, organizer of the Committee in Solidarity with the Palestinian People. “We are practicing a peaceful expression of our issues, which is certainly effective. This is proven by the growing number of activists who continue to join us as we marched on. We have 10 times as many people joining us this year than last year.”
One group of protesters carried a wooden box with a child laying inside it as they marched, symbolizing a young Palestinian victim on his death bead.
Collective chants of “Free, Free Palestine” were shouted throughout the march.
Many posters and cries compared Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.
Protesters also toted American flags with a Star of David in place of the usual 50 stars, to signify disapproval of the current U.S.-Israel relationship.
“Israel and America are the bullies in this situation, and Palestinians are the ones getting picked on,” activist Mike Scherer from Chicago said.
Dozens of other banners showed the Israeli flag with a blue swastika instead of the Star of David.
During the march to the National Mall, members of the Neo-Nazi party attempted to join the Palestinian Solidarity March and were told to leave by organizers.
“The Neo-Nazis tried to join us, but we promptly kicked them
out,” Elamine said. “We don’t want to be associated with racism.”
The Palestinian cause attracted a diverse group of people from all over America.
“I joined the Palestinian march because I think that the American government needs a change,” said University of Iowa junior and activist Kelly Wurzer, who arrived in D.C. by bus with 45 other students. “U of I wanted a list of the names of all of us coming to the protests for the FBI, so they can have a record of potential terrorists. I don’t want to be blacklisted and denied a future job because I participated in a legal and peaceful protest.”
Fourth-year Georgetown medical student Edmund Karam came to D.C. to protest racial discrimination against Arabs.
“I am against racial profiling, Israeli occupation of the West Bank and U.S. agencies in the Mideast,” he said. “Those are extremely important issues that need to seek attention.”
Other demonstrators represented such places as the Western Massachusetts Islamic Society, University of Buffalo Activists and Anti-Zionist groups such as the Grass Roots Jewish Group based in New York.
“We came because of the urgency of the situation,” said Yusah Adbila, a 14-year-old protester from Buffalo. “I am a Palestinian, but I am not for either side. All I want is peace.”