About 2,500 Palestinian demonstrators gathered on Connecticut Avenue Monday, once again donning homemade posters, over-sized Palestinian flags and empty water-bottle drums keeping the beat for chants.
Activists assembled at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference at the Washington Hilton, where students and top politicians were meeting to discuss the Middle East conflict.
“Although we were here on Saturday, today’s protest is a much different ordeal,” said Ramin Elamine, organizer of the Committee in Solidarity with the Palestine People. “On 4/20 we came out to show our solidarity with the other causes. Today it is just about the welfare of Palestine and condemning America’s support of Israel.”
Expected to be one of the most heated demonstrations of the weekend, a collection of more than 3,500 officers from the Fairfax County Police Department, Maryland State Police and Montgomery County Police Department joined the Metropolitan Police Department to maintain order, patrolling on foot, motorcycle and horseback.
No arrests were made despite some angry exchanges between the demonstrators and Israeli supporters who showed up to counter-protest. Several Israeli supporters carried signs reading “If you want peace, then why were you dancing in the streets on 9/11?” Both groups exchanged shouts when a Palestinian supporter incinerated a small Israeli flag.
“If we can get through the next few hours avoiding trouble, then I would consider this an extremely successful weekend,” D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said. “Then I’m going to go home and soak my feet.”
A crowd of a few hundred Palestinian supporters surged forward in an effort to push the Israeli activists out, sparking police to form a chain and pit the protests and police departments face to face.
“Once we witnessed the protesters surging forward, we called for a line of officers to halt the rush,” Assistant Chief of Police Terry W. Gainer said. “We escorted the Israeli party out of the Palestinian crowd, ending the problem.”
Once the protesters moved back, many were still heated from the confrontation.
“This is exactly what they want,” shouted Karim Benali, a Palestinian supporter from Belgium, to the angry crowd. “Show your discipline and solidarity for a peaceful Palestine; let’s move back.”
The crowd listened, retreated from the police and created a human chain organizers said represented Palestinian solidarity and peace.
Hotel security personnel guarded conference attendees in the building during the demonstrations, which lasted until about 10 p.m.
“Holding our composure is the key to our success,” said Kyle Gilbertson, a representative from the International Socialist organization. “We clearly outnumbered the Israeli group, but we remained calm and practiced peaceful discipline.”
At one point, a line of activists marched with a chicken-wire fence in hand toward police lines to create a barrier. They once again stood face to face with police, who encouraged the protesters to back up.
Two dozen officers in riot gear moved in to prepare for the rush forward. Ramsey and Gainer were in the middle of the officers and protesters, talking to both sides and convincing them to back away from each other.
“It’s all right to be loud and passionate. We just made sure that tempers didn’t flare,” Gainer said.