Beirut, Lebanon – Protesters, waving Palestinian and Lebanese party flags, threw rocks, water bottles and firecrackers at the security barricade, constructed on the road leading to the United States Embassy in a northern suburb of Beirut on Wednesday.
Security forces responded with tear gas that pushed the protesters back.
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Overlooking the protest from the periphery, a 20-year-old Palestinian man from Nahr el-Bared, a refugee camp near the city of Tripoli in north Lebanon, rubbed his eyes. He had just come back from the front of the protest.
“I wanted to go inside and ‘kharreb el-dineh’,” he said, using an expression that means ‘to cause havoc’ but literally translates to ‘destroy the world’.
“I came to protest here because America is supporting Israel,” he said.
Technically at war, Lebanon and Israel have no diplomatic relations. Instead, thousands of protesters rallied at the US embassy on Wednesday, calling for an end to hostilities as a potential Israeli ground invasion looms over Gaza.
Protesters waved Palestinian and Lebanese party flags – including that of Hezbollah, who had called for “a day of unprecedented anger” ahead of the demonstration.
The protesters travelled by bus, car and motorised scooter, and came from all over Lebanon to express their rage at what they consider Washington’s unflinching backing of Israel and its war crimes in Gaza.
The US sends $3.8bn in annual military aid to Israel and has historically supported their ally in the Middle East, regardless of which political party is in the White House.
Indignation was palpable among the protesters on Wednesday, coming a day after an explosion at al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza killed an estimated 500 people.
US President Joe Biden said he thought the attack was “done by the other team”, in a face-to-face meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while on a whirlwind trip to Israel.
More than 3,300, a third of them children, have died from Israeli bombing since October 7, when a Hamas attack on southern Israel left around 1,400 people dead.
But many protesters said their fury was not about the al-Ahli hospital attack alone.
“We are here for yesterday [‘s attack] but also for the years before,” Ahmad, 43, from the Palestinian refugee camp of Burj el-Barajneh, told Al Jazeera.
“Kill Hamas, but don’t kill civilians,” Ahmad said, sitting on his Palestinian-flag-decorated motorised scooter with his two sons.
“If any foreigner hits a dog, he goes to the international court, but when [Israelis attack Palestinians], nothing happens,” he added.
‘Anywhere they are protesting America, I’ll be there’
The protesters’ sense of indignity comes as Palestinians feel the international community has ignored their suffering and as Israeli government officials have used dehumanising language, calling Palestinian people “human animals” and “children of darkness”.
As Ahmad spoke, protesters wearing Palestinian-patterned keffiyehs, sat on top of the security-constructed barricade to keep demonstrators from nearing the US Embassy, in the northern town of Awkar.
Some threw rocks or water bottles over the fence at Lebanese security forces, who in turn responded with water cannons and waves of tear gas.
There are around 210,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, according to UNICEF. Most live between the country’s handful of refugee camps because they are barred from owning property and banned from accessing formal education or holding many jobs in Lebanon.
Support for the Palestinian cause has traditionally come from the Lebanese left, who fought alongside Palestinian groups during Lebanon’s civil war. Today, groups like Hezbollah and their allies, the Amal Movement, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Lebanese Communist Party support the Palestinian cause in rhetoric but have done little legislatively to help refugees living in dire situations in Lebanon.
Flags from these Lebanese political parties were waved next to the Palestinian flag at the protest where some attendees were neither Palestinian nor publicly supporting a party.
“I’m a Lebanese Maronite and they bombed a Christian hospital,” a 40-year-old man who identified himself as Abou Elias el-Hajj said from the protest’s periphery.
“Anywhere they are protesting America, I’ll be there,” he said.
Next to him stood 35-year-old Elias Sebali.
“What happened yesterday could happen tomorrow against Christians in Lebanon,” he said.
These two men were locals from the region, but not all nearby residents were in support of the protest.
Eliane, 33, closed her minimarket just down the street from where the barricade was set up on Wednesday. As the protest was starting, she sat on the pavement in front of her store smoking a water pipe.
“If they want to fight, we are with them, but this is not the right time or place,” she said, adding that a few protesters had caused property damage and scared employees of local businesses during a protest the night before.
“They have a just cause, but it’s not a clever way to act,” she added.
‘Before they even lived, they died’
Protests took place in other parts of Lebanon on Wednesday, including near the German embassy and in the southern Beirut suburb of Haret Hreik. On the road leading to the German embassy in Dekwaneh, north of Beirut, a few dozen people gathered at the start of the demonstration.
Unlike at the US embassy, no party flags were present. Some said they came because they did not want to attend a protest with Hezbollah and their Lebanese allies, but still wanted to voice their opposition to Israel’s killing of Palestinian civilians.
“It’s not about the German embassy per se,” said Mohammad, 52, from Beirut. “It’s about standing for what is right. When pregnant women and children are being killed, you can’t stay silent any more.”
Other protesters said the German embassy’s unflinching support for Israel drew their attention, with one protester-led chant calling it the “Zionist embassy”.
Many in attendance called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and what international rights groups such as Amnesty International call apartheid towards Palestinians. The most frequent call from protesters, however, was to stop the killing in Gaza.
This call hit closer to home for some in attendance.
“My family is alive at the moment, that’s all I can say,” said Zainab, 26, who is from Gaza and studying human rights and democracy at Saint Joseph’s University in Beirut.
A common refrain among protesters was how helpless they felt.
As the demonstrators took out their anger on the barricade blocking the road to the US embassy, a unit of Lebanese police officers stood nearby in case they needed to intervene.
What is happening is normal, one officer told Al Jazeera, standing near where the crowd was attacking the barricade. The protesters were looking for a way to vent their helplessness and frustration.
“There’s nothing I can do,” said NajIa el-Hassan, 38, adding that as a mother, seeing the death of children on television had moved her to attend the protest.
“Before they even lived, they died,” she said.