Some 500 people have been arrested during a sit-in at the United States Congress in Washington, DC, where they protested against “Israel’s ongoing oppression of Palestinians”, according to Jewish Voice for Peace, the group that organised the demonstration.
The protesters, many wearing shirts emblazoned with the words “Not in our name”, were surrounded by police on Wednesday as they sat on the floor of the lobby of the congressional building, unfurling a large banner that said “ceasefire” as the death toll from Israel’s bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip rises.
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About 10,000 people also marched for the cause in the streets of the US capital, said Jewish Voice for Peace.
“We shut down Congress to draw mass attention to the US complicity in Israel’s ongoing oppression of Palestinians,” the progressive Jewish organisation wrote on X.
US police said they had cleared the building of protesters by Wednesday evening and were processing arrests.
Today, 500 Jews were arrested and 10k took to the streets to support and to demand a ceasefire and an end to Palestinian genocide.
We shut down congress to draw mass attention to the U.S. complicity in Israel's ongoing oppression of Palestinians. But our work isn't done. 🧵 pic.twitter.com/1aQf15Xx0D
— Jewish Voice for Peace (@jvplive) October 18, 2023
Israel has imposed a “total siege” on the Gaza Strip, blocking access to food, water, electricity and medical supplies for its 2.3 million residents after Hamas, the group running the enclave, launched an attack into southern Israel on October 7. Israeli authorities say at least 1,400 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in the attack and 199 others were taken captive.
Since the attack, Israel has bombarded Gaza from the air in a devastating campaign that has reduced neighbourhood after neighbourhood to rubble. Palestinian authorities say more than 3,400 people have been killed in the bombardment, a third of them children.
The Israeli attacks and siege on Gaza have been criticised as a form of collective punishment and triggered widespread anger across the Middle East and beyond.
“It has never been more important for Jews and all people in the US to rise up with literally everything we have,” said Jay Saper of Jewish Voice for Peace. “The way that we would have wanted others to rise up for our ancestors.”
At the rally, a Jewish protester who said his grandparents had survived the Holocaust told Al Jazeera that he was honouring his family’s history by taking to the streets.
“I see my job as carrying on their legacy as Jews who see their role as standing up for stateless and oppressed people all throughout the world,” Sam Thorpe said. “I see no better way to do that than fighting for a ceasefire and peace in Gaza today.”
The US is Israel’s staunchest global ally, providing it with billions of dollars of military aid per year and strong diplomatic support.
On Wednesday, President Joe Biden met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to Israel, pledging that the US “has Israel’s back” in its war against Hamas.
On the same day, the US was the sole country to vote against and veto a resolution at the 15-member United Nations Security Council that called for a humanitarian pause to allow much-needed aid to enter Gaza.
“What we know from past Israeli state atrocities against Palestinians is that the bombs only stop once there is a sufficient mass outcry from the international community,” said Eliza Klein of Jewish Voice for Peace. “It’s on us to build that outcry — as fast as we possibly can.”