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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

About 300 pleading for cease-fire were arrested on Capitol Hill, organizers say

Protesters in support of Palestine hold their cellphones as they gather at Washington Square Park in New York on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023.

By Ephrat Livni

Hundreds of demonstrators descended on a congressional building in Washington on Wednesday afternoon to demand a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war, resulting in an estimated 300 arrests and restricting access to Capitol Hill.

The rally was organized by two Jewish anti-Zionist groups, Jewish Voice for Peace and If Not Now, and about 400 of their members assembled inside the rotunda of the Cannon House Office Building, led by about 25 rabbis reading testimonials from Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and reciting prayers. Outside, hundreds more chanted, “Cease-fire now,” and sang in Hebrew and English.

Demonstrations are not permitted inside congressional buildings. About 300 protesters were arrested, organizers estimated, although the Capitol Police would not comment on the number beyond saying on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter, that three were charged with assault on a police officer. Protesters were restrained with zip ties and led into police vans.

Linda Holtzman, a rabbi from Philadelphia, said she was protesting because of her faith, values and Jewish history, a theme other attendees echoed. Holtzman, who said she was concerned about violence intensifying against civilians in Gaza, said her grandmother survived the Holocaust and that she was taught to fight for all human life.

“Where there is no justice, I have to be a voice for justice,” she said.

Yasir Barakt, who moved to the United States from Gaza about 18 years ago, attended on behalf of his family back in Gaza, where the more than 2 million people living there are running out of water, food and electricity. Barakt said he has had limited contact with his family because of the conditions, and he blamed the United States for what he described as funding violence against Palestinians.

Jim Best, 77, who identified as a gay, “red-blooded, patriotic taxpayer and grandfather,” visited Gaza in 2016 — a trip, he said, that accentuated the quality-of-life disparity among Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and those of Israelis enjoying relative affluence nearby. He said he felt obligated to protest.

“My heart and mind and soul will never be the same,” Best said.

The gathering at the Capitol came just two days after a rally near the White House on Monday that the Jewish Voice for Peace executive director, Stefanie Fox, estimated drew at least 5,000 people. Activists at the rally Wednesday called on demonstrators to attend another protest, near the Israeli embassy in Washington, later in the evening. On Friday, the organization plans to participate in a rally with several activist groups at the National Mall.

“People are coming from across the country,” said Eva Borgwardt, the national spokesperson for If Not Now. She believes that protesting violence is a way to honor fallen Israelis and Palestinian. “So many of us are grieving,” she said, adding, “The horrific bombing cannot be the answer.”

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