Hundreds of pro-Palestinian demonstrators gather in Washington to commemorate the present and painful past

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered near the US Capitol, chanting pro-Palestinian slogans and criticizing the Israeli and US governments.

WASHINGTON — Hundreds of demonstrators gathered within sight of the Capitol, chanting pro-Palestinian slogans and criticizing the Israeli and American governments while representing a painful present — the war in Gaza — and a past — the mass exodus of some 700,000 Palestinians who fled or escaped. They were forced out of what is now Israel when the state was created in 1948.

About 400 demonstrators braved incessant rain to gather on the National Mall on the 76th anniversary of the so-called Nakba, the Arabic word for disaster. In January, thousands of pro-Palestinian activists gathered in the country’s capital in one of the largest protests in recent memory.

There were calls to support Palestinian rights and immediately stop Israeli military operations in Gaza. The phrases “No peace on stolen lands” and “Stop the killing, stop the crime/Get Israel out of Palestine” chanted among the crowd.

“Biden, Biden, you will see your legacy of genocide,” they said. The Democratic president was in Atlanta on Saturday.

Reem Lababdi, a sophomore at George Washington University, who said she was pepper-sprayed by police last week when they broke up a protest camp on campus, acknowledged that the rain seemed to bring down the numbers.

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“I am proud of everyone who came out in this weather to voice their opinions and send their message,” she said.

This year’s commemoration was fueled by anger over the ongoing blockade of Gaza. The latest war between Israel and Hamas began when Hamas and other militants stormed southern Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking an additional 250 hostage. Palestinian militants are still holding about 100 prisoners, and the Israeli army has killed more than 35,000 people in Gaza, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants.

There is also widespread anger over the violent crackdown on several pro-Palestinian protest camps on universities across the country. In recent weeks, police have dismantled long-term camps in more than 60 schools.

After the Arab-Israeli War that followed the establishment of Israel, Israel refused to allow them to return because that would have led to a Palestinian majority within Israel’s borders. Instead, they have become a seemingly permanent refugee community now numbering about 6 million, most of whom live in slum-like urban refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the Israeli-occupied West Bank. In Gaza, refugees and their descendants make up about three-quarters of the population.

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Associated Press writer Joseph Krause in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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