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From Olympia to Gaza: Protester Pressure Washington to Cut Ties with Israel

Updated: Jan 10

Audio story script edited by Kelsey Kupferer

In collaboration with Real Change News


On Nov. 4, 2023, protesters stood together on the steps of the Capitol legislature building holding Palestinian flags and signs that said “ceasefire” at Olympia, Washington. (Photo/Marian Mohamed)








Reporter note: Some sources quoted in this article have requested not to share their names for privacy and safety concerns. 


For the past three months, hundreds of people in Washington state have protested weekly, demanding a cease-fire in Gaza and an end to the Israeli occupation, despite both the U.S. government and Washington supporting Israel in their aggressive siege.


The Israeli government and military is carrying out the siege in response to the Oct. 7, 2023 attack that was initiated by Hamas, the Palestinian military resistance organization, in which about 1,000 people were killed.


In response, the Israeli military has killed 22,000 Palestinians, according to Al-Jazeera News. One in every 200 Gazans has been killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry and 85% of Gazans have been forced to evacuate from their homes


Chants of “cease-fire now” and “from the river to the sea; Palestine will be free” resonated from the steps of the state Capitol legislature building in Olympia on Nov. 4, 2023. The keffiyeh, the traditional Palestinian clothing that symbolizing resistance, adorned the shoulders and heads of many here at the Capitol. Countless flags with the distinctive placement of the colors red, white, black and green rose high in the sea of people. 


Speakers commenced chants, recited poems and shared their frustrations of a situation that many human rights organization have classified as a genocide. 


Protesters hold a large Palestinian flag as they march through the streets of Olympia on Nov. 4, 2023. (Photo/Marian Mohamed) 


“Across generations, Palestinians have experienced what a colonial invader does to rip apart a nation physically and emotionally,” said one speaker at the Olympia rally. “The Gaza strip is overcrowded, starved, weaponized, and the clock is ticking toward the inevitable. A place rendered uninhabitable and ethnically cleansed from its indigenous Palestinians.” 


Following the events on Oct. 7, 2023, Israel has since dropped bombs on hospitals, neighborhoods, schools, universities, churches, mosques, and refugee camps on a daily basis. On Oct. 13, 2023, 800 Palestinians were killed at Al-Ahli Hospital, with 70 people also killed by an Israeli bomb that targeted Al-Durrah Children’s Hospital the next week on Oct. 17, 2023. Refugee camps like Nuseirat, which resides in Central Gaza and Jabalia situated in Northern Gaza have also been targeted in these airstrikes. Jabalia itself has been attacked twice on Oct. 31, 2023 and Nov. 1, 2023 with 50 confirmed killed.


The Israel Defense Force (IDF) has claimed Hamas is mainly operating from Northern Gaza throughout these hospitals, neighborhoods and refugee camps. On Jan. 3, 2024, U.S. intel supported Israel’s claim by recently releasing an assessment of Al-Shifa being used as a command center for Hamas.  


However, the IDF has yet to provide concrete evidence of these locations being used by Hamas. 


Instead of deploying special operation forces to take down Hamas; the IDF has resorted to numerous airstrikes in areas where hundreds of Palestinians seek shelter. 


Civilian infrastructure such as homes, schools, and hospitals must be preserved and protected according to the international humanitarian law under Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions.


Protesters hold a large Palestinian flag as they march through the streets of Olympia on Nov. 4, 2023. (Photo/Marian Mohamed) 


At one point on Oct. 25, 2023, when responding to a question, Biden voiced his doubts about the death toll in Gaza being accurate. In response, on Oct. 26, 2023, the Gaza Health Ministry released a list that stated, at the time, 6,474 Palestinians had been killed. The list included the full names, ages, gender and identification numbers. 


“Palestinians continue to resist under some of the most extreme conditions of state violence possible,” said the same Olympia speaker. “We too must call upon our collective imaginations to see beyond the walls and the checkpoints. If the people of Palestine have insisted on living with humanity and dignity, then we must honor the humanity of the colonized people resisting wherever they are in the world.” 


To honor those killed in the bombings and to dispel those doubts, speakers at Olympia read out the full names of Palestinians who lost their lives. Protesters, many non-Arabic speakers, then repeated each name without hesitation. 


Following the reading of each name was a “die-in” demonstration. Pieces of papers with the full names of murdered Palestinians were handed out to individuals. As sorrowful Palestinian music played, protesters laid out on the steps of the Capitol building with their piece of paper cradled within their hands.  


The civilians who’ve been killed between Oct. and Nov. 2023 are added to the prolonged list of murdered Palestinains by the hands of the Israeli military and government for the past 75 years. The way civilians in Gaza have been treated since Oct. 7, 2023 is another reminder of Israel’s commitment to seeing Palestinians expelled from their homeland. 


The march in Olympia was a part of a larger network of organized protests and demonstrations happening across the globe to consistently call out the Israeli government. 


“This is the time for action,” said a different speaker at the Olympia rally. “This is the time for courage, this is the time for anger, this is the time for us to stop the genocide [and] this is the time for us to stop the occupation.” 


The Olympia march in November wasn’t the first rally to take place in Seattle. Every other weekend since Oct. 14, 2023 individuals have filled Westlake Center to demand a free Palestine. Organizations encouraged individuals to just show up at these protests and throughout these last few months people of different ethnicities, ages, religious affiliations and genders made their demands clear. As folks gathered in Westlake, you could hear cars honking in support of the protest that took place. Palestinian music with a distinguishable drum beat blasted from the speakers perched on the sides of cars and platforms.  


Alon Lapid, a member of Student United for Palestinian Equality and Return UW, explained how the state of Israel infringed on the rights of Palestinians living in Gaza even before the Oct. 7, 2023 attack. The Israeli government initiated a blockade in 2007 that resulted in about 80% of Palestinians relying on humanitarian assistance, according to UNICEF. 


“We’re here to say no to over 75 years of Palestinian oppression, ethnic cleansing and genocide. To specifically call out the last 16 years of siege on Gaza, demanding an immediate end to that siege,” said Lapid.


On Oct. 14, 2023, hundreds of protesters marched through the streets of downtown Seattle. (Photo/Hayden Andersen)


The 2007 blockade on the Gaza Strip had limited the amount of cooking gas and fuel that homes and hospitals are able to access. Their water source is also limited due to Israel’s military restrictions that states Palestinians can’t construct any new water installation without first obtaining a permit from the Israeli military. 


Back in 2018, Gazans initiated weekly nonviolent protests along the border fence that separates the Strip from occupied Palestine. They demanded an end to the blockade and to return to their homeland, according to Al-Jazeera News. Instead, the IDF killed 226 and injured 30,000 Palestinians in a single year according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. 


“Palestinians, as a whole, are engaged in a struggle for freedom and in a fight for liberation and return to Palestine from the river to the sea,” said Lapid. “Gaza is the cradle of Palestinians who have risen up and said no more to occupation, no more to colonization and theft of their land.” 


For protesters, it only felt right to make it out each weekend and march for hours. Munibah Qureshi, a protester visiting Seattle from the U.K., came across the rallies taking place over social media and didn’t hesitate to bring her forest green keffiyeh with her to Westlake Center. 


In a keffiyeh wrapped around his head, a protester raises his fist in the air at a Palestinian rally in Downtown Seattle on Oct. 14, 2023. (Photo/Hayden Andersen)


“I’m not Palestinian myself but I definitely did grow up in that kind of environment. A very big figure in my life growing up was my auntie Aisha who used to kind of sponsor Palestinian IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) to come stay with us when we were young,” Qureshi said. 


Witnessing her auntie Aisha help internally displaced Palestinians and hearing stories of what they face within Gaza and the West Bank every day solidified her support. 


“It’s very upsetting really that there is such a wide outrage to a kind of movement of liberation. I feel like if it was done by other kinds of subsets of society that they may not have been this level of outrage,” said Qureshi. “This alone is colonizer versus the colonized. This alone is oppressor versus the oppressed.” 


Protesters carry signs advocating for a free Palestine as they chant “no more money for Israel’s crime” on Oct. 14, 2023. (Photo/Hayden Andersen)


The local display of camaraderie and the acknowledgment of what the Palestinians live through was a sight to behold for Palestinian Americans like Nadya Barghouty. 


“It was just after a few days of just feeling really isolated and sad. It was nice to be around people,” said Barghouty. “It was nice seeing all different types of people. There were a lot of Jewish people, a lot of Indigenous people and it wasn’t just Arabs and Muslims.” 


Throughout her life Barghouty had seen videos of families being pushed out of their homes. Those homes being bulldozed, journalists being shot and children being killed. Living within the diaspora, Barghouty hears stories of Palestinians who are subjected to the genocidal tactics of the Israeli government and military. 


“I’m not the one under occupation. So I have a duty to carry on for Palestinians who can’t leave,” said Barghouty. “[Who] don’t have basic human rights [and] are facing more racism and persecution on the ground back in Palestine.” 


Despite everything that has been thrown at them, Palestinians know they’ll return home. Barghouty shared that her dad, who immigrated from Palestine, still holds the key to the house he once resided in occupied Palestine. 


In the past 60 years, as part of the Israeli occupation, more than 50,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished and replaced with homes only for Israeli citizens, according to the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions. 


It’s among the many acts of tyranny the Israeli government enacts on Palestinian families. These construction projects and settlement homes are in violation of the Hague Regulations and the Fourth Geneva Conventions. It’s also considered a war crime under the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court. 


Barghouty noted she feels like this is the first time she’s seen such a huge international and public outcry for what Gazans and all Palestinians are having to deal with at the hands of Israel. At one point in her life, she was quite afraid of the ramifications of saying her nationality outright in public spaces or in simple interactions. 


“But, I think, at least for me and a lot of Arabs, Palestinians and Muslims alike, we come from this privileged position of being in the West,” said Barghouty. “Being unabashedly pro-Palestinian is like the least we can do for people that are just begging to be seen, remembered, or helped.” 


Olympia and Westlake Center haven’t been the only locations where protests and demonstrations took place. On Nov. 3, 2023, Seattle health care workers held a speaking session and vigil at Harborview Park to honor murdered Palestinian health care workers.


The Palestinian flag draped over the metal railings and stone edges of the park as participants quietly passed around candles and gathered on the small lawn to pay their respects. 


Aminah, a speaker at the vigil who asked to only go by her first name for safety reasons, expressed her frustration at the fact that a majority of these hospitals are having to treat their patients with a limited amount of medical supplies. 


“I can’t imagine going under the most minor of surgeries without all the anesthesia in the world. These people are having amputations, C-sections, heart surgeries, deep burns that burn down to the bone with zero meds,” said Aminah. “No, nothing. Not even a Tylenol to help them [and] not even water or food to give their body strength to heal. It just keeps happening and it just keeps getting worse.” 


Aminah is referring to the overall blockade placed on Gaza after Oct. 7, 2023, which has halted any methods of transporting food, water, fuel and medical supplies to all residents including hospitals. Doctors Without Borders reported doctors operating from Al-Shifa Hospital provided details about the shortage of painkillers, medicine no longer being available at pharmacies, and patients having to undergo surgery without anesthesia. 


As individuals lit their candles in the cold and dark evening at Harborview Park---the names of doctors, dentists, nurses, paramedics, nurses, medical and dental students were recited into the night. 


Shortly after, John Kearney, a University of Washington (UW) Medical student, read out a letter written by Maryam, a fifth year medical student living in Gaza. Maryam describes the horrific situations at hospitals during the night. Increased numbers of wounded individuals arriving at an already overcapacity ER, surgical equipment being sterilized in vinegar, and doctors using their phone flashlights since there’s no electricity in operating rooms. The daily airstrikes in the past two months have caused the high insurgence of life-altering surgical cases for doctors who barely have the necessary resources to meet the needs of their patients. 


A few days after the healthcare worker demonstration in Seattle, protesters were encouraged to gather at the Port of Tacoma in an effort to block a U.S. military vessel headed from Washington to Israel. Real Change previously reported that at 5 a.m. 500 protesters showed up at the port with the intention to stop the vessel from reaching Israel. According to Samidoun Seattle, for 12 hours, protesters were able to prevent workers of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) from loading weapons onto the MV Cape Orlando. 


One dock worker even refused to do any work when witnessing protesters physically advocating for a free Palestine. The Puyallup and Nisqually “Water Warriors” used canoes and kayaks to block the ship as protesters cheered them on. However, military workers were still able to load the vessel. 


A few days after the “Block The Boat” demonstration, protesters continued to highlight and condemn Washington’s allyship with Israel by holding another rally, this time at Boeing’s Military Delivery Center in Tukwila. 


Protesters chanted for the delivery center to be shut down as roses were passed between individuals as they all marched down the street. Organizations like Samidoun Seattle, Anakbayan UW, ILPS Seattle, Resist U.S. Led War Seattle, stood united in their effort to highlight Boeing’s complicity in Israel’s attack on Palestinians. 


Speakers like Bryce Tecumseh Phillips, an Indigenous Water Protector and member of the American Indian Movement, recalled his own personal experience of having to make a choice between complacency and standing against oppression. 


Tecumseh Phillips used to work as an electronic assembler at the Carlisle Interconnect Technologies, and got curious about what he and his co-workers were constructing. He asked only to be told what they were building would be used in wars — Bryce left that job. 


Tecumseh Phillips performed an Indigenous song to commemorate the Palestinians who’ve been killed and those who still live on. Stepping away from the mic, he began to beat at his drum and fall into a roaring chorus. 


According to Bloomberg, in Oct. 2023, Boeing, the third largest weapons producer in the world, sped up the delivery of about 1,000 bombs from the U.S. to Israel. Daniel Felde, a member and media liaison for Resist U.S.-led War Seattle, emphasized that Boeing is contributing to the aid that the U.S. federal government provides Israel on an annual basis.



A speaker at the Boeing protest delivers a passionate speech advocating for not only an end to the siege in Gaza but also an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. (Photo/GZR Photography) 


“Right here in the Washington area, they produce the Poseidon P8 which is a military surveillance plane that they make out of a 737 commercial airliner,” said Felde. “Same thing with the KC 46 Plus the Pegasus Tanker. It’s a military refueling plane they produce in Everett, Washington. Then they send it down here to [this] delivery center to be sent off.”   

 

In September 2023, Boeing, headquartered in Washington state, agreed to a $927 million dollar contract with the Israeli military, according to Defense News. In the past five decades, our federal government has provided over three billion dollars annually to the state of Israel. In November 2023, Biden wanted to send 14 billion more dollars but the Senate blocked the request. 


Yet, the Biden administration bypassed Congress twice in December 2023 to approve emergency weapons sale totaling $147.5 million dollars, according to AP News.


At the Boeing’s Military Delivery Center protest, demonstrators drenched their hands with red paint and jumped high to slap a handprint on the Boeing sign that stands boldly in front of the delivery center. Amongst the numerous red handprints is the infamous saying ‘Free Palestine’ in red.


A protester at the Boeing protest wrote out the word genocide in chalk in the parking lot leading to the delivery center on Nov. 8, 2023. (Photo/GZR Photography) 


Elsie, one of the protesters who added their handprint to the Boeing sign, also heard about the Boeing protest through social media and was also at the ‘Block The Boat’ demonstration in Tacoma. 


“I think one of the things that was so glaringly obvious of an injustice was the fact that the Israelis push the Palestinians into a corner with everything. Like in Jerusalem, they don’t allow building permits for homes for Palestinians,” said Elsie. “Then when they build homes without permits because they’re forced to [then] the Israelis come and break [their] homes apart and tear them down. It’s just insane to me.” 


Elsie was able to build her understanding of the occupation of Palestine by asking questions, watching informative videos, reading articles, and using social media. Through social media, Palestinians are able to send on-the-ground reports of Israeli violence directly to people all over the world. However, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that as of Jan. 3, 70 Palestinian journalists have been killed


On Nov. 21, 2023, over a month after the Gaza siege began and with over 10,000 Palestinians killed, the Seattle City Council finally responded by passing a resolution calling for a cease-fire, condemning antisemitism and anti-Muslim hate, according to their press release. However, the resolution doesn’t denounce the U.S. federal government from providing aid to Israel or advocating for a complete end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine. 


Since mid-November, protests have continued to take place throughout Seattle including one that took place on Jan.6, 2024 where protesters blocked the I-5 highway for four hours, according to KIRO7.


 As Israel continues to drop bombs, inflict wounds, trauma and end the lives of Palestinian civilians, hundreds of Seattlites continue to march, chant, and push for a freed Palestine.


“Beloved Palestine, how do I live away from your plains and mounds? The feet of mountains that are dyed with blood are calling to me,” said an Olympia speaker, reciting a poem. “My friends ask me, ‘will we meet again? will we return?’ Yes, we’ll distribute [the] soil, tomorrow we’ll return and the generations will hear the sound of our footsteps.”

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