People gathered last Saturday in Center City, waving Palestinian flags and chanting for peace in one of the bigger rallies Philadelphia has seen this month, though the event was not widely covered.
The demonstration was organized to protest the ongoing bombing of Gaza, to call for a ceasefire in the current conflict between Israel and Hamas, and to call for an end to Israeli occupation, according to members of the Philadelphia Palestine Coalition.
“I think our our two primary things were calling an end for the U.S. support of the genocide that’s unfolding — that might look like a ceasefire, which a lot of people are calling for now,” organizer Nada Abuasi told Billy Penn. “The second thing that was really the underlying purpose of the protest was to showcase the unity and solidarity [of] Philadelphians who are standing up with Muslims.”
There’s been no shortage of rallies, vigils, and gatherings in Philadelphia since Oct. 7, when Hamas and other Palestinian militant organizations launched a broad attack on Israeli military posts and in civilian settlements, killing hundreds of civilians.
An escalating humanitarian crisis has unfolded in Gaza in the days that followed. Israel recently lifted a blockade on food and water in the region, which is under the control of Hamas, which the US and Israel consider a terrorist organization. So far, a massive bombing campaign by the Israeli military has reportedly killed thousands of Palestinians, the vast majority of whom are civilians.
All the while Philadelphians have demonstrated. At least 5,000 turned out to a “March for Israel” on Independence Mall, including elected officials and candidates for office. Penn students have marched both in support and opposition to the actions of the state of Israel. Hundreds of highschoolers walked out over the conflict in support of Palestinians.
Last Saturday’s march may have been one of the largest to date, drawing “between 7,000 and 10,000” people, according to Abuasi. Another estimate put the figure around 3,000.
Shown the image at the top of this story, a Philadelphia Police spokesperson said, “According to our Civil Affairs Unit, the photo is a good representation of that day.”
Several attendees and onlookers posted on social media that they were disappointed and frustrated the demonstration was not well covered.
“We occupied all the stairs [at] the Art Museum and overflowed actually, so to not report on it is just — it’s concerning for that reason,” said Nicki Kattoura, another Philadelphia Palestine Coalition organizer. “Regardless of what your politics are, the people in Philadelphia should know and be aware that this is happening in their city.”
The coalition had already staged a rally at the headquarters of WHYY/Billy Penn and the Philadelphia Inquirer, decrying what they see as skewed media coverage of the conflict.
The Philadelphia Palestine Coalition was formally born in 2021, during an 11-day war between Israel and Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip. There’s more to their work than mobilizing marches whenever a conflict breaks out.
Members of the coalition recently supported Palestine Writes, a Palestinian literature festival held on Penn’s campus that has drawn immense controversy. Ahmed Issa, a resident of Gaza who was involved in Palestine Writes, has recently been in touch with members of the coalition, giving frequent updates on his and his family’s safety.
“Just three weeks ago he was in Philadelphia, enjoying his time with us, and now he’s in a war zone,” said Abuasi, the coalition organizer, of one of multiple connections they have with Gazans.
“This is the way that we sort of combat really intense feelings of hopelessness,” said Kattoura of the Palestinian diaspora’s history of mobilization. “It is also the way that we grieve together, the way that we struggle together.”
Some politicians have made statements misrepresenting pro-Palestine demonstrations as celebrations of wanton violence, a charge organizers think the press plays an important role in combating. The gathering on Saturday was anything but violent, noted Kattoura, while pointing to increased Islamaphobic incidents, including acts of violence, that have been seen locally and nationwide.
“This was an event that, if there had been any reporting, would have made clear that this was actually very peaceful,” he said, adding, “Also, yeah, there’s rage.”
The Philadelphia Palestine Coalition has received support from over 20 local organizations, including the Philly chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, which participated in a historic sit-in on Capitol Hill just days earlier. Anissa Weinraub, who organizes with Philly JVP, spoke at Saturday’s rally, informing the crowd that about a third of the hundreds arrested that day were Philadelphians.
The coalition is planning a Thursday press conference at City Hall to continue the movement.
“After the rally we sent some of those really nice photos to our friends from Gaza, and all of them expressed how joyful they were that people are actually speaking out,” said Abuasi. To her, “it means that what we’re doing is right and honest and an accurate way of showing the Palestinian struggle.”
Updated Oct. 27 with a statement from the Philadelphia Police Department.