More than 300 people were arrested after hundreds of protesters disrupted a busy train station in downtown Philadelphia on Thursday to demand that U.S. leaders call for an Israeli ceasefire in Gaza.
The demonstration, which was led by a coalition of interfaith leaders, began around 4:30 p.m. and was attended by around 500 protesters. Around 350 people were arrested or detained, including dozens of faith leaders, according to Jewish Voice for Peace-Philadelphia, which organized the protest along with the Philly Palestine Coalition and IfNotNow-Philadelphia.
“We are Jews and Rabbis, clergy and people of conscience, and we are part of a growing social movement demanding that President Biden and the U.S. call for a ceasefire,” Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari, senior rabbi at Kol Tzedek in West Philadelphia, told Truthout after the protest.
“We will not stop disrupting business as usual until Biden heads the moral call and demands a ceasefire in the region,” Fornari went on. “The time is now!”
Reflecting on the experience of the protest, Fornari continued:
It was so powerful to be among imams, rabbis, pastors, ministers, and Buddhist teachers all coming together to demand a ceasefire and an end to the ongoing escalating violence in Gaza. And to be there with our elected officials, Rick Krajewski and Nikil Saval. It was prayerful, powerful and purposeful. We sang for hours. We read testimonies from Gaza recounting people’s lived experiences. We kept returning to the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation.”
“We are calling on Senator [John] Fetterman and Senator [Bob] Casey to head their conscience, find their moral will and listen to the will of the people they represent,” Fornari added. “We are their constituents and we are demanding they use their power to pressure President Biden to call for a ceasefire and refuse to block the 14 Billion dollars of war money the U.S. Congress is preparing to send.”
Ahmet Tekelioglu, executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Philadelphia, echoed those sentiments.
“Families across the country struggle to pay for health care or food, and our public schools and streets are crumbling: our government must stop funding the Israeli military’s genocide and war and focus on taking care of our communities — from Gaza to Philadelphia,” Tekelioglu told Truthout.
“We’re out here today to say no business as usual as long as there’s a genocide happening of Palestinians. We’re demanding a ceasefire,” said Jewish Voice for Peace member Dani Noble.
Participants in the demonstration condemned Israel’s genocidal attacks on Gaza and engaged in peaceful acts of civil disobedience, such as blocking entrances at several transportation gates, including for Amtrak trains. According to reporting from The Philadelphia Inquirer, some commuters were heard grumbling or uttering expletives in response to not being able to use or exit at the station, while others expressed solidarity with the demonstrators.
“It’s an extremely minor inconvenience for me, but happy to hear people speaking out for a ceasefire,” said Gilana Tahir, a commuter interviewed by The Inquirer.
Arielle Cohen, a Jewish participant in the protest, recounted her upbringing to explain why she attended.
“As a child I was obsessed with learning about my Jewish culture and that meant studying the Holocaust closely,” Cohen told Truthout. “I internalized the lesson Never Again and this moment calls on all people of faith and moral courage to say loudly Never Again means never again for everyone.”
“We all deserve liberation, safety, and equality,” Cohen added.
Maryam Arain, a Muslim participant in the protest, told Truthout that it was “exhilarating to see faith leaders of all kinds united for a common cause.”
“We sang, we chanted, we locked arms. We continued singing as arrests began,” Arain said. “It was truly so beautiful, from beginning to end.”
The bombing, bombardment and starvation of the children of Palestine must end. And Palestinians must be allowed to come back to their homes. We need the US government to know that we will not allow another Nakba to happen.
This latest protest action follows several across the country that have demanded that the U.S. pressure Israel into agreeing to a ceasefire in Gaza. On Wednesday, a rabbi interrupted a speech from President Joe Biden in Minneapolis, Minnesota, urging him to “call for a ceasefire now” during a donors-only event. That same evening in Chicago, Illinois, Palestinian protesters and allies occupied the office of Democratic Rep. Sean Casten, calling on him to sign a ceasefire resolution in the House of Representatives.
Last Friday, thousands of Jewish protesters and allies disrupted Grand Central Station in New York City at rush hour to demand a ceasefire. And in mid-October, hundreds participated in protests at the White House and the U.S. Capitol grounds.
“We are here because we see our futures and our safety as intertwined. … Everyone is grieving. Everyone is terrified,” said Eva Borgwardt, IfNotNow’s political director, at the White House protest. “It is so clear that the status quo is completely unsustainable. And thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of lives lie in the balance.”
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