For the past few weeks, several demonstrations, gatherings, and protests have taken place across the Twin Cities metro area as communities and activists call for a ceasefire and humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza.
Thousands gathered outside the Minnesota State Capitol on Wednesday, Oct 18, to rally in support of Palestinians. Those attending brought signs condemning the actions of Israel while others waved the Palestinian flag atop the steps of the capitol building.
The rally was organized by the Anti-War Committee, the Minnesota chapter of American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), and the University of Minnesota chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. The aim of the rally was to criticize Gov. Tim Walz’s vocal support of Israel and his silence on Palestinian occupation.
It came one day after an explosion at the Al-Ahli Arabi Baptist Hospital in Gaza that reportedly killed hundreds who were sheltering in place. Several international leaders denounced the blast, as Palestinian and Israeli authorities continue to blame the tragedy on each other.
Conflict in Gaza
Since October 7, the Gaza strip has been bombarded by Israeli forces since the outbreak of conflict between Hamas and the state of Israel, after Hamas fighters breached the Israeli border indiscriminately shooting and kidnapping Jewish and Israeli citizens. Currently, there are more than 200 hostages being held by Hamas, dozens of them U.S. citizens.
Over the past two weeks, there have been more than 1,400 Israelis killed and 4,500 injured. The Israeli government retaliated against Hamas by bombing Gaza and cutting off its access to water and fuel as more than two million people—half of them children—find themselves caught in the midst of the fighting. Israeli Defense Force airstrikes have killed more than 4,000 Palestinians, nearly 1,800 of them children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.
After lengthy negotiations between the United Nations, the U.S., Egypt and Israel, a 20-truck convoy entered Gaza through the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza on October 21, after food, fuel and water had been cut off in the territory for two weeks. A second 17-truck convoy of aid was reportedly allowed to enter Gaza on Sunday, October 22.
As images of the carnage in Gaza flooded social media, Americans took to the streets across the country calling on political leaders to pressure Israel to stop the bombing and siege of Gaza, as President Joe Biden reaffirmed the U.S. support for Israel.
Several U.S. politicians have called for the Biden administration to facilitate a de-escalation of the conflict. They have introduced a #CeasefireNOW Resolution with more than a dozen Democrat members of the House backing the measure, including Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Corey Bush.
News of the casualties in Gaza spurred local demonstrators, whose chants of “Free Palestine” rang throughout the capitol mall. At Wednesday’s protest, several speakers addressed the rising death toll in Gaza, characterizing Israel’s bombardment of the densely populated territory as genocide.
Mariam El-Khatib, a member of AMP Minnesota, spoke of how the rallies and demonstrations have helped those struggling with the recent events. Minnesotans of almost every background attended, including Jewish, Somali, Black, and Native people.
“It’s been such a heavy week. But when we gather like this, it really uplifts your spirits,” she said. “It’s just a mix of ethnic backgrounds, faith backgrounds, all sorts of people. I’m seeing anyone and everyone.”
El-Khatib added that supporters of the Palestinians want to emphasize that the events taking place in Gaza and Israel did not begin on October 7. They date back to 1948 during the Nakba, when more than 700,000 Palestinians were driven out of their homes.
She also shared that AMP is organizing phone banks to reach out to elected officials calling on them to take action in the conflict. “Our first priority right now is to get a ceasefire.
“At this point, over a thousand children have been killed. That’s just completely unacceptable. We need to end the violence. We’re calling, we’re emailing, we’re texting, we’re showing up in the streets,” she said.
Protests grow as war rages
Asa Poole, a recent Muslim convert, attended the rally to show solidarity with Palestinians after seeing news of deaths at the Al-Ahli hospital.
“I heard about the Palestinians getting killed in Gaza. Last night, I was crying about the hospital. I prayed to Allah to find an answer. I decided to protest and stand with the Palestinians,” he said.
Having been homeless in Albuquerque, Poole empathized with the plight of the hundreds of thousands in Gaza displaced from their homes since the bombings began.
Amer Wazwaz, a Minneapolis resident and Palestinian American, led demonstrators on the capitol steps. At the end of the rally, he was greeted by friends and supporters as he made his way back to his car wearing an orthopedic boot.
“Alhamdulillah [‘praise be to God’]. It was a great turnout. We wanted to send a message that we need change. And we have to start with them—the politicians,” he said pointing to the state capitol. “Everybody in there, we need them to get uncomfortable. We need to get them moving. This isn’t a one-week issue. This is 75 years. This is before my dad was born. We just need change.”
Wazwaz said the issue at hand is not an issue about faith, but about freedom. He referred to the death of Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalist who was killed in 2022 by Israeli forces while reporting for Al-Jazeera in the West Bank. Abu Akleh was a Christian woman, showcasing that the historical conflict between Palestine and Israel is not about faiths.
Leila Yeshaya echoed this sentiment as she donned a Star of David necklace as a symbol of her Jewish identity. Yeshaya attended the rally as a member of the Anti-War Committee to help the organizers protect protesters from threats and de-escalate issues that may arise when marching.
Yeshaya stated that Israel’s actions have put Jewish lives in harm’s way, as they’ve ratcheted up the conflict against Hamas.
“We want peace. We want to live with Palestinians. We want to live across the world in peace. We want to make sure that our reputation in history isn’t only falling under the umbrella of apartheid,” Yeshaya said. “[We need to make sure] our culture is represented in a way that isn’t solely nationalism. I think that voice is very important.”
She and many other Jewish Americans at the rally and across the country have shared the sentiment of “Not in My/Our Name” as anti-Zionist Jews condemned Israel’s attacks on Palestinians and the siege of Gaza.
There are plans for more demonstrations in the coming days. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) organized protests at the offices of congressional representatives this past week and will hold additional demonstrations calling for a ceasefire. The rally organizers plan to hold other demonstrations to bring heightened awareness about the situation in Gaza.