In just the last three weeks, more than 8,000 Palestinians— about 3,200 of them children— have been killed by Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip. As the death toll continues to rise—with no sign of a cease-fire on the horizon—protests have erupted all over the world, calling for an end to the violence and freedom for Palestinians.
One such protest took place in Downtown Portland on Saturday, October 28. More than 1,000 people gathered outside the World Trade Center Portland, which houses U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley's local office, demanding Merkley and other Portland representatives back a cease-fire in Gaza. So far, only a handful of U.S. representatives—none of them from Oregon—have called for a cease-fire.
Merkley, for his part, cosigned a statement with several other Democratic U.S. Senators calling for "humanitarian pauses to allow full, rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian assistance for civilians and the immediate, unconditional release of all remaining hostages."
"Israel has a right to defend its citizens after Hamas's terrorist attacks, which have driven the region into turmoil and cost thousands of lives," the statement says. "The war in Gaza has become a humanitarian crisis and has claimed the lives of innocent Palestinians."
At Saturday's protest, attendees said they don't think "humanitarian pauses" are sufficient. In speeches, chants, and on handmade signs, protesters called for full freedom for Palestinians to live peacefully in their homeland, and an end to the Israeli occupation they've lived under for almost 80 years.
The protest was organized by local Palestinian youth activist group Free People of Portland, who also co-organized a rally on October 21 at the 911 Federal Building, where Sen. Ron Wyden and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer have offices. Like Merkley, neither Wyden, Blumenauer, nor Portland's other U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, have supported a cease-fire.
"As of now, [none] of our Portland representatives in Congress have backed a cease-fire. The people are speaking out, all over the world, and yet our representatives have not listened," Farah, a protest organizer, said at the rally. "So today, we're standing up, and all uniting for a cease-fire."
Several other speakers, many of them Palestinian, also took to the mic. Jon, a Palestinian-American man, described the ongoing violence in Gaza as "not a war, [but] a killing field." (Like many other speakers, Jon declined to provide his last name.)
"For decades, the entirety of my lifetime, we have lived in exile and open-air prisons," Jon said. "We are not free, and today we are dying in untold numbers. It has to stop."
The barrage of Israeli airstrikes against Gaza (and the recent ground invasion) that have taken place through much of October come after the deadly October 7 attack on Israeli citizens and soldiers by Gaza militant group Hamas. About 1,400 people were killed during the attack, and Hamas took more than 200 hostages from Israel. Israel's stance, which has been matched somewhat by the U.S. government and other Israeli allies, is that a strong military response is necessary, to debilitate Hamas's presence and influence. Israel's leaders also say the country needs to protect the Jewish people who sought refuge in Israel after the Holocaust.
In the U.S., anti-Semitic and Islamophobic incidents have both increased in recent weeks. However, many activists—including pro-Palestinian Jewish people—say it is possible to both support Palestine and decry anti-Semitism.
Recent reporting in the Mercury looked at how several members of Portland's Jewish community have reacted to the violence in Gaza. Here in Portland and around the world, a constituency of pro-Palestinian Jewish people want to counter the narrative that Israeli violence against Palestinians is justified.
Natalie, who identified as an anti-Zionist Jewish person, denounced the killing of innocent Palestinians "for the sake of Jewish safety."
"There is no safety in the murder of 8,000 people... There is no safety in occupation. And there is no safety in colonialism and apartheid," Natalie said. "And frankly, I think there is no peace for my ancestors, and for all of our Jewish ancestors, that their names and trauma are being used to justify violence against other people."
After hearing from speakers, protesters began marching through Downtown Portland, calling out chants like "Free, free Palestine," "Gaza, Gaza, don't you cry; Palestine will never die," and "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free." One chant put the spotlight on President Biden and the historic and ongoing U.S. financial and military support for Israel: "Biden, Biden, you're a liar; We demand a cease-fire."
With attacks on the Gaza Strip continuing, there are more protests on the horizon. Free People of Portland, along with the local chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace and the Party for Socialism and Liberation, have planned their next rally for 4 pm on November 2 outside Wyden's Northeast Portland office.
The resounding message from Palestinians who spoke at the protest was one of gratitude to all who have shown support, but fear their voices still aren't loud enough for people in power to listen.
One man who spoke at the rally said his friends and family in Palestine have "one simple message," which he wanted to share.
"'We feel [we're] not being heard. We need help,'" he said. "I wish I could tell you about all the atrocities are being felt right now, but there is no time, because we need action... I trust that all of you are going to connect with our elected officials and tell them our message: Cease-fire now."