As South Africa presented its case accusing Israel of genocide in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) Thursday, Jewish protesters and allies in Portland blocked the intersection of 3rd Avenue and Madison Street, in front of the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building in solidarity. 

Protesters held a sit-in at a busy intersection, blocking traffic.

Participants say they wanted to draw attention to the international hearings, especially in the absence of a cease-fire in Gaza. Specifically, organizers are calling on President Biden to stop sending US military aid to Israel, and asking lawmakers to sign on to the Ceasefire Now Resolution.   

Maxine Fookson, a Jewish protester and organizer of the event, emphasized that they don’t take these actions lightly. 

"The seriousness of what's happening in Gaza, the magnitude, the genocide, really calls on us to say, ‘Business can't just go on as usual,'" Fookson said. "And so sometimes I think we have to take steps that inconvenience people.”

The event followed months of protests and rallies across the United States and Portland, all in support of Palestine.

Over the past three months, Jewish community members have staged protests at Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s office and on the Burnside Bridge. So far, Sen. Jeff Merkley is the only Oregon federal official to support a cease-fire in Gaza. 

Protesters stage a sit-in at a major intersection in downtown Portland. kevin foster

Until Thursday, the protests had not led to any arrests. Within an hour of the sit-in beginning, the Portland Police Bureau issued a dispersal order. With a number of protesters refusing to leave the intersection, at least 17 officers showed up to the scene.

In all, police arrested 20 people on charges of disorderly conduct in the second degree. Initial reports from police indicated 19 were arrested, but organizers reported 20 people were detained. Among those arrested was Abby Martin, director of the 2019 documentary, Gaza Fights For Freedom. 

The group was careful to stage a demonstration that wouldn’t shut down the federal building, in an effort not to disrupt immigration hearings. However, the protests still resulted in a temporary closure. 

Traffic piled up, especially after police disrupted organizers’ efforts to guide drivers to other streets, leaving commuters frustrated. Protesters felt Thursday’s demonstration was the only way for their voices to be heard.

“I wish that we could have sent letters to our elected officials and they would have signed on to a ceasefire agreement,” Fookson said. “We're not doing it for fun, that's for sure. It's cold. It's not comfortable. But we're doing it because we haven't been listened to.”

A few of the first protesters arrested were handcuffed and then carried by police to a nearby building. Additionally, three cars that were blocking the street were towed. 

PPB noted multiple warnings were given before arrests were made and vehicles were towed. However, one protester whose car was towed claimed she offered to move, but police refused to let her do so, saying she would be arrested if she didn't exit her vehicle. 

The arrests surprised Fookson. To her and those in support, what’s happening in Gaza is heart-wrenching. Seeing the case and the associated images from Gaza in the ICJ hearing is all the more painful.

“I was in tears last night seeing the pictures of children,” Fookson said, “of completely devastated, bombed out areas, of Israeli soldiers cheering what they had done, singing songs, talking, you know, mimicking the hateful, vile words that are coming from the upper government in Israel.”

Over 23,000 Gazans have been killed since Oct. 7, leaving many to hope that South Africa’s case against Israel would bring a stop to the conflict.