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Tens of thousands rally in D.C. for Israel-Gaza cease-fire at pro-Palestinian march

: [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In the original broadcast story, we reported buses came from San Francisco to Washington. In fact there was a parallel demonstration in San Francisco.]

ADRIAN MA, HOST:

Tens of thousands of people have gathered near the White House in what is being called the Free Palestine March. It comes as President Biden has requested more than $14 billion in military aid for Israel, and marchers are protesting that funding and calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Gaza war. For more on that, we turn to NPR's Laurel Wamsley, who joins us near Freedom Plaza in D.C.

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LAUREL WAMSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Adrian.

MA: Laurel, what are you seeing out there?

WAMSLEY: Yeah. The streets here have been full of people all afternoon. Many of them have been waving Palestinian flags or wearing the kufi, the traditional black-and-white scarf of Palestine. It's just a ton of people here. It's all very peaceful. But there's also been a solid police presence. There are a range of speakers at Freedom Plaza and chants that would erupt from time to time. And then an hour - about an hour ago, the folks at the gathering started marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. This march was organized by a range of pro-Palestine groups in conjunction with a lot of peace and justice, more broadly, organizations in the U.S. And they organized buses from across the country, as far as San Francisco, Miami, Texas to be here today.

MA: So people are coming from all over. What are they telling you?

WAMSLEY: Yeah. We spoke to a lot of people, and they had a range of backgrounds. One we spoke with as is young man named Yunis Berkuch (ph). He's a 24-year-old from Jersey City. And he says his family comes from Morocco. But he says, first and foremost, he's here as an American.

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YUNIS BERKUCH: Just as an American, I mean, as someone who grew up in, you know, public schools, I was raised to believe that the United States condemned - right? - atrocities, war crimes, heinous government acts wherever they saw them - right? - regardless of who committed them.

WAMSLEY: And he says, from his perspective, the response from Israel has been disproportionate. He says he's not president. He's never led a country. But he wants a cease-fire. And he wants mediators to come together to resolve this. We also spoke with Amara Rana (ph). She's a 39-year-old who lives in D.C. She said she came to the march because her neighbor is a Palestinian. And she says, as a Muslim herself, it's been emotional to be here at the march today.

AMARA RANA: No. It feels amazing. Like, I'm trying to stop myself from crying. But the unity is amazing to see so many Americans come out, and I hope Joe Biden sees what he's losing.

WAMSLEY: She says Biden voters supported Biden because they believe in equality. But what she's been seeing from the Biden administration right now, she doesn't feel like he's supporting the rights of Palestinians.

MA: So they're sending a message there. Laurel, I wonder, did you speak with any folks there that were Jewish?

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WAMSLEY: Yes, we did. We spoke with a man named Pedro Kramer (ph). He grew up in Argentina, and he now lives outside D.C., and he was there holding a sign with the Star of David on it. And he was here with his baby in a stroller.

PEDRO KRAMER: You know, I was raised as a Jewish - Jewish family, Jewish school. And I was always taught that we - what we do is we seek justice. We seek justice everywhere, everywhere and for everyone. And what is happening right now is the farthest, you know, that justice can be.

WAMSLEY: He said there's no difference between his own son, who's here at the rally, and any child living in Gaza, who he said are dying as we speak. He said he's been questioning what Israel is doing and that it's led to a rift with his family and his friends, even with his best friend, who called him an anti-Semitic for questioning Israel's leadership right now.

MA: So you were speaking to people just a few blocks from the White House. When you talk to them, what are they asking from President Biden and from the U.S. government?

WAMSLEY: The word on everyone's lips here is cease-fire. Over and over again, You ask what they want, they say cease-fire. You know, they come from a range of experiences. Some grew up in the U.S. Some came from Palestine. But there seems to be a sense that nothing is going to be able to happen on this that they want to see until there's a cease in hostilities that will allow mediation to happen and for aid to reach the people.

MA: That is NPR's Laurel Wamsley at the scene of the Free Palestine protest in D.C. today. Laurel, thank you so much for your reporting.

WAMSLEY: You're welcome, Adrian. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Laurel Wamsley
Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.