Thousands Circle White House to Demand Biden Enforce Gaza ‘Red Line’

Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post
Demonstrators chant in front of the White House on Saturday.

Thousands of demonstrators surrounded the perimeter of the White House in a sea of ‘ fabric Saturday, saying they were drawing a red line for President Biden and calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.

On the same day that Gazan officials said at least 210 Palestinians were killed during an Israeli hostage-rescue mission, the demonstrators – many of whom had arrived on buses from more than two dozen cities – marched to chants of “Free Palestine!” while holding signs that said “Genocide is our red line” and “Israel bombs, your taxes pay.” While marching, they held a seemingly unending strip of red fabric around the entire perimeter.

Biden said last month that he would suspend delivery of offensive weapons to Israel if it went into population centers in Rafah. But the White House has so far said Israel had not crossed Biden’s “red line” with its campaign there, infuriating Saturday’s demonstrators.

“If Joe Biden’s red line was a fiction … and it was designed to make us become quiet, instead of that, we are going to become louder,” said Brian Becker, a leader of the ANSWER Coalition, one of the organizers of the march. “Only we can be the red line against genocide.”

For Mohammad, a leader in the Palestinian Youth Movement who addressed the demonstrators before the march, it’s personal.

His aunts and uncles are in Rafah, not far from where an Israeli strike killed dozens of people at a tent camp. His parents and other family are in North Gaza. He remembers the first call he got from his family members after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that ignited the deadly war.

“They told me, ‘We go to sleep knowing we might not wake up in the morning. The sun rises and we hope Gaza is still there,’ ” recalled Mohammad, who did not share his last name for safety reasons.

Palestinian authorities have estimated more than 36,000 civilians, many of them women and children, have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, drawing escalating international condemnation. Those who were driven to join the march said they felt they could not be silent as civilian Palestinians and children continued to die, and as U.S. aid to Israel continued.

Many who came were students.

Aiya, a George Washington University student and a leader of GW Students for Justice in Palestine, said the student activism has “really lit a fire under the Free Palestine movement, because it has pushed the bounds of what we here in the United States and the diaspora are willing to sacrifice.” Before police shut it down last month, hundreds of GWU students set up a pro-Palestinian encampment – one of numerous throughout the country.

Aiya, who did not share a last name for privacy reasons, said students wanted Gazans to know they are “not alone.”

“We say at campus protests, ‘We will not rest till you divest,’ and we mean that. We have been out here tirelessly,” Aiya said. “I mean, how could we tire when we see the people of Gaza endure through literally hell on Earth?”

Shafi Goodwin, 36, a demonstrator who was holding the red line during the march, said he found the student activism at campuses nationwide “tremendously inspiring” – moving him to leave home in Durham, N.C., at 7:30 a.m. to get on a bus and join the protest in Washington.

“Seeing how the students experienced backlash for standing up for the innocent, it struck a deep nerve with me,” Goodwin said.

Many demonstrators expressed conflicted emotions or disillusionment about Biden and the presidential election. In states including Michigan and Minnesota, thousands of voters selected “uncommitted” in their vote for president in the Democratic primaries to send a message of disapproval to Biden.

“He chooses to keep silent to please Israel,” said Arianna Streeter-Floyd, who took a 20-hour bus ride from Des Moines to join the march.

Leo Delgiacco, 22, who came to the demonstration with her sister Jonna, said it was “discouraging knowing there’s no good option.”

“I’m not going to vote someone in who’s committing genocide,” added Jonna, 25. “I don’t want to pick one evil over another evil.”

A spokesperson for the White House did not respond to a request for comment in response to the messages demonstrators blared outside the executive mansion Saturday.

The demonstration and march remained largely peaceful. A D.C. police spokesperson said the agency had not made any arrests, while the U.S. Park Police did not respond to an inquiry on arrests.

Mohammad, the Palestinian Youth Movement leader, told the demonstrators he did not want them to feel their persistent activism has been “for naught,” noting how demonstrators have shut down streets and bridges throughout the country. Members of his family who have fled Gaza are asking, “When shall we go home? When can I return to Gaza, my dear Gaza?” he said.

Some of his relatives relocated to Rafah, only for Rafah to fall under Israeli assault, he said. He goes days without hearing from family members in Gaza as they lose internet and phone connections, he said, with many fearing they may not see tomorrow.

“We’re not ready for them to be gone,” he said.