White House protest leads campaign for a cease-fire before Israeli ground invasion

Dozens of participants at a primarily Jewish protest were arrested on Monday where demonstrators chanted "Cease-fire now!"

Demonstrators calling for peace in Israel and Palestine gathered Oct. 16, 2023, in front of the White House. The group was primarily organized by the groups If Not Now and Jewish Voice for Peace. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

WASHINGTON (RNS) — As Israel readies a massive military response to Hamas’ attack from the Gaza Strip, Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious leaders and faith-based activist groups are mounting a campaign calling for a cease-fire, with some planning a large demonstration for Wednesday (Oct. 18) in the nation’s capital to ask the Biden administration to help end the bloodshed.

Wednesday’s event will be a continuation of a protest Monday outside the White House, where participants holding “Ceasefire” signs recited the kaddish (the Jewish mourner’s prayer), sang songs in English and Hebrew and sometimes grappled with police. Organizers said afterward that around 50 people were arrested during that demonstration. The U.S. Secret Service said Tuesday that it arrested 33 individuals on charges of unlawful entry and 16 on charges of incommoding, which generally refers to hindering passage or obstructing traffic.

The protests were primarily organized by the Jewish activist groups If Not Now and Jewish Voice for Peace.

Speaking to a crowd through a bullhorn on Monday afternoon, Rabbi Miriam Grossman, who is based in Brooklyn, New York, said she and others were gathered in Washington to declare to those in the White House and Congress that the “answer to all of this unfathomable grief cannot be mass murder.”

After noting members of her community continue to mourn those slain by Hamas fighters in southern Israel and have relatives and friends among those kidnapped and held hostage, Grossman railed against Israel’s military response, which has killed at least 2,778 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities. It has also displaced hundreds of thousands, who have fled their homes to avoid airstrikes and an expected ground assault by Israeli forces, according to The Associated Press.

Rabbi Miriam Grossman speaks with protestors gathered Monday afternoon, Oct. 16, 2023 in front of the White House. Rabbi Grossman ________. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

Rabbi Miriam Grossman speaks with protesters gathered Oct. 16, 2023, in front of the White House. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

“So many Palestinians in my life are also in mourning and are living in terror as they lose contact with loved ones in Gaza,” Grossman said. She later added: “Our grief is not a weapon.”

In a separate interview, Grossman characterized the protest as a campaign to “stop genocide,” invoking the phrase “never again” — a reference to efforts to prevent another Holocaust like the one that led to the deaths of millions of Jews in World War II.

“I’m also here as a rabbi, as part of Jewish history, to say that when we say ‘Never again,’ we mean it for anyone,” she said.

Demonstrators continued to pray and march into the evening on Monday. Many chanted “Not in our name!” and “Free Palestine!” Others shouted at people leaving the White House, urging them to tell their bosses “Cease-fire now!” One group of protesters eventually spilled into the street, blocking traffic. 

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