More than 1,000 people gathered at the Minnesota State Capitol Wednesday evening for a peaceful “Stand with Palestine” rally.
Protesters called for a ceasefire in Gaza and aid for the Palestinian people in the aftermath of a bloody explosion at a hospital in Gaza.
Some protesters also called on elected officials in Minnesota to do more for the Palestinian people.
“There’s an overall sentiment of heartbreak,” said Sana Wazwaz, a member of American Muslims for Palestine, a nonprofit advocacy group.
Wazwaz said recent missile attacks on Gaza have caused some Minnesotans with connections to the region to feel a sense of “hopelessness” and “demoralization.”
More than 1,000 people surrounded the Capitol, chanting and raising flags and handmade signs. Muslim protesters took a break to pray at sunset in front of the Capitol, while other protesters observed a moment of silence. Around their necks and faces, many protesters wore the keffiyeh, a checkered scarf that has become a symbol of Palestinian resistance.
Tuesday’s explosion at al-Ahli, a hospital in Gaza, killed at least 471 people, the Gaza Health Ministry said. The explosion came after Israel’s military told 1.1 million people living in north Gaza to flee to the southern portion of the territory as Israel prepares for a potential ground invasion.
The Israeli government denies that it was behind the explosion at the hospital, saying that its preliminary evidence shows that the cause was an inadvertent missile launch by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an extremist group. U.S. intelligence officials have also stated that they have “high confidence” that Israel was not behind the hospital bombing. Both Israel and the U.S. government also cast doubt on whether 471 people died from the explosion, instead implying a smaller death total.
Palestinian officials and Hamas, the extremist group behind the October 7 violent attacks in Israel, allege that Israel attacked the hospital. They have not provided direct evidence.
Mariam El-Khatib, a Palestinian-American, attended Wednesday’s rally because she wanted to “add her voice” and speak out about the recent attacks in Gaza. El-Khatib told Sahan Journal many members of her extended family still live in the Gaza Strip, where she said she also previously lived.
“We’ve just been horrified by what we’ve been seeing,” El-Khatib said. “It’s been a really, really heavy week seeing the attacks.”
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Minnesota), said the most important thing Minnesotans can do right now is to show up to make their views heard.
“There’s a lot of people watching us on social media right now. I’m going to ask you that question: Why aren’t you here?” said Jaylani.
Along with thanking attendees for their support, Jaylani also had them text a number that gave them locations of congressional offices across the state.
“For the first time, we are going to protest at every single congressional office in the state of Minnesota, at all federal offices. Senator [Amy] Klobuchar, Senator Tina Smith, and the entire [U.S.] House,” he said. “We’re gonna protest tomorrow.”
CAIR-MN and the American Muslims for Palestine in Minnesota are calling for continued protests on Thursday at congressional offices across the state. Advocates in the Twin Cities have also organized phone bank efforts demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, with a daily goal of 100 calls to state legislators, the White House, and members of Congress.
An outburst of violence
The latest war between Israel and Hamas erupted last week after a coordinated Hamas attack on Israel. On October 7, a Jewish holiday, militants breached the blockaded Gaza-Israel border and attacked small towns and a music festival, killing more than 1,300 Israelis. Hamas also captured at least 199 people, including children, and took them to Gaza as hostages. The massacre is estimated to be the largest attack on Jews since the Holocaust.
The Israeli government, caught off guard, immediately declared war on Hamas, launching rockets into the heart of Gaza that leveled entire neighborhoods and killed hundreds of civilians.
Israel has also cut off water, electricity, and medical supplies from the territory, a move that international humanitarian organizations call a war crime. Internet outages in Gaza caused by Israeli airstrikes have made information and communication scant.
“There’s a dominant sentiment that the timeline begins on October 7, a Hamas attack—this is an arbitrary starting point. The timeline begins seven decades ago,” Wazwaz said.
Before the hospital explosion, Israel’s airstrikes killed an estimated 2,778 people in Gaza and wounded 9,700 others, according to the Associated Press.
The conflict between Israel and Gaza dates back 75 years, to when Israel, with the help of the United Nations, established itself as a country in 1948. The goal was to establish a Jewish-run country after centuries of pogroms in other countries and the then-recent slaughter of six million Jews during the Holocaust. A Zionist movement to establish a Jewish state in the population’s ancestral homeland had already taken root a half century before then.
The initial plan by the United Nations was to establish two Palestinian states—one Jewish and one Arab. The Israeli-Arab war followed. Before and during the war, 700,000 Palestinians migrated out of what is now Israel, some fleeing and some by force. Palestinians emigrated to the modern-day Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which at the time were a part of Egypt and Jordan, respectively. The 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and a coalition of Arab states changed this. Israel won the Six-Day War and occupied Gaza and the West Bank.
In 2005, Israel withdrew from Gaza. The following year, Hamas won an election. A civil war followed, and Hamas gained control of Gaza and hasn’t held an election since. Israel has since blockaded the territory.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story inaccurately reported the Israel/Palestine history.