In Washington, DC: Celebrating Ramadan, protesting Israel’s siege of Gaza | Israel’s War on Gaza News

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Washington, DC – 48 folding chairs, but will they fit?

“It’s okay, some of us will stop,” said Haitham Arafat, 60, a soft-spoken, handsome man in a kefiyeh and canary yellow shirt.

But soon, more chairs arrived, and they were quickly placed in a row of 40 meters (131 feet) of tables that ran along the street opposite the Israeli embassy in the northwest corner of the United States capital. The line of Ramadan lamps lit the place settings before the iftar meal.

“We fast here every day,” said Arafat, who has been coming to the embassy for the past 21 days as part of 24-hour, seven-day-a-week protests. “But today is special.”

The remote demonstration began 35 days ago, inspired by a sister demonstration outside the Virginia home of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The demonstration – called Kibbutz Blinken – has been going on for 68 consecutive days.

Protesters set up an iftar table in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC [Joseph Stepansky/Al Jazeera]

But on Sunday, relatives and friends of the protesters were invited to an iftar dinner at the Israeli embassy. Arafat described it as a new way to show the determination of the community as killing and looting in Gaza beyond.

Like many of those gathered, Arafat could not believe that the fasting of Ramadan was heavy, saying that he had lost about 100 of his brothers in northern Gaza since October 7.

“With the killings that are happening in Palestine, the famine, this is nothing compared to what they are going through,” he said, his voice growing louder as he spoke. “If we can meet their challenges a little bit, just to show them ‘Hey, we’re thinking about you every day, we’re trying to end this madness.’

Soon, Nora Burgan began handing out hot drinks and cups of tomato and lentil soup to ward off the early spring storms. Salad, dates, kebabs, rice and hummus spread on the table. People sat in their seats, and sat on one side of the table under the sky that had interrupted the rain but had started to fall.

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Nora Burgan carries cups of soup on the iftar tray [Joseph Stepansky/Al Jazeera]

“It doesn’t have to be a party,” Burgan told Al Jazeera. “It’s not perfect, but we’ll share whatever food we have… simple, humble and accepted by the community and in this moment.”

“We always want to think about Gaza, a free Gaza and a free Palestine,” he told those gathered for the survey.

As of Monday, the death toll in Gaza has reached 32,845, humanitarian organizations continue to warn of the impending famine while criticizing Israel for blocking the delivery of food, medicine and other goods to the enclave.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has confirmed that the Israeli army will advance with the battle in the south of the city of Rafah, where most of the refugees from Gaza have fled.

Meanwhile, the warnings from US President Joe Biden have not brought much change in Gaza. Last week, the Washington Post reported that the administration did you have signed of the many weapons sent to Israel, including a one-tonne (2,000-pound) bomb linked to mass casualties.

Iftar Washington DC
Ahmed Afifi delivers food during iftar at a protest in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC [Joseph Stepansky/Al Jazeera]

‘Unapologetically out here’

As the day’s fasting began and the evening turned into deep blue darkness, Hazami Barmada, the protester who led the camps at Blinken’s house and the Israeli ambassador, stood at a packed table.

“We’re out here breaking bread, side by side on the highway, in front of something that doesn’t want us to be here,” said Barmada, whose watermelon earrings danced as her 16-month-old son shifted his weight in his arms.

Barmada has learned a lot about this species in recent months. The show at Blinken’s house started with Barmada and a few others, who started staying in the afternoon.

In late February, he entered the emergency room with a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

But the effort has been consistent since then, with schedules and flexible exchanges to address some of the challenges they face, as well as providing them with support for needs such as childcare or transportation. Barmada believes that the nonviolent protest is unique in its ability to highlight public anger at what is happening in Gaza.

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A protest camp is seen in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC [Joseph Stepansky/Al Jazeera]

Barmada has also been adept at ensuring that the protests remain peaceful and within local law, managing to meet with protesters, angry embassy staff and the ever-present US Secret Service and local police.

Protesters document their actions to avoid false accusations that could stop the protests, he said.

‘Part of resistance is finding happiness’

Some protesters have been participating in the marathon since its inception, and others are newcomers.

“I think it’s encouraging for us to come out here and be in public,” said Jinan Deena, 41, who raised a Palestinian flag in front of the embassy in what she said was her second day of protest there.

Iftar washington, DC
Hazami Barmada overlooks the Israeli Embassy as he addresses those gathered for the iftar [Joseph Stepansky/Al Jazeera]

“Also seeing the sign of the Israeli embassy with the Palestinians. It’s like a work of change,” said Deena.

The incident highlights the deep divisions in the conflict, with images of bloodied Gaza children surrounded by Palestinian flags and signs reading “Genocide is Not Self Defense” and “Israel is shooting children”.

At the embassy, ​​Israeli flags are planted in the grass or hung on the exterior walls, next to pictures of Israelis who were taken into captivity on October 7.

When the crowd of about 60 people began to eat, there was silence at that time. Those who arrived late were greeted with the familiar words: “Have you eaten?” Have something to eat.”

Vegans were identified and quickly informed of all possible options.

“How’s it going?” A woman asked about her homemade shorbet adas, a traditional Ramadan soup. “I made it, but I haven’t tasted it yet.”

Hitham
Hitham Arafat (wearing a hat) quickly breaks his protest in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC. [Joseph Stepansky/Al Jazeera]

As the street lights came on, diners passed katayif — a sweet Palestinian nut or cheese — across the table.

Ahmed Afifi, 28, said the night provided a rare opportunity to meet activists he had previously met through text or social media.

“It’s great to have this today,” he said. “With all the violence going on, it’s good to remember that part of resistance is finding happiness and being around people who have the same goals as you.”

“For me, it’s beautiful and inspiring, and I’m inspired by all of them,” he said.

By 8:30pm, the cleanup had begun, with tables removed and folded as quickly as they appeared. Some seats were returned to other areas of the protest camp, for those who could sleep that night.

The meal ended with a flurry of group photos, followed by an unexpected song.

“Stop fighting now,” they said in unison. “Long live Gaza.”

Iftar washington, DC
The sun is setting as ftar begins in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC [Joseph Stepansky/Al Jazeera]

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