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Thousands rally across Boston and Cambridge for peace in Gaza

About to cross Memorial Drive, the crowd paused at the end of the Mass. Ave Bridge. Nimer M. Ead, center, said he was born in Palestine.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators shut down city streets Sunday afternoon as they marched from the steps of the Boston Public Library across the river to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, calling for a cease-fire in Gaza and the end of US aid to Israel.

They were military veterans, teachers, LGBTQ+ people, Jews, Muslims, Indigenous Americans, Asian Americans, and Black people. A few had green or pink hair. Some wore face masks; many were swathed in traditional patterned scarves, or keffiyeh. A few women donned Arabic dress. One man sported a President Biden mask and carried a baby doll that looked like it had been smeared in fake blood.

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The energetic crowd, estimated at 3,000 to 4,000 by Boston police, waved Palestinian flags and handmade signs as they chanted and moved en masse from the steps of the library on Dartmouth Street through Back Bay and across the bridge to MIT, where administrators last week threatened to suspend students who participated in a pro-Palestinian demonstration, as well as counterprotesters.

The crowd walked on all lanes and the sidewalk of the Mass Ave Bridge. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Layan Alnajjar of Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Connecticut hosted the event and led the chants via a PA system in the back of a pickup truck that traveled along the 3-mile stretch from the library to the university.

“I’m seeing people of all different ethnic backgrounds, all different races, all different colors,” she said. “We are all united together under one common cause, and that is the liberation of Palestine by any means necessary.”

Alnajjar called for equality for all Palestinians and the right to return to their homeland.

“Thank you for coming to show the city of Boston that the Palestinian Liberation Movement is not going anywhere,” Alnajjar said. “When we stand in the face of injustice, we do not quiver, we interlock hands and we say, ‘No more.’ Let our unity intimidate those in power. Let our unity challenge the survival of their twisted narratives because I promise ... the people united will never be defeated.”

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Saleem Hallal from the Party for Socialism and Liberation urged the crowd to “pressure the government to stop funding and supporting” the Israeli government.

“This occupier uses the same tactics trying to split Muslims, Christians, and Jewish people on sectarian lines, pitting us against each other while funding class traitors to kill us,” Hallal said.

Hallal criticized universities, including Brandeis, where seven people were arrested Friday, including some who were seen being forcefully detained by police during a pro-Palestinian rally. The rally came on the heels of the university banning the Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine group, which made a series of online posts that the university president viewed as celebrating or defending Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

“Stand up against Israel in the streets, in the schools,” Hallal said. “At Brandeis, MIT, students are getting arrested and suspended. Make no mistake, they can’t suspend the movement; they can’t suspend a free Palestine.”

The rally started in Copley Square, outside the Boston Public Libraray, and the large group marched over the Mass Ave Bridge into Cambridge. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Elsa Auerbach of Jewish Voice for Peace Boston echoed those sentiments to the crowd.

“Boston Jews say shame on Brandeis, Harvard, and all universities that prohibit students from calling for justice for Palestine,” Auerbach said.

She also sought to shame Biden and US senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts for not calling “for an immediate cease-fire.”

The Israel-Hamas war, now in its second month, has cost thousands of lives. In Gaza, more than 10,000 people have reportedly been killed since Israel began bombarding the territory following the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas that killed more than 1,400 people. More than 200 people were taken hostage by Hamas during the rampage and are being held in Gaza.

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Signs waved by the protesters represented a range of expressions from “Silence is violence” to “The power of the people is stronger than the people in power.” One group held placards that said, “Asians for a liberated Palestine.” Posters carried by Jews in attendance included “Not in my name. Another Jew against another genocide,” and “Zionism is mashugana.”

Zena Bauman, a recruiter from Grafton, attended Sunday’s rally with her husband.

Bauman said her grandparents were from Haifa, and they and their six children, including Bauman’s mother, were forced from their home in Haifa to Lebanon.

“We’ve never been able to go back to our homeland, and it’s been something we’ve struggled with our whole lives, knowing that everyone who’s been left behind has been oppressed ever since,” said Bauman, 47.

Majdi Younes, 54, of Shrewsbury, said his grandparents left Palestine in 1948. His mother, he said, was born on the border between Israel and Lebanon, and her father was shot and killed by the Israeli army.

“We are here for justice,” said Younes, who brought his sons, 18 and 20, to Sunday’s demonstration. “We need peace. We need our country back and the right to return to our homeland.”

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The protesters marched to rotating chants. “Justice is our demand, no peace on stolen land” alternated with “Resistance is justified, when people are occupied,” and gave way to “Raise your hand and make a fist, Palestinians will resist.”

Bobbi Keegan, 83, a retired special-education teacher who lives in South Boston, said the march from the library to MIT was “heartening.

“I was almost in tears on the way over,” Keegan said.

“The cruel, cruel occupation of Palestine by the Israeli government” was what prompted Keegan to march, she said.

“It’s insane to be watching what is going on in Gaza and to think it’s OK,” she said. “[Israel is] our attack dog in the Middle East and nothing is going to hinder that, not 10,000 Gazan deaths, not 20,000.”

Jean-Luc Pierite, of the North American Indian Center of Boston, spoke at Copley Square. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Aaron Warren, 35, a visitor to Boston from Australia, said he attended “to support Palestine, pretty simple.”

“It’s hard to watch tragedy unfold in the world. If you’re not vocal about what’s happening, then you’re supporting the other side,” Warren said. “And it feels important to show up and show support.”

Some men pause on Memorial Drive for prayers. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

David Ledesma, of Norfolk County, carried a sign that said, “This vet stands with Palestine.”

Next to him stood his girlfriend, with her sign reading, “This teacher stands with Palestine.”

“The Palestinian people have been oppressed by the Israeli government for decades,” said Ledesma, 28. “The people of Gaza are being bombed non-stop, people are dying, children are dying.”

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Ledesma said he is of Mexican descent, was born in Southern California, and served in the US Army as a sergeant. He now works as a public school hall monitor.

“I’m tired of staying silent,” he said. “There’s so much oppression going on in this world. It was time for me to stand up and say something, anything, and this means a lot to me.

“I hate to see corrupt governments oppressing people who they’re supposed to help.”

Emma Jesus, 22, a senior at UMass Boston, said she felt compelled to participate in the rally.

“I think it’s an obligation for anyone to show unity. I just want to be the person that I would want, if I was them,” Jesus said. “It’s hard to sleep at night, but I sleep more comfortably knowing I’m making a fight.”





Tonya Alanez can be reached at tonya.alanez@globe.com. Follow her @talanez.