Lena Maarouf watched as the crowd steadily grew.
Police said about 600 people attended Sunday’s rally on the New Haven Green to protest attacks on Gaza, but some observers estimated the crowd swelled to approximately 2,000 at its peak.
“To me, it means that the Palestinian movement is finally gaining traction,” she said.
Connecticut residents have held protests in support of both Israel and Palestinians since Hamas, an armed Palestinian militant group, attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing more than 1,400 people, injuring thousands more, and taking at least 200 hostages. Israel responded with airstrikes on Gaza that have killed as many as 7,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza health ministry, and has amassed troops at the border for a ground invasion.
In a rally organized in support of Israel in West Hartford on Oct. 9, several Connecticut politicians emphasized their support for Israel, long an ally of the United States in the Middle East.
U.S. Senator Chris Murphy said, “This is a moment where we are going to have to stand as a nation with greater force, with greater purpose than ever, to make sure that Israel has what it needs … But it is a day to remember that no matter how lethal, no matter how successful this operation is to hunt down and bring those to justice who perpetrated these crimes, Israel is going to need our support next year, the year after, and for decades to come.”
Concerns about the safety of civilians living in the Gaza Strip have escalated in recent days, as have concerns here at home about the rise in anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim attacks and threats since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
One goal of Sunday’s protest was to emphasize “that Palestinian lives matter just as much as Israeli lives,” said Maarouf, a Milford resident and rally organizer who served as the president of Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Connecticut in 2022. “We keep hearing, ‘What about this?’ and ‘What about this?’ But it almost seems as if people are trying to diminish what is happening in Gaza because of Hamas. You cannot equate almost 5,000 civilian lives to one group.”
Muhammad Hamdan, another organizer, hoped the rally would bring hope to those in Gaza.
“I hope the kids in Gaza know that the people are there [protesting]. The people are there. It’s the politicians that have their money outweighing human lives right now,” he said.
One of the signs from Sunday’s protest read: “You should be quiet when the kids are sleeping, not when they are being KILLED!!!” Of the approximately 7,000 Gazans killed since Oct. 7, nearly 3,000 were children, according to a report by the Ministry of Health in Gaza on Oct. 26.
“We say all the time, ‘How could we let atrocities happen?’ And this is exactly how,” said University of Connecticut student Sumreen Khan. “I feel like everyone should be here. Everyone should be out here supporting this.”
“This is not new. Our grandparents were killed and displaced,” a protest organizer said through a megaphone, referring to historical violence against Palestinians that U.N. Secretary General Guterres denounced in his Oct. 24 remarks to the Security Council. Nearly 800 scholars and practitioners of international law, including nine from Connecticut, signed a statement on Oct. 18 warning the international community of genocide in Gaza. “We do not do so lightly, recognizing the weight of this crime, but the gravity of the current situation demands it,” details the statement.
The line, “Hey Joe Biden, you can’t hide, you are charged with genocide,” was repeated throughout Sunday’s rally.
“Do not be silent. They want us to believe that our voices hold no power, but our screams can be heard echoing across the world. Do not be silent,” shouted an organizer.
“We are trying to get the truth out, and we are trying to change the narrative,” said Maarouf of Western media’s bias in coverage of recent events. “To see our small little state look past that and see past that is really impressive.”
Southport resident Kristen Nimr came to protest as an ally, brandishing a sign stating “It’s Palestime.”
“I’m a human being first, a mom second,” she said. “But I believe in equal rights and humanity and dignity for every person in this world. And my heart breaks — it could be anywhere, anyplace. But I think [for] the Palestinian people, it’s time that they’re recognized and they’re seen.” Nimr’s three sons are half Palestinian.
“It warms my heart because it’s a very lonely feeling,” says Nimr of the crowd. “I think Palestinians feel alone in this world. They feel like they haven’t been seen or heard for 75 years. And when you carry that in your heart and you care, it’s important to know that other people, even if they’re not Palestinian, start to care.”
As the protest looped through Yale’s campus and returned to the New Haven Green, Woodbridge resident Marilyn Murray paused for a moment before entering Sunday service at Elm City Vineyard Church, sitting on the steps to explain the protest to her 5-year-old son.
“There’s people who help others and people who hurt others, and they want people to stop being hurt,” she told him. “And so the people today are saying people should stop being hurt.”