Thousands are expected to rally in support of Palestinian rights on Washington’s National Mall

FILE – Demonstrators rally during the March on Washington for Gaza at Freedom Plaza in Washington, Jan. 13, 2024. Thousands of protestors are expected to rally in the nation’s capital Saturday, May 18, in support of Palestinian rights and demanding an immediate end to the punishing Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip. The annual event commemorates the 76th anniversary of what is known in Arabic as The Nakba (The Catastrophe), the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File

By ASHRAF KHALIL Associated Press

Thousands of protesters are expected to turn out for a rally in the nation’s capital Saturday in support of Palestinian rights and an immediate end to Israeli military operations in Gaza.

The event commemorates the 76th anniversary of what is called the Nakba, the Arabic word for catastrophe, and refers to the exodus of some 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from what is now Israel when the state was created in 1948.

Rally organizers, in an unusual step, did not apply for any permits from the National Park Service, which oversees the National Mall. These permits, which include estimates on attendance, are a traditional step for large rallies or protests.

A protester holds a poster during a demonstration in support of Palestinians calling for a ceasefire in Gaza as the 96th Academy Awards Oscars ceremony is held nearby, Sunday, March 10, 2024, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles.AP Photo/Etienne Laurent

“Permits are required for any organized activity in order to provide for public and participant safety, protection of park resources, and maintaining a commemorative mood where appropriate,” said Mike Litterst, the agency’s chief of communications for the National Mall. “However, in the event no permit application was submitted, we make every effort to support the First Amendment rights of all visitors to the areas we protect with the priority being placed on safety and protection of park resources.”

In the absence of permit applications, there were no estimates as to the size of the protest, and the Park Service no longer provides official crowd estimates for gatherings on the National Mall.

In January, thousands of pro-Palestinian activists flooded the National Mall in one of the larger protests in recent memory in the District of Columbia.

This year’s event is fueled by anger over the ongoing siege of Gaza. The latest Israel-Hamas war began when Hamas and other militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking an additional 250 hostage. Palestinian militants still hold about 100 captives, and Israel’s military has killed more than 35,000 people in Gaza, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants.

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Cars are on fire after they were hit by rockets from the Gaza Strip in Ashkelon, Israel, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023.AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg, File

The rally is also being fueled by anger over the violent crackdown on multiple pro-Palestinian protest camps at universities across the country. In recent weeks, long-term encampments have been broken up by police at more than 60 schools, including George Washington University not far from the White House.

In addition to pressing Israel and the Biden administration for an immediate end to hostilities in Gaza, the protestors are expected to push for the right of return for Palestinian refugees — a longstanding Israeli red line in decades of start-and-stop negotiations.

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President Joe Biden speaks before signing a $95 billion Ukraine aid package that also includes support for Israel, Taiwan, and other allies, in the State Dining Room of the White House, April 24, 2024, in Washington.AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File

After the Arab-Israeli war that followed Israel’s establishment, Israel refused to allow them to return because it would have resulted in a Palestinian majority within Israel’s borders. Instead, they became a seemingly permanent refugee community that now numbers some 6 million, with most living in slum-like urban refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the Israeli-occupied West Bank. In Gaza, the refugees and their descendants make up around three-quarters of the population.


Associated Press writer Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem contributed to this report.