Hundreds demonstrate in Columbus in support of Palestinians in Gaza

As many as 800 people took to Columbus streets in a rally Saturday that began at the Ohio Statehouse in support of Palestinians and Muslims in Gaza.

Four hours later, after a march northward on High Street, it ended where it started, with just one arrest and no major incidents.

Columbus police credit the city’s new approach to dealing with crowds as one reason why.

“We’re supporting First Amendment rights without subject to content,” Columbus police Cmdr. Duane Mabry told several people on the street who asked him why the crowd, which had no permit to march, was permitted to take over city streets, especially given the crowds and traffic following a home Ohio State University football game. “This is Columbus’ version of a worldwide dialogue.”

Chanting through bullhorns, hoisting Palestinian flags, stopping for speeches and occasional verbal skirmishes, the crowd marched into the heart of the Short North for another rally of a half-hour or so there.

Called “All out for Gaza,” the event was sponsored by Ohio State Students for Justice in Palestine, though Columbus police said it was made up of several groups, some of whom didn’t want to cooperate with agreed-upon rules.

At least one person was taken into custody for disorderly conduct, Columbus police say. But overall the demonstrators, while loud and disruptive to traffic, were peaceful — despite ignoring a police barricade of bicycle officers at North High Street and Buttles Avenue and continuing into the Shorth North to West 2nd Avenue.

As a woman passed by with a sign declaring “You will never erase us,” a man in a Buckeyes shirt approached yelling “Israel, Israel.” That caused a group of men from the protest to rush at him yelling insults. Others walking from the OSU game called out “Welcome to America,” and simply “Terrorists.”

Dana Garadah, 22, of Cincinnati, said her extended family live in Gaza, which has been hit by a daily barrage of Israel rockets since the Hamas-led Oct. 7 invasion of Israel.

“Our neighborhood is completely gone now,” she said. “This is nothing new to us.”

She, like others in the march, decried Israel’s bombing of innocent Palestinian civilians, the U.S. financial backing of Israel and what she calls media lies about the root cause of the immediate crisis.

“You don’t have to be Palestinian to stand with us. You just have to be human,” she said.

When asked about the Hamas attack, she said she didn’t want to talk about that.

Police blocked off traffic two to three blocks ahead of the demonstrators along their march. After stopping on North High at West 2nd Avenue for the second rally, they eventually headed west on West 2nd, then south on Dennison Avenue and doubled back toward High Street southbound.

Dentist James Ford was doing paperwork at his dental practice, oblivious to the march until the commotion led him outside for a look.

“I’m glad that they’re so passionate about their cause,” he said.

The Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas killed at least 1,400 Israelis, wounded a couple thousand more and resulted in an estimated couple hundred hostages, the Israeli government says. Israel responded with heavy bombing that has killed more than 4,100 people in Gaza and wounded thousands more, according to the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry in Gaza, which is home to some 2.3 million people along the Mediterranean Sea. .

And while both the initial terror and the Israeli response were ordered by military and government leaders, outrage from many observers has focused on the human suffering of innocent people on both the Israeli and Gaza sides of the border.

The marchers went through various chants urging freedom for Gaza and Palestine, including “Hey ho, Israel’s got to go” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Their signs read: “De-colonize Palestine,” “End the Apartheid” and “Gaza is 50% under 18.”

Columbus police had a noticeable presence, In helicopters, on bicycles and a six-person police “Dialogue Team,” uniformed officers in light blue vests trained in conflict resolution and deescalation, Their purpose was to keep lines of communication open with the organizers to prevent problems. Nevertheless, an organizer with a megaphone told officers to get out of her face and repeatedly told demonstrators to ignore police.

That’s exactly what the demonstrators did at High Street and Buttles Avenue. When the procession’s lead black SUV bedecked in the black, green and red colors of Palestine turned left toward Goodale Park at a blockade of two rows of Columbus police bicycle officers across the roadway, those on foot ignored an earlier discussion with police about turning back around there and continued northward on High.

Bars, restaurants and sidewalks in the Short North were crowded with Ohio State fans who were celebrating the Buckeyes’ win over Penn State and watching the demonstrators passing through. Police expressed concern that clashes might arise between those blocking High Street traffic and increasingly crowded sidewalks nearing OSU’s campus and post-game exodus.

There have been other protests to the war in Columbus, including just days after the Hamas attack, some of them organized by the same Students for Justice in Palestine group at Ohio State.

On Monday night, hundreds of people supporting Gaza and Palestine flooded a Columbus City Council meeting. Though council made allowances for more speakers from the group and longer than normally permitted speaking times, the meeting was recessed twice — including once after some of those in the audience became disruptive during the session. Council members spoke to leaders and outspoken members of the group, who eventually left.

Police on Saturday took advice from Ohio State visiting professor Clifford Stott, whose specialty is crowd psychology, protest violence, riots and police legitimacy and use of force. Stott called the marchers “respectful of the law and quite good at regulating themselves.”

Officer Greg Peters, one of the conflict resolution officers, said the majority of the group “are excited to be here and want their message heard.”

“What we don’t want to do is have a conflict,” Peters said.

Read More: ‘Shock, fear and horror’: Columbus’ Jewish and Palestinian communities react to conflict

Rhetoric and violence

On Friday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Ohio chapter, a Muslin advocacy organization, defended Ohio Rep. Munira Abdullahi, the state’s first and only female Muslim legislator, who was the sole dissenting vote on a recent House resolution expressing support for those in Israel who suffered in the wake of the terorist attack Oct. 7. Abdullahi came under some sharp criticism for her vote, with some claiming, incorrectly, that she supports Hamas.

“The anti-Muslim hate rhetoric directed at Representative Abdullahi is deeply troubling,” said Victoria Hickcox, CAIR-Ohio outreach director. “This type of vitriol is what has led to a sharp increase in anti-Muslim violence against our community and anyone who speaks for the human rights of Palestinians.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI say there have been increased reports of threats against Jewish, Muslim, and Arab communities in the wake of the Hamas-Israeli war, and the federal government will investigate and prosecute those who commit hate crimes.

Joseph Czuba, 71, is facing first-degree murder, first-degree attempted murder and other charges aftrer police say the landlord fatally stabbed 6-year-old Muslim boy Wadea Al-Fayoume and critically wounded the boy’s 32-year-old mother, Hanaan Shanin, in a brutal knife attack on Oct. 14 at their rental home in a Chicago suburb that was a hate crime.

On Saturday morning, Detroit police were investigating the stabbing death of Samantha Woll, 40, president of the Isaac Agree Downtown Detroit Synagogue. The politicially connected Woll was found dead outside her home in the city’s Lafayette Park neighborhood, The Detroit Free Press reported.

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