WASHINGTON – Thousands of people circled the White House Saturday in a passionate demonstration supporting Lebanon, the country at the center of the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.
Hundreds of red, white and green Lebanese flags bearing the country’s emblematic cedar tree waved beneath Lafayette Square’s canopy of elms as demonstrators demanded a cease-fire, many of them mourning their war-ravaged homeland.
“There are a lot of kids, a lot of women dying, and the amazing thing is no one is doing anything about it,” said Hassan Alaouie, 42, who traveled with his wife and two children from Dearborn, Mich., to attend the rally. “This is the least we can do.” Alaouie, who works for a medical billing company, came to the United States from a border village in Lebanon 20 years ago, but much of his family is still there. His brother lost his home in Beirut to an Israeli missile, and his parents had to flee to a safe house in the north.
Organizers estimated “tens of thousands,” but law enforcement officials, who no longer make official crowd counts, estimated the crowd at less than 10,000.
The rally was held on the day that Hezbollah and the Lebanese government accepted with reservations a cease-fire declared by the United Nations to end the month-long conflict. The Israeli cabinet is to vote on the cease-fire Sunday.
The primary organizer was the ANSWER coalition, a left-wing group that has sponsored numerous antiwar rallies that often attract socialists and anarchists. The National Council of Arab Americans and the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation also were sponsors.Most of the people at the White House on Saturday were Muslim families and students, who took breaks in the shade to feed children or bow toward Mecca for noon prayers.
“We came with seven buses from Ohio. We drove all night,” said Julia Shearson, director of the Ohio chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, in Cleveland.
For about two hours before the march, thousands of protesters gathered near the stage in Lafayette Square. Cedars were painted on faces and T-shirts; hair was dyed in the colors of the Lebanese flag and hundreds of Palestinian flags and banners were waved.
Speakers decried the actions of Israel and the United States, which they described as an occupation, and proclaimed solidarity with the civilians caught in the various conflicts in the Middle East. The crowd grew most agitated when speakers denounced President Bush’s references to Islam.
“Mr. Bush: Stop calling Islam ‘Islamic fascism,’ ” said Esam Omesh, president of the Muslim American Society, prompting a massive roar from the crowd. He said there is no such thing, “just as there is no such thing as Christian fascism.”
By early afternoon, the march wound its way around the White House.
They encountered about two dozen counter-protesters.