Demonstrators march down Congress Street in Portland on Saturday, decrying U.S. support for the Israeli military in its war in Gaza. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Hundreds of people gathered in Portland on Saturday to call for peace in Gaza, first holding a rally in Monument Square before marching through parts of downtown and the Old Port.

Organized by the statewide Maine Coalition for Palestine, one of the event’s main goals was to pressure Maine’s federal and state representatives to support an immediate and permanent cease-fire in Gaza, said Rosemary Corkins, a member of the event’s organizing committee. Protesting U.S. support of Israel’s military was another aim.

“As a human being, I can’t stand by and just watch this truly insane violence continue, while our tax money helps fund the Israeli Army,” said Corkins, 22, a native of Washington County who recently graduated from Colby College in Waterville. “Humanitarian aid needs to be getting in, immediately.”

The current war in Gaza began nearly seven months ago, on Oct. 7, when about 1,200 people were killed in Israel during a surprise attack by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, according to the Associated Press. Hamas is believed to be holding roughly 100 hostages, as well as the remains of about 30 people killed in the attack or who died in captivity.

Since those hostilities in Gaza began, the Palestinian territory’s Health Ministry says more than 32,000 people have been killed and 74,000 wounded, the AP reported.

Saturday’s demonstration in Portland started with a half-dozen speakers talking about the mounting number of casualties and the need for a cease-fire, among other topics.


Several speakers spoke of how Palestinians have long lived under Israeli occupation and had their land taken from them. Others talked about how the current war in Gaza is bringing more awareness than ever to the plight of the Palestinians since the creation of Israel in 1948.

Fateh Azzam, of Georgetown, speaks during Saturday’s rally. He said he was heartened by the show of support for Palestinians and for peace in Gaza. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

One of them, Palestinian native Fateh Azzam, said he was heartened to see how many Americans have come out to rallies since the current war in Gaza began.

“It means a huge amount to me. It means that after nearly 75 years of Palestinians being alone in the world, trying to have our victimization by Israel recognized, now at a very high cost of 32,000 people dead, finally people in the U.S. are becoming aware of what’s going on,” said Azzam, 73, who was born in Nazareth and lives in Georgetown. “I’m particularly heartened by the number of young Jewish voices involved.”

The event Saturday was held to coincide with Land Day, held annually to commemorate March 30, 1976, when six Palestinians were killed and more than 100 injured by Israeli forces during protests against Israel taking historically Palestinian lands. Some speakers in Portland talked about the similarities between the Palestinians losing their land and the Wabanaki people of Maine losing theirs.

Saturday’s event started about 1 p.m. with hundreds of people gathering in Monument Square. By the time the crowds started marching 90 minutes later, that number appeared to have been over 1,000. Many in the crowd wore traditional Palestinian scarves, while some held Palestinian flags. Others carried signs with slogans like “Free Palestine,” “End all U.S. aid to Israel” or “The world is watching, you won’t silence us.”

Some people who attended the rally and march said they’ve become supporters of the Palestinian cause mostly since the current war in Gaza, while others, like Erin Kiley, of Falmouth, said they have long felt that Palestinians are oppressed and should have their own state.


“I think a lot of people have an incomplete understanding of how long Palestine has been under the brutal apartheid oppression of the Israeli state. Palestinian sovereignty and peace begins with ending the occupation, ending the violence,” said Kiley, 41. “It’s easy for people to feel overwhelmed about how to talk about this issue. It’s seen as something that’s very complex. But it’s actually not complicated. There are just some things that are right and wrong. What we’re seeing is a genocide.”

Mia Pilsbury, 20, of Westbrook, said she had first learned about Palestinians in Gaza while doing a project in high school. She sees the Palestinian situation as an occupation, which she can relate to. Her family is from South Korea and her grandparents have talked about how devastating the Japanese occupation of their country was for them.

“My grandparents talk about when the Japanese occupied South Korea and how that affected them the rest of their lives. That’s the reason why they left. This is not directly affecting me, but I see it through the lens of my family,” Pilsbury said. “So I want to do something, even if it’s just to lend my voice.

“I don’t want to look back at this and say that I did nothing.”

Saturday’s demonstration was organized by Maine Coaltion for Palestine. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

During the rally in Monument Square, speakers used a public address system and handheld bullhorns to lead the crowd in chants, including “From Wabanaki to Palestine, occupation is a crime” and “In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians.” While Palestinian music played over loudspeakers, hundreds held hands and danced in circles.

The crowd marched from Monument Square toward the East End, then through the Old Port to Commercial Street, and eventually back to Monument Square. The march caused traffic backups on Commercial Street, but no arrests were made, according to Portland police.


So far, negotiations over a pause in the fighting in Gaza have been stalled. Hamas has refused to release the estimated 100 Israeli hostages it is believed to be holding, unless Israel ends its offensive, withdraws from Gaza and releases a large number of Palestinian prisoners, the AP reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called Hamas’ conditions “delusional” and has said that after any hostage release, Israel will keep fighting until Hamas is defeated. Yet on Friday, Netanyahu said Israel will return to the negotiating table for cease-fire talks with Hamas. The United States, Qatar and Egypt have been involved in trying to get an agreement. President Biden has faced growing pressure to cut military aid to Israel, including from some U.S. senators.

Maine Coalition for Palestine has organized dozens of rallies in Maine in the past few months, Corkins said, including in Portland, Augusta and Bangor. Some of the groups that make up the coalition include Maine Voices for Palestinian Rights, Students for Justice in Palestine from various colleges in the state, the Maine Party for Socialism & Liberation, Healthcare Workers for Palestine and Maine Labor for Palestine.

Other Land Day events were planned around the U.S. on Saturday, including in New York City’s Times Square, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. The New England Network for Justice for Palestine website listed a dozen or more Land Day events in the region, including in Burlington, Brattleboro and Montpelier, Vermont, and Boston, Lawrence, Salem and Chelmsford, Massachusetts.

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