Chanting "Long Live Palestine" and bearing signs calling for an end to the bombing, hundreds of pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched on City Hall yesterday to protest recent Israeli attacks on Gaza.
The predominantly Arab-American crowd carried Palestinian and American flags, and many wore traditional kaffiyehs around their necks or on their heads.
After gathering at the Israeli consulate at 19th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard at 4 p.m, they marched down the boulevard, snarling rush-hour traffic as they circled City Hall and echoed the chants of a man with a bullhorn.
On the plaza on the north side of City Hall, several speakers denounced the Israeli air strikes, which have killed more than 370 Palestinians since they began Saturday.
"We're trying to call attention to the brutal bombing going on in Gaza and the killing of innocent children," said Sam Kuttab, 49, owner of a security firm in North Philadelphia who described himself as chairman of the Asian Federation of the United States.
"We also want to remind Barack Obama that we voted for him because he talked about hope and change, and we want to make sure that he honors our hope for a change in U.S. policy in the Middle East."
Israel began its air strikes against Hamas targets in Gaza on Saturday in retaliation for rocket attacks on southern Israel, and the Bush administration has said the Israeli actions were justified.
Hamas yesterday kept up its rocket barrages, which have killed four Israelis since the weekend.
Hamas seized control of Gaza in a June 2006 military showdown with fighters loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas and his Fatah faction still control the West Bank.
The internal Palestinian rift has deepened in the last 18 months, and Abbas blamed Hamas over the weekend for provoking the Israeli attacks by not agreeing to renew a six-month cease-fire that brought temporary and relative calm to the area until it expired this month.
"I'm here to give moral support and to promote awareness in the city of this humanitarian crisis," said Marwa El-Turky, 25, of Queen Village, who works for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Yesterday's demonstration followed a smaller demonstration Monday. The call went out largely through e-mail and text messages, organizers said, and many of the demonstrators appeared to be in their 20s and 30s.
Among the groups represented, besides the Asian Federation, were the Palestinian American National Conference, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and the Muslim American Society, organizers said.
Many demonstrators were of Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian, Libyan and Syrian descent. But the crowd also included Christians and sympathetic Jews, including Matt Ginsberg, 26, a Spanish medical interpreter from Chicago who was visiting friends in Germantown. He was carrying a sign that said "Zionism = Imperialism = Endless War = Genocide."
"The bombing needs to stop now," Ginsberg said. "It's not doing anybody any good. To claim that it's about the defense of the Jews is offensive and shameful when innocent people are dying. Until there's justice for the Palestinians, there will never be peace for Israel."
Rabbi Linda Holtzman, 56, of Mishkan Shalom, a Reconstructionist synagogue serving Roxborough and Manayunk, addressed the crowd briefly and expressed her support.
"I'm here because I love Israel and have high expectations for Israel," Holtzman said later during a brief interview. "And right now I'm seeing Israel behaving in a way that feels immoral, unjust and deplorable by reacting with an enormous amount of violence that is destroying countless lives and whole communities.
"I'm also here because Muslims and Jews are children of Abraham. We are all brothers and sisters and we must live together in peace and justice."