Texans fill downtown Austin streets to demand ceasefire in Gaza

Thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators gather on the grounds of the state Capitol in Austin to protest the Israel-Gaza war on Nov. 11, 2023. (Julius Shieh/The Texas Tribune, Julius Shieh/The Texas Tribune)

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Thousands of Texans descended upon the state Capitol Sunday afternoon in support of Palestinians to call for a ceasefire in Gaza and an end to U.S. and Texas aid to Israel.

The death toll in Gaza has surpassed 10,000 people since conflict erupted on Oct. 7, when the militant group Hamas killed about 1,200 Israelis in a surprise attack. Israel launched an intense ground invasion in neighboring Gaza, sparking outrage from the United Nations and many countries as the death toll has continued to rise. Two-thirds of those deaths are women and children, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza. Gaza residents face shortages of food, water and medical supplies.

Both the Biden administration and Gov. Greg Abbott have affirmed their support for Israel, even as President Joe Biden faces growing pressure from members of his party over his support for the country.

Some Democrats in the Texas Legislature have urged President Biden to call a ceasefire. State Reps. Ron Reynolds of Missouri City, John Bryant of Dallas, Terry Meza of Irving and Ana-Maria Ramos sent a letter to Texas Democratic Party chair Gilberto Hinojosa last week asking the leader to urge the Biden administration to secure additional humanitarian aid for Gaza and to work towards a ceasefire.

Meanwhile, Abbott flew to Israel earlier this month to show his support for the Middle Eastern country. He met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as the country’s minister of foreign affairs to discuss ways Texas could continue to support the country.

“Texas has always, and will always, support Israel and the Israeli people,” Abbott said in a statement after the visit. “During this trip, I saw firsthand the resilient spirit of the Israeli people … Texas will continue to help support Israel safeguard their freedom against brutal terrorist organizations like Hamas.”

On Sunday, protestors in Austin stood outside the Texas Capitol carrying signs accusing Biden of using tax dollars to fund a “genocide” and asking him to support a ceasefire. The protestors, many of whom had come from other Texas cities, then marched along San Jacinto Boulevard chanting “Ceasefire Now!” and “Free, Free Palestine Now!”

The crowd stretched across multiple blocks and spilled onto sidewalks. One group climbed onto a nearby parking garage and held banners over the roof. Another group carried a white banner that listed the names of every person killed in Gaza since Oct. 7. The protest was organized by a coalition of pro-Palestine groups, including the Palestinian Youth Movement and the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

“Our tax dollars should stay here for the prosperity of our own children, not for the death and destruction of impoverished children halfway around the world,” said Cally Hibbs, an Austin resident who attended the protest and carried a sign asking people to call their representative and demand a ceasefire.

Texas Department of Public Safety officers stood along the perimeter of the march, which remained peaceful, to ensure attendees’ safety and to make sure the protest didn’t interfere with the Texas Book Festival, also taking place in downtown Austin.

“We need to clarify misconceptions about what is happening in the Middle East,” said Asif Shiraz, a protester from Austin. “We want people to realize that the U.S. policy is not fair towards Palestine.”

At one point, the march took particular aim at the governor, with some participants yelling: “Abbott, Abbott, you can’t hide. We charge you with genocide.”

In October, the governor’s office allocated more than $4 million to 31 Jewish organizations in Texas for physical security enhancements and other safety improvements. He also issued an executive order directing state agencies to not purchase goods produced in or exported from the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian territory whose borders are controlled by Israel and Egypt.

The Texas Comptroller’s Office also purchased $65 million in Israel bonds in recent weeks to help provide financial liquidity to respond to Hamas’ attack. Since 1994, Texas has invested in Israeli bonds yearly. The state holds about $140 million in Israel bonds, according to the comptroller’s office.

Clarification, : An earlier version of this story said the Gaza Strip's borders are controlled by Israel; the Palestinian territory's southern border is controlled by Egypt.

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