Demonstrators calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war blocked traffic on Interstate 5 in Seattle for more than three hours Saturday.
A blockade of cars and protesters standing on the freeway, joined by hundreds more people gathered on nearby overpasses, halted northbound lanes of I-5 between Interstate 90 and Mercer Street, causing a 6-mile backup.
Organizers and attendees said they were protesting to draw attention to the increasingly dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza and to decry American support for Israel’s military campaign. Some held a banner that called on Washington Sen. Patty Murray, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, to support a cease-fire. Organizers included the Palestinian activist group Falastiniyat, the Seattle chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, a progressive Jewish organization that has called for a cease-fire, and other groups.
Protesters came together to communicate that “there can’t be any business as usual” as long as the war continues, said Michael Grant with Jewish Voice for Peace. “We are having to escalate our demands to the heart of Seattle,” Grant said.
Seattle-area demonstrators have taken to the streets nearly every weekend since the Israel-Hamas war began in October.
Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack from Gaza into southern Israel killed around 1,200 people, and some 250 others were taken hostage, according to The Associated Press. Since then, Israel’s air, ground and sea assault in Gaza has killed more than 22,400 people, two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory. The count does not differentiate between civilians and combatants.
As demonstrators blocked freeway traffic Saturday, Seattle police and the Washington State Patrol descended onto I-5, but they did not move in to physically disperse the group or make arrests.
Throughout the afternoon, protesters decried Israeli airstrikes that have killed civilians and children and driven others into increasingly crowded areas of Gaza. Health conditions and access to food have worsened dramatically, and the United Nations estimates that more than 500,000 people in Gaza are starving.
“I’m here to do what we can to stop this immediately. Nothing justifies what is happening,” said one demonstrator, who said he had family in Gaza and declined to give his name, citing safety concerns. “We are looking for a long-lasting, true peace.”
Before authorities began rerouting traffic to keep drivers off northbound I-5, protesters handed flyers to drivers that apologized for the inconvenience and said, “We would not have taken this action if it weren’t an emergency of life or death for thousands, if not millions, of people.”
Alice Green, a member of the local Green Party who works as a school nurse, said she worries for Palestinian children being traumatized by war. “We need to be creating a world they can flourish in. We’re basically stealing from our future,” she said.
Green said she was upset that “it was very quick for Biden to give money for bombs and military aid” while other needs in the U.S. like housing, student debt relief and health care “have not been addressed.”
As the sky turned dark and rain drenched the crowd Saturday afternoon, demonstrators danced and chanted on the freeway before filing up an onramp to leave, as police looked on.
Demonstrators left about a dozen vehicles on I-5. The State Patrol said tow trucks removed them and the freeway reopened shortly after 6 p.m.