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Dozens of Christians Arrested After Shutting Down Senate Lunch in Protest of Gaza Famine

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Demonstrators with Christians for a Free Palestine protest the Gaza famine in the U.S. Senate cafeteria, April 9, 2024, at the Capitol in Washington. (RNS photo/Aleja Hertzler-McCain)

WASHINGTON (RNS) — “Woe to you who eat while others go hungry,” shouted two lines of Christian pastors and laypeople. With arms linked, they stood between the food and cash registers in the U.S. Senate cafeteria and brought lunch to a standstill for about half an hour before U.S. Capitol Police quickly completed arrests.

Between 50 and 60 demonstrators demanding a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, as well as aid for the ever-shrinking food supply in Gaza, were arrested Tuesday (April 9) in the cafeteria. The interdenominational protest, organized by Christians for a Free Palestine, followed a Communion service held on Capitol grounds.

“This table is a reminder that we are called to live in a way that may in fact hasten our death,” the Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart told protesters before she presided over Communion. “Because we are enemies of injustice, because we embarrass the state by our refusal to accept its ways.”

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More than 25 children in Gaza have died due to complications linked to malnutrition, according to the World Health Organization, which has warned that the region could face a full-blown famine by May.

The Rev. Naomi Washington-Leaphart, center, officiates a Communion service on Capitol grounds, April 9, 2024, during a Christians for a Free Palestine cease-fire protest in Washington. (RNS photo/Aleja Hertzler-McCain)

Humanitarian officials have urged Israel to allow more food to enter Gaza. After an Israeli military airstrike hit a World Central Kitchen convoy April 1, killing seven humanitarian aid workers, President Joe Biden said Israel had not done enough to protect aid workers or civilians and called on Israel to do more to facilitate humanitarian corridors. But critics points out that the same day of the drone strike on the WCK convoy, Biden had signed off on the transfer of thousands of bombs to Israel.

“Starvation was weaponized against our people to bring them on their knees,” the Rev. Mitri Raheb, a Palestinian theologian and founder of Dar al-Kalima University in Bethlehem, told the group gathered for Communion ahead of the cafeteria protest.

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“I wonder actually, if not one of these bombs that were donated to Israel was the one that actually destroyed our campus in Gaza,” Raheb said, referencing the destruction of the Dar al-Kalima University outpost in Gaza during Holy Week, days before the WCK attack.

Organizers of Tuesday’s protest repeatedly denounced Christian Zionism, a belief that Jews must return to Israel to bring about the return of Jesus.

Rabbi Alissa Wise, lead organizer for Rabbis for Ceasefire, also spoke to the small crowd, telling the protesters their actions were a “sign of solidarity and friendship” with Jews “by sharing the burden of the ways that our religious traditions have been instrumentalized to establish and maintain the state of Israel,” adding there are more members of Christians United for Israel than there are American Jews.

Demonstrators attend a communion service on Capitol grounds, Tuesday, April 9, 2024, during a Gaza cease-fire protest in Washington. (RNS photo/Aleja Hertzler-McCain)

Demonstrators attend a Communion service on Capitol grounds, April 9, 2024, during a Gaza cease-fire protest in Washington. (RNS photo/Aleja Hertzler-McCain)

The group’s leaders also called for a permanent cease-fire, an end to the provision of U.S. weapons to Israel, the restoration of funding for the U.N. aid agency for Palestinian refugees and the release of captives held by both Israel and Hamas.

More than 33,000 people have been killed and more than 75,000 injured in Gaza, according to health officials in the Hamas-run enclave, since the beginning of Israel’s military campaign after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in Israel that left an estimated 1,200 people dead and 250 taken hostage.