DURHAM, N.C. — Thursday’s evening commute on a portion of Highway 147 was brought to a standstill after protesters staged a two and a half hour sit-in on the freeway. Organizers, who are part of a Triangle Jewish group, were demanding a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.
Kasey Kinsella, an organizer with the Triangle chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, says they spent the last three days planning the protest, adding they wanted to do something that would disrupt business as usual.
“We’re here to demand ceasefire and get that word out as far as we can,” Kinsella said. “In order to make our voices heard, sometimes civil disobedience is required, and it works. We get the press here. We get the media here. We get people paying attention in a different way and hopefully changing the narrative.”
A couple dozen protesters sat on a northbound section of the freeway, right across from the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, while at least 100 others stood on a nearby grass area and bridge.
Some of the protesters chanted things like, “end the occupation” and “Jews say ceasefire.”
At one point, the group members blocking traffic announced they were calling congressional representative Valerie Foushee’s town hall. “We’re going to tell our representative, Valerie Foushee, that we are here blocking traffic until she signs a ceasefire resolution,” the group said.
During Foushee’s tele-town hall, she never directly addressed the protest, but she did comment on the Israel-Hamas war.
A caller named Sarah from Chapel Hill asked Foushee about President Joe Biden proposing a humanitarian pause. Foushee said she believes in and advocates for a humanitarian pause in order to get supplies and food and fuel to Palestine. She said the people of Palestine have nothing to do with this conflict, adding that she supports Biden, his diplomacy and his work to secure Israel and its right to defend itself.
Ultimately, people on both sides need help, Foushee said.
Around 7:30 p.m., police threatened to arrest people if they stayed on the highway. Protesters left Highway 147 shortly after that and started marching downtown, but Kinsella says they’re not going anywhere.
“We’re going to keep getting creative in order to get the word out there and ensure that our leaders hear us and take the action that needs to happen immediately to stop this violence,” Kinsella said. “That is an absolute humanitarian crisis. That is unacceptable. We should not be allowing that.”
“When in history have mass atrocities ever led to any kind of peace? The kind of safety and peace that I stand for as an American Jew is one where everyone has peace, everyone has safety, where no children of any background are being killed and I know that’s what everyone here is about as well,” Kinsella said.
Spectrum News 1 also spoke Durham Mayor Pro Tempore Mark-Anthony Middleton about Thursday’s situation. He said protesters have staged events in the Bull City during other monumental moments in history, so he wasn’t surprised the same thing happened on Thursday. He also said police are trained in de-escalation tactics and trusts that they knew how to handle the situation.