A pro-Palestinian march across Philadelphia culminated in a rally of over 500 attendees at 40th and Market streets, as Penn investigates graffiti along the Walnut Street march route.
The rally — which was hosted in coordination with a vigil for the University City Townhomes — featured speakers sharing the organizations’ common stances against gentrification and the war in Gaza. The pro-Palestinian demonstration began with a group prayer in Rittenhouse Square before marching along Walnut Street as attendees demanded a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.
The demonstration marched on Walnut Street alongside campus from approximately 7 p.m. to 8:20 p.m. Penn's Division of Public Safety issued a UPennAlert reporting a “large protest” at 7:23 p.m. before sending that the area of 40th and Market Street was “all clear” an hour later.
At the same time as the march, several businesses on Walnut Street near campus — along the route of the march — were graffitied with messages both condemning Penn and expressing pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel sentiments. Graffiti included the phrases "F**k the [Israel Defense Forces]," "Intifada," and "Free Palestine."
Buildings affected by the graffiti included the Penn Bookstore, Charles Addams Hall, and the Starbucks, TD Bank, CVS, and Bank of America locations on Walnut Street; as well as a University directory. As of time of publication, the graffiti on the Starbucks location on Walnut Street has been covered up.
“Penn Police documented multiple instances of graffiti along the march route and will be investigating to identify the individuals responsible,” DPS said in the UPennAlert. The Daily Pennsylvanian has not confirmed who is responsible for the graffiti.
Participants in the pro-Palestinian demonstration carried Palestine flags and signs protesting the conflict in Gaza and calling for a ceasefire. The demonstrators joined together in a group prayer to end the event. The march was organized by the Philadelphia chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace, Black Lives Matter, Penn Against the Occupation, Temple Students for Justice in Palestine, and the Philly Palestine Coalition.
Chants from the protestors included “From West Philly to Palestine, occupation is a crime,” “Free Free Palestine,” and “Biden, Biden, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide.” A speaker at the protest also criticized the recent passage of House Resolution 888, which reaffirmed the State of Israel’s right to exist and passed the House on Nov. 28.
Demonstrators also chanted outside the Israeli restaurant Goldie in Rittenhouse Square, which also has a location insides Franklin's Table near campus. Attendees chanted, "Goldie, Goldie you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide."
"Tonight in Philly, we saw a blatant act of antisemitism — not a peaceful protest. A restaurant was targeted and mobbed because its owner is Jewish and Israeli. This hate and bigotry is reminiscent of a dark time in history," Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro posted on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, in response to the chant.
"'From water to water, Palestine will be Arab' was chanted on campus tonight proudly in Arabic by Penn students, Penn clubs, and Philadelphia community members," Wharton and Engineering junior Noah Rubin said. "This is a direct call to genocide against Jews."
Similar phrases have been chanted at other pro-Palestine rallies, with a popular variant being heard as "Palestine will be free." Proponents argue that the line asserts the boundaries for the creation of an independent Palestinian state while some critics argue that the phrase, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” insinuates a desire to eliminate the state of Israel and the Jewish people. Multiple prominent Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, have defined the phrase as inherently antisemitic.
The groups reaffirmed their commitment to protesting until they witness satisfactory progress on institutional response to the war.
“If that means occupying the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, then so be it; if it means running into the mayor’s office at City Hall, then so be it; if it means an encampment for 31 days, then so be it; if it means we go all the way down to Washington, D.C. and tell Genocide Joe 'not on our watch,’ then so be it,” one speaker, whom the DP was not able to identify, said.
The demonstration in support of UC Townhomes and Palestine operated separately for the first part of the evening.
Sheldon Davids, one of the main event organizers of the Townhomes vigil and former resident, described the event as an opportunity to unite community members who continue supporting the preservation of the UC Townhomes.
“Hopefully [the city] will hold true to the commitment that the portion [of the property] that the city has retained will continue to be affordable housing,” Davids said.
He added that supporters wanted to “come together to pay homage to the Townhomes themselves as a structure, as a place, and gather together in this moment.”
The vigil included groups from the Coalition to Save the UC Townhomes, Save Chinatown, the Justice for Angel Davis Now Campaign, and PhillyThrive. Residents and West Philadelphia community members chanted, “Housing is a human right, housing is the people’s fight," and "Long live the People’s Townhomes.”
The UC Townhomes organizers led a procession along Market Street between 39th and 40th streets, ending in a single-file line stretching the length of the block. Attendees affixed photos and posters from earlier campaigns to save the Townhomes onto the fence encircling the property.
“Housing is a human right, and I want to fight for it anyway I can,” Harry, a Penn alum who did not provide their last name and is involved with the Philly Palestine Coalition and Jewish Voice for Peace, said. “I have always opposed gentrification.”
The fight to save the University City Townhomes, which were originally built in 1983, stretches back to July 2021, when the owner of the property, IBID Associates, announced it would not renew its annual affordable housing contract with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, putting over 70 families at risk of displacement.
The ensuing legal battle lasted until IBID Associates and the City of Philadelphia reached a settlement agreement requiring the company to transfer almost 24,000 square feet of land to the City for future development into permanent affordable housing.
“We won preservation of the People’s Townhomes, and we are going to see a free Palestine, a free West Philadelphia, a Philadelphia for the people,” a speaker at the event said.
Iman, a senior from Rowan University who traveled from Trenton to be at the event and did not provide their last name, described the rally as a "joint collaborative effort” between the pro-Palestine march organizers and the Townhomes vigil organizers.
The demonstration is one of many that have occurred on campus since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7. The most recent demonstration on campus was a group of Penn community members participating in a national walkout in support of a ceasefire in Gaza on Nov. 9.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article was unclear in its discussion of the phrase "From the river to sea," which is popularly chanted in Arabic at pro-Palestine rallies. The wording of the article has been updated for clarity and context.