Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in Iraq on Friday. Imams leading prayers in Lebanon denounced the state of Israel. And in the island nation of Bahrain, videos shared by activists showed protesters walking on Israeli and American flags.
Israel’s siege and bombardment of Gaza — which came in response to an operation by Palestinian attackers that killed more than 1,300 people in Israel — has ignited anger in the Middle East. Across the region, many people do not view Israel as the victim of an unprovoked terrorist attack — as many American officials have described it — but rather as a colonial-style occupier, buttressed by the United States, that continually violates the rights of the Palestinians.
“They were subjected to various types of injustice, and now they are being subjected to starvation, siege and killing,” said Ali Hassan, 60, who participated in demonstrations in Bahrain on Friday. “Every free person, every Muslim human being, and every honorable person stands with the Palestinians and with Gaza.”
“As for the so-called Israel,” he added, “They are usurping occupiers.”
At least 1,799 Gaza Palestinians have been killed since the war between Israel and Hamas began on Saturday, the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza said on Friday.
Fridays — when Muslims gather for the most important prayers of the week — are often potent moments of political mobilization across the Middle East, where increasing levels of autocracy in many countries have choked freedom of expression. Supporting the Palestinians in their struggle against Israeli occupation is associated by many Arabs and Muslims with a broader struggle against injustice and oppression.
As two million Palestinians hunkered down in fear in Gaza — with water and electricity cut off and nowhere to flee — the Israeli military demanded on Friday that more than a million of them evacuate to the south of the blockaded territory.
Worshipers raised their fists as they chanted “Death to Israel” at a prominent Friday prayer gathering for Shia Muslims in Bahrain, an authoritarian monarchy that hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
“Salutations to legitimate struggle and resistance,” said Mohammed Sangour, the imam leading the prayers, in the town of Diraz. The Palestinians are “defending their religion, their land and its sanctities, striving to get back their rights, and taking revenge for the blood of their children, women and leaders,” he said.
In Iraq, more than 500,000 people filled Baghdad’s Tahrir Square and the roads leading to it in a peaceful show of support for the Palestinians.
Some, like Hamoudi Jabber, 24, a day laborer who brought his 65-year-old mother to the prayer, said that they came to show support for the Palestinians. But many others seemed impatient for a call to arms.
“We need something stronger,” said Abbas Majid, 32, a taxi driver. “Today maybe it’s peaceful; but the next demonstration we will ask to go there.”
Protests also took place across Lebanon, with people traveling to Beirut from around the country.
At the capital’s Mohammad al Amin Mosque, the imam delivered a scathing attack on Israel and its Western backers, declaring that Palestinian militants had “turned the tables” on the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Saturday’s attacks.
As the prayer service ended, the somber mood erupted into anger as men and women emerged into a sea of Palestinian flags. In Beirut’s southern suburbs — a stronghold for Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militant group — thousands descended onto the streets after Friday prayer, heeding calls from Hamas for a “day of rage.”
Several of the more authoritarian states in the region appeared keen to keep a lid on outpourings of pro-Palestinian sentiment.
In Egypt, where the government controls the Friday sermon, the imam in a televised prayer recited a brief supplication for the Palestinians at the end of the speech, much of which was dedicated to the importance of security.
“We are in a very critical period in the history of nations,” said the imam, Ayman Abu Omar. “Dangers are great and challenges are dire, and enemies are lying in wait.”
At the grand mosque of Mecca in Saudi Arabia — Islam’s holiest site — worshipers packed shoulder to shoulder as the imam, Osama bin Abdullah Khayyat, delivered a largely apolitical sermon — until he came to the supplications at the end.
“God, be for the Muslims in Palestine a supporter, helper and defender,” he said. “Have mercy on their dead, and give them the rewards of martyrdom.”
In the neighboring United Arab Emirates — which led a regional push to establish diplomatic ties with Israel in 2020 — the televised Friday sermon did not mention the Palestinians at all.
Alissa J. Rubin contributed reporting from Baghdad; Ahmed Al Omran from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; and Omnia Al Desoukie from Dubai.