'Kibbutz Blinken': Meet the pro-Palestine protesters occupying Secretary of State's street

This women-led protest has turned Antony Blinken's gilded block of multimillion-dollar homes into a fake-bloodstained, concrete-barricaded campsite

Protesters set up camp across the street from Antony Blinken's house

Protesters set up camp across the street from Antony Blinken's house
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McLean, Virginia, is a Washington suburb that is home to some of the country's most elite decision makers, including senators, Supreme Court justices, CIA officials – and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Over the course of two weeks, women-led pro-Palestine protesters have turned Mr Blinken's gilded block of multimillion-dollar homes into a fake-bloodstained, concrete-barricaded campsite.

The residents of the affectionately named “Kibbutz Blinken” confront him day and night over his support for Israel, as the war in Gaza rages on.

“I wanted to know, Blinken, if we brought the settlement to you, are you completely OK with it?” Hazami Barmada, the Palestinian-Syrian-American who organised the protests, told The National on a chilly Thursday morning.

“American politicians and people in positions of power here are completely absolved of any consequences of their actions in their personal lives. They create these policies that create havoc … and they just leave their offices, go back to their lives and it's business as usual.

“So we wanted to bring this up close and personal, to his home.”

It's the fourteenth day of the camp-out and Mr Blinken is hours away from returning home from a failed Middle East trip during which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a ceasefire and hostage release deal with Hamas.

This “settlement” has evolved into a rather sophisticated operation: there are delegated clean-up responsibilities, signs reminding campers of city-mandated quiet hours, a kitchen tent with a functional stove and even portable toilets.

Every morning, at 7am, the women do their “wake-up call”, shouting at the house.

Huda Suliman is in the kitchen tent on morning coffee duty, heating it up over the portable stove top and unwrapping breakfast sandwiches brought by donors and fellow protesters.

Nadine Seiler is reminding others not to cross over the street line to disrupt the morning commuter traffic.

“They are looking for any reason to shut us down,” she says.

These women know – and follow – the law well. The relationship with police seems relatively friendly – when the patrol arrives later, they offer them doughnuts.

There are moments of hostility with drivers, who sometimes pass just centimetres away from the protesters.

An older white man in a convertible screams: “Hamas are scum!”

A middle-aged white woman shouts, “you need to get the [expletive] out of here” as she quickly speeds by.

But the vast majority of the response to the demonstration in this affluent suburban community has been surprisingly supportive.

Not five minutes go by without passing cars honking their horns and throwing peace signs out their windows. One man rolls down his window to yell out a thank-you while another slows down to wave and say “salam alaykoum”.

Protesters say some of Mr Blinken's neighbours have expressed frustration with blocked driveways or Ubers pulling in to drop off more demonstrators.

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But most have been accommodating, even offering direct support to the camp, protester Atefeh Rokhvand says, including one who baked them an apple pie.

Others have been donating supplies like shoes and socks, including after a heavy rainstorm in which the campsite flooded, says Ms Barmada, wiping away tears.

“Because we have the ability for people to come and bring us things and show us love and show us affection and show us compassion, but the people in Gaza don't.”

Those moments of cold and rain, Ms Barmada says, reinforce the reason they are doing this.

“On the same evening our tents flooded, I opened my social media and saw that tents in Gaza were flooding and they had nowhere to go,” she explains. “They had no blankets. They had no food, they had no supplies.

“It's kind of emotional whiplash, because on one hand you feel empowered. And on the other hand, you feel useless.”

But the secretary and his family haven't taken the protests lying down.

Mr Blinken and his wife Evan Ryan, also an administration official working in the White House, progressively built up security around their home as protests continued.

During The National's visit, they took measures with implications for the whole county: their entire road, a major commuter hub, was temporarily blocked off on Thursday afternoon so the city could install concrete barriers.

As Kibbutz Blinken resettled their tents to accommodate, they say the development actually boosted their morale.

“This makes us safe, it adds space for signage and proves that they are bothered,” Ms Barmada says.

Pro-Palestine protesters shut down busy bridge in San Francisco – video

Pro-Palestine protesters shut down busy bridge in San Francisco

Pro-Palestine protesters shut down busy bridge in San Francisco

That's also when Bawadi, a local Palestinian restaurant, arrived with meals.

A restaurant employee who had seen the developments unfolding on social media walked up the road, circumventing the police blockade, with meals in hand, ready to feed the campsite.

Many members of the restaurant owner's family were killed by Israeli bombs in Gaza.

One of Mr Blinken's neighbours and her two children also brought bags of food.

“We're so sorry this is all happening,” the neighbour told Ms Barmada as city workers put up the concrete walls.

But one issue that has been a particular point of controversy is what the ongoing protest, which has included constant shouts of “Bloody Blinken”, has meant for the two young children in Mr Blinken's family, aged three and five.

Protesters say that the family had asked them, through law enforcement, to stop screaming when the children were in cars driving by.

“They literally said to us, can we agree that a three and a five-year-old are not collateral damage,” Ms Barmada says.

“Do you understand the irony of what you're saying to me? Because we are here because three and five-year-olds [in Gaza] are collateral damage.

“You are concerned about the peace and tranquillity of your children. That is the definition of hypocrisy.”

Motherhood is an inescapable theme in this war and colours Ms Barmada's acts of solidarity for the Palestinians in Gaza.

She has a 15-month-old son and for her, October 7 marked a turning point.

“For a long time, the Palestinian identity even for me was something that – I wouldn't say I'm ashamed of it. I'm very proud to be Palestinian, but I contained my identity and was very particular about where I would choose to be proudly Palestinian,” she explains.

“On the seventh of October, when I saw the visceral and horrendous response, that was completely disproportionate, but also the dehumanisation of Palestinians, I said: my son is Palestinian. How am I going to be telling him to be proud of who he is if I can't step into the full reality of who I am?

“And something in me broke.”

Womanhood is also a major theme of this particular protest – Ms Seiler says it's “no coincidence” that Kibbutz Blinken's residents are all women of colour.

Some, like Ms Rokhvand, are in-between jobs but were urged by family and friends to take part.

“My husband wants me to be here. And I know it's a privilege to be able to be here,” she says.

“Obviously it's a little bit harder being on one income right now, but he's like, go represent our family. That is his contribution, being supportive, keeping the roof over our heads.”

Others say the experience is changing their relationship with the expectations of womanhood, too.

“Some of these actions, they kind of helped us to not be scared and be loud and take up space. [Mr Blinken and his security] try to intimidate us,” says Ms Suliman.

That takes on a particular meaning for the camp's visibly Muslim women.

“For us, growing up in America, we kind of were like, we're going to be nice. We're going to be super smiley … and it's like, look where that got us,” says Ms Rokhvand.

“I'm going to be unapologetic … If you want to call me a terrorist for wanting peace and wanting a ceasefire, and wanting to stop bombing, that says more about you than it does about me.”

The residents of Kibbutz Blinken, many of them strangers before becoming neighbours, say this is a community that will stay in tact long after the tents come down.

But, they emphasise, there's a long way to go before that happens.

Updated: February 13, 2024, 6:56 AM