One arrest after protesters interrupt Israeli diplomat’s speech at Missouri Capitol

Police removed a group of pro-Palestinian protesters from the Missouri House chamber on Tuesday after they interrupted a speech by an Israeli diplomat with calls for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.

The chaotic scene unfolded as Maor Elbaz-Starinsky, the consul general of Israel in Miami, addressed a joint session of the Missouri General Assembly. The speech and protest underscored the deep tensions in the United States over the ongoing war in the Middle East following an Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel.

Shortly after Elbaz-Starinsky began his speech, protesters seated in the upper gallery of the House chamber began shouting for a ceasefire and saying “shame on you.” Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe banged his gavel to “maintain decorum” and at least two uniformed police officers ushered the protesters out of the gallery.

Most House Republican lawmakers stood and cheered for Elbaz-Starinsky after the protesters were led out. Elbaz-Starinsky then continued his speech.

“Despite the difficult circumstances, Israel is committed … to citizens who are actively pursuing peace,” he said. “Our soldiers are fighting for the entire free world.”

Capitol police arrested one of the protesters, Sarah Bannoura, 28, for trespassing after failing to leave the gallery, according to a spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Public Safety. Bannoura has since been released from custody.

“We’re not just a bunch of people here to make noise just because we want to be destructive. A lot of us have family members that were killed,” said Neveen Ayesh, the government relations coordinator for the Missouri chapter of American Muslims for Palestine, who was at the protest.

Hamas militants killed roughly 1,200 people, mostly civilians, during the Oct. 7 attack and took about 250 hostages. Israel launched an intense military campaign in Gaza in retaliation, and the Palestinian Health Ministry in the Hamas-run territory says more than 27,500 people have died in the four-month war. The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its count but says most of the dead have been women and children.

Ayesh criticized Missouri lawmakers for considering a slate of resolutions that would express support for Israel. One of those resolutions, filed by House Speaker Dean Plocher, a St. Louis-area Republican, was scheduled for a hearing later on Tuesday.

“We’re angry because for them, it’s just a piece of legislation,” Ayesh said. “But for us, it’s our lives.”

The Associated Press contributed reporting