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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrators stage impassioned protests in New York

People supporting Israel gather in Times Square, a day after Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, launched a broad invasion of Israeli territory, in Manhattan on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023.

By Chelsia Rose Marcus, Liset Cruz, Eric Berger and Michael D. Regan

Pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel demonstrators faced off in contentious but nonviolent protests in Manhattan on Sunday as full-scale conflict erupted along the Gaza Strip following the Hamas attack on Israel.

About 1,000 protesters gathered early in the afternoon in two locations, in Times Square and at the United Nations headquarters. The demonstrations were among dozens of largely peaceful protests across the United States, with events in Chicago and Atlanta drawing hundreds of people.

But tensions rose in New York City later Sunday afternoon as roughly 500 pro-Palestinian demonstrators and supporters of Israel confronted one another outside the Israeli consulate in midtown Manhattan.

They yelled at and taunted one another from either side of Second Avenue near East 42nd Street where, at one point, they stormed the barricades that the police had put in place and filtered into the road. Police officers held out their arms to keep each group at bay.

Several pro-Israel protesters verbally threatened a few people on the Palestinian side, who then snatched an Israeli flag and ripped it apart. Israeli demonstrators shouted “terrorists,” and the pro-Palestinians replied “Allahu akbar.”

Ariella Carmell, 27, of Crown Heights in Brooklyn, said she has family members in Israel. Her fears for their survival brought her to tears.

“I always try to think of both sides,” said Carmell. But the “people kidnapped, people killed, they could be my family.”

“I just can’t bear the idea of” losing them, she added.

Earlier, in Times Square, about 300 demonstrators joined a pro-Palestinian rally organized by several socialist and pro-Palestinian groups, including the Palestinian Youth Movement and Party for Socialism and Liberation. It was promoted on social media by the New York City branch of Democratic Socialists of America.

One of the demonstrators was Mohammad Jarrar, a 33-year-old Queens resident, who said his family was displaced by Israel from Palestinian land in 1948 and 1967. “All the Palestinians want to do is for people to return to their homes,” he said.

Jarrar, who has relatives on the West Bank, said he was saddened by the conflict. But “when you feel that the whole world is against you,” he said, “you flip the table on the bully.”

Dozens of supporters of Israel also turned out for the demonstration. Omer Graif, 27, a computer engineering intern at Cornell University who is from Israel and served in the Israel Defense Forces for five years, said the government has called him to rejoin the military following the attacks by Hamas.

Graif said he supports Palestinians in their long-standing fight for international recognition. But he denounced the attacks Saturday, which he said killed several of his friends.

“They should have a country,” but they should not call for it “on this day,” Graif said.

Nearby, Sarah Schulman, an English professor at Northwestern University and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, said she condemns “any acts of brutality or murder against civilians.”

“Decades of brutality towards Palestinians, in which people have been murdered, incarcerated and displaced unjustly have made conditions untenable, and I believe that they exploded,” she added.

On the east side of Manhattan, near the U.N. headquarters, about 800 demonstrators stood behind police barricades with signs that read “Free Palestine from Hamas” and “I Stand With Israel,” while tourists three blocks away posed for photographs with the sprawling complex.

There, Tsaffi Shomer said she arrived in the United States from Herzliya, near Tel Aviv, last week on a trip to see family. Shomer, 68, is now unsure when she will return. “It’s so strange to be away when things are happening,” she said. But she said the demonstration in New York gave her “a good feeling and hope and strength that we’re not alone.”

Outside the Israeli consulate general in Atlanta on Sunday, at least 80 pro-Palestinian protesters called for the end of U.S. aid to Israel. In Chicago, police bomb dogs sniffed the streets and sidewalks as at least 400 pro-Palestinian protesters rallied along West Madison Street near South Canal Street.

Loren Mindell, a Jewish supporter of the Palestinian cause, held a sign that read “Jews for Liberation.” Mindell, a 39-year-old librarian from Chicago, said, “Jewish liberation can’t predicate on oppressing other people.”

Brian Bean, 43, a social worker who brought his 5-year-old son to the Chicago event, said the “loss of life on both sides is sad.”

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