Young girls in hijabs waved Palestinian flags in the street. Men in ski masks hung from scaffolding chanting, “Israel, go to hell.” And pamphlets rained from the sky, lauding the recent violence by Hamas as “heroic.”
This wasn’t the Middle East. This was Midtown Manhattan, home to the second-largest Jewish population in the world after Israel, just days after Israel was ambushed by Hamas in the deadliest terrorist attack in the country’s history. More than 900 Israelis are now dead, more than 2,000 wounded, and an estimated 100 held hostage.
Many have called it Israel’s 9/11. But unlike America’s 9/11, when New Yorkers stood unified in their grief, this crowd of hundreds seemed bound by their fury.
They chanted for the end of Zionism—or as they put it, “decolonization.”
It is right to rebel! Israel, go to hell!
5-6-7-8, Palestine is ours to take!
Resistance is justified when people are oppressed!
One sign stretching across an entire street dared: “By any means necessary.”
Facing the United Nations plaza with police helicopters whirring above, 23-year-old Jordan native Youssef Almasri stood with a group of friends and declared, “Glory to the revolution.”
He told The Free Press what decolonization means to him.
“It means: Land. Fucking. Back. We’re taking the land that they took from us, we’re taking it back. We’re putting our refugees home,” said Almasri, who added that he is a student based in New York.
As for the Israelis, he said, they should “go back to where they came from.”
“It’s our land. We are willing to fight and die for it. They want to flee as soon as they can’t smoke their joint on the beach in peace.”
Over the weekend, local activist group Within Our Lifetime urged the public to “mobilize to defend the heroic Palestinian resistance” at an “Emergency Rally for Gaza” outside the “Zionist Embassy.” Hundreds answered the call, gathering outside the Israeli Consulate on 2nd Avenue and 42nd Street, then marching several blocks to the United Nations, stepping over statements scrawled in chalk on the pavement.
“DEATH TO BIBI & THE IDF,” screamed one message in yellow.
“FUCK PISSRAIL,” another blared in purple.
Most of the protesters appeared to be in their 20s, although some kids and several elderly people participated, too. A group of men stomped on an Israeli flag. Many wore keffiyehs, a headscarf that’s become a symbol of the Palestinian resistance. When one of us asked to interview a man, he wanted to know if that reporter was Arab—and turned abruptly away when he learned she was not.
Ribhi Elzaru said the conflict is personal to him. His grandfather, he says, is the “pre-1948 type,” meaning he lived in the region before Israeli independence. He says he doesn’t celebrate violence, but he sees it as inevitable.
“Hamas is a logical conclusion for people struggling and uprising,” says Elzaru, 27. “Violence is the cry of the oppressed.”
Jet Adams, a 72-year-old black woman from New York, told The Free Press she came to the protest because the media coverage of the violence in Israel had been giving her a “headache.”
But coming to the protest energized her, she said.
“You can’t repeatedly kick people in their face and expect them to take it lying down,” she said of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas. “Anyone after a certain period with an ounce of self-respect is going to do something to push back. People are not just going to lay down and allow themselves to be murdered.” (Since fighting began Saturday, 687 are dead in the Gaza Strip, 140 of whom are children.)
When it was suggested to her that “there are a lot of different perspectives,” she flashed a look.
“I don’t want to hear it from a different perspective,” she replied bluntly.
Across the street, supporters of Israel pushed back by blaring Israeli pop music under the consulate’s flag on 2nd Avenue. Others leaned over the police barriers to stick out their middle fingers and hurl insults at the pro-Palestinian side across the street.
“Terrorists! Murderers!” they shouted.
A 17-year-old boy from New York whose parents were born in Israel held up a sign with the image of Shani Louk, the woman whose maimed and nearly naked body was seen on the back of a truck driven by members of Hamas on Saturday.
“This is what the media won’t show you,” his mom yelled.
One day earlier, a similar protest led by the Democratic Socialists of America started in Times Square and ended at the Israeli Consulate, where they were outnumbered by Israeli supporters.
A pro-Palestinian man taunted them from behind a barricade and wielded his phone, which projected the image of a burning building in Israel.
“Ha, ha, you’re mad,” he yelled. “Payback, that’s what this is,” he said, showing the photo. “Payback.”
Fatima Alesayi, an 18-year-old waving a Palestinian flag, said she came down from the Bronx to show her pride.
“Finally they stood up,” she said. “I wouldn’t say we’re celebrating the murders—we’re celebrating that we got our land back, the place that we were taken away from.”
Her friend, a Puerto Rican native who recently converted to Islam, says “it’s hypocritical” for Israel to object to Palestine’s recent attacks.
“When we fight back we’re the terrorists,” Brendalys Vilca, 17, scoffs. “Even though they’ve been doing this for 70-plus years.”
She says it almost reminds her of America’s treatment of Puerto Rico, which she says has its own “long history of being a colony.”
“It’s so important for someone who has an oppressed background to support these people because we’re one of the same,” she says. “We’re Muslim, and it’s innocent Muslims getting killed.”
Yesterday afternoon, as the sky turned to dusk, the chanting died down, the posters were put away, and the protesters wandered back to their subway stops to head home.
As the sun set, the Empire State Building lit up in red, white, and green—colors said to honor Indigenous People’s Day, but which coincidentally echo the Palestinian flag. Just blocks away, One Penn Plaza was bright with the blue and white hues of Israel.
Become a Free Press subscriber today: