Thousands gathered in midtown Manhattan on Friday for a “rally to stand up with Gaza against Israeli crimes,” as the protest billed itself on Facebook. Organized by an umbrella group called “NYC 4 Gaza,” the rally featured speakers from across the city’s left, who repeatedly called for an end to US financial and military support for Israel. Meanwhile, at a smaller counter-protest two blocks away, approximately 250 pro-Israeli activists waved flags and chanted prayers in solidarity with the Jewish state. One impassioned woman held up a photograph of her cousin, an Israeli Defense Forces soldier currently serving in Gaza.
At 6:30 PM, the pro-Palestinian protesters began their scheduled march toward the headquarters of the conservative cable network Fox News. A young Egyptian protester named Habiba, age 14, was surprised not only by the turnout but by the composition of the crowd. “I’m realizing that it’s not only Arabs who are here,” she said. “More of everybody. More Americans.” Noting that her family was from the region, but not from Palestine itself, she added, “We’re all together. We’re all united.”
Another protester, a 66–year–old artist named Thomas Cox, pointed to the United States’s close relationship with Israel as reason for the outcry among Americans. “There’s a rising recognition of what’s going on over [in Gaza], and a recognition that American funding is making it possible. And there’s more and more resistance, more and more outrage that we’re involved in something that’s…against all basic human rights and international law.”
The protest took place only hours after the breakdown of a humanitarian ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. The agreement fell apart due to a reported attack on Israeli soldiers in Gaza’s southern border town of Rafah, which prompted an Israeli assault that killed 70 Palestinians and injured 350 more. This harrowing news produced a palpable sense of anger and exasperation among the crowd, with repeated chants of the phrase, “When people are occupied, resistance is justified.” A 51–year–old Jordanian-Palestinian, Alia Jalud, explained Hamas’s ongoing, violent response to the weeks of Israeli incursion: “if you rob somebody of their land and their humanity and their religion, you’re going to have some kind of a backlash. And that’s normal for any human being.”
While understandable in light of the circumstances, this permissive attitude toward Hamas-incurred violence—especially that which targets civilians—casts doubt on the possibility for a negotiated peace. Of course, one can level the same criticism at an Israeli population which overwhelmingly supports the ground invasion. And, of course, a clear power disparity separates the US-backed Israeli military and the relatively poor, ill-equipped Palestinians. Since recent negotiations have been largely unfruitful for the latter, they threaten to preserve a status quo that many deem inhumane and unjust. Tomorrow I will post a Buddhist commentary on the violence of this conflict, and how one might assess it with twinned compassion and discernment.