NEW YORK – A flurry of pro-Palestinian protests have been held in cities across the world – including New York, London, Barcelona, Cape Town and Sydney – as the latest Gaza-Israel flare-up has fueled passions globally.
In Spain alone, nearly two dozen cities are hosting pro-Palestine demonstrations this week. There were also counterdemonstrations in support of Israel in several places.
As of midday Thursday, 83 Palestinians and seven Israelis had been killed since Monday after Hamas launched a barrage of rockets into Israel and the Israel Defense Forces responded by bombing multiple targets in Gaza.
The hostilities followed weeks of growing tensions between Israel and Palestinians, culminating in clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian worshippers at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan.
In New York City, the Israeli consulate was evacuated ahead of a planned demonstration held on nearby 42nd Street and 2nd Avenue on Tuesday.
The flyer for the protest called on participants to join the “emergency rally” wearing a kaffiyeh and/or a mask for COVID safety. The chosen location was the street adjacent to the Israeli consulate, but on the flyer the word “Israel” had a strike through it as if to erase or cross it out.
A spokesperson for the Israeli consulate said the building was evacuated before the start of the protest out of caution.
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Hundreds gathered with signs calling to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. Chants of “Long live Palestine” could be heard from blocks away, people climbed city lampposts to raise Palestinian flags and drivers rode their vehicles up and down the wide 42nd Street block honking horns and waving flags out of the car windows, to cheers.
About two dozen Jewish counterdemonstrators with Israeli flags gathered on the other side of the street. Within 20 minutes, a few young, male pro-Palestinian demonstrators crossed the street and began attacking Jewish protesters, pushing and hitting them and causing an older man to fall. Police officers were quick to disperse them.
Pro-Palestinian demonstrator Rana Hasan said she hadn’t slept in three days since the latest round of hostilities began.
“I’m very attached to what goes on there,” she said. “They make us out to be terrorists and we are far from terrorists. You always have people trying to speak for the Palestinians, as opposed to them speaking for themselves. The least I can do is be a voice for the voiceless,” she added.
Karen Lichtbraun, New York chairwoman of the Jewish advocacy group Yad Yamin, organized the counterprotest when she found out about the pro-Palestinian rally. She recruited a dozen Jews and Israelis from her network to join her.
“We have to present the truth because if all the public sees is what you saw on that side, then they’re going to believe Israel is an apartheid state, that we’re attacking innocent Arab children – and that’s not the case,” Lichtbraun said.
Some members of Yad Yamin came to provide protection for other demonstrators, as they anticipated the rally could become violent.
“They attacked us from both sides. Three on one. Four on one. What I thought would happen did happen. They want to destroy Israel and they want to kill all Jews,” said one counterprotester, Dany Waguda.
Tensest protest in years
Meanwhile, in Australia, one woman was charged for burning an Israeli flag at a protest in Sydney.
In London, around 3,000 people turned out at a rally in support of Palestinians, where some chanted “Allahu Akbar” and called for the destruction of Israel.
London-based Israel advocate Joseph Cohen told Haaretz he hadn't witnessed a protest this tense in years and called the energy “aggressive.”
“I was spat at and threatened with violence multiple times, but thankfully nothing materialized and I was able to engage with a number of people who were open to discussing peace with a Zionist,” Cohen said.
In South Africa, protests erupted in Cape Town. Demonstrators chanted “Free, free Palestine” and “Down Israel, down,” as some speakers recounted the police brutality they had experienced in their own land
Back in New York, the demonstration broke off and turned into a march which headed down 42nd Street and into other parts of Manhattan.
Video later surfaced on social media of an Orthodox Jewish man with a bloody torso being escorted away from the group and into a nearby store. Witnesses said the man had made comments to the crowd and was attacked.