A loud and festive protest against the Israeli occupation of al-Quds, also known as Jerusalem, convened in Times Square on Friday, June 23, 2017. More than 100 demonstrators commemorated International Al-Quds Day by reaffirming the right of New Yorkers to boycott institutions complicit in Zionism and calling for the end of Israel’s violent, decades-long occupation of Jerusalem. The demonstrators also called for an end to Saudi Arabia’s ongoing bombardment of Yemen, which has killed thousands of innocent Yemeni civilians in the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes.
The protest was organized by the Free Al-Quds network and Muslim Congress and co-sponsored by a number of New York-area community organizations, including the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, NY 4 Palestine, and the NYC Students for Justice in Palestine.
Throughout the demonstration, crowds chanted not only for the liberation of Palestine, but for the liberation of other marginalized communities. Speakers repeatedly identified the Palestinian cause with the cause of undocumented immigrants, chanting “From Palestine to Mexico: Border walls have got to go!” Nerdeen Kiswani of NYC Students for Justice in Palestine remarked that oppressed nationalities have always identified with Palestine, pointing out the use of punitive evictions against both black and Palestinian communities, and the ongoing nature of colonization against indigenous people in Palestine and the Americas.
“When oppressed people unite, stand together, and fight against our collective oppressors, we will rise, and that’s what we are doing today…we must spread the message of freedom and liberation, not only for Palestinian people, but for the black community, queer communities, indigenous communities, and the Mexican community…and fight against imperialism,” Kiswani said.
Speakers from the black, Jewish, Filipino and Puerto Rican communities reaffirmed their collaborative support for the Palestinian struggle. Mike Legaspi, of the Filipino anti-imperialist community organization BAYAN-USA, said “Palestine, to us in the Philippines, means courage. It means fighting back against imperialism…if you’re against war, you’re against imperialism. You’re against Zionism, and you’re against its ultimate lifeline here [in America]. The best way we can help the people’s struggle all over the world is by demanding that U.S. imperialism stop funding Israel!”
“From Puerto Rico to Palestine, the people will be free!” chanted Esperanza Martell, of the Puerto Rican Working Women’s Organization. Martell discussed her happiness to see the Palestinian community’s support of the Puerto Rican Day Parade, which was attacked by establishment politicians for commemorating Puerto Rican freedom fighter Oscar López Rivera. “Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States for one hundred and twenty years. We will never surrender…we will resist until freedom rings, and we stand with the resistance of the Palestinian people,” Martell said.
Al-Quds Day was first announced by Ayatollah Khomeini in August 1979, months after the Iranian Revolution. The demonstration continues to be hosted annually by the government of Iran on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. At the 2015 march, millions protested in Tehran, marking the largest day of Shi’a Muslims protesting against Zionism and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Outside of Iran, the event is organized in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Africa by political parties, many with ties to Iran. Yet in the U.S. and Europe, the day of protest is organized independently by human rights groups and Palestinian advocacy organizations.
Israeli forces expelled Palestinians from West Jerusalem during the 1948 mass expulsion of Palestinians from nascent Israel, actions known as the Nakba. In 1967, Israeli forces conquered the eastern half of Jerusalem, including the Haram al-Sharif complex, which houses the al-Aqsa Mosque, and then annexed East Jerusalem in a move condemned as illegal by the UN Security Council. Israel has since engaged in a “Judaization” campaign to illegally evict Palestinian residents from East Jerusalem and cancel their residency status while building illegal Israeli settlements on land confiscated by the Israeli authorities. Israeli authorities have separated Jerusalem from other Palestinian communities in the West Bank through checkpoints and movement controls. At the same time, a number of Jewish religious extremists have also sought to destroy Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem.
These policies have been enforced with an aggressive use of state violence. In 2015, Israeli police executed a Palestinian man after he was chased and harassed by Israeli settlers who accused him of being a “terrorist.” More recently, Israeli forces fired indiscriminately at Palestinian crowds in Jerusalem, killing three, in response to an attack on an Israeli soldier, before closing off the city and threatening to kill any Palestinian who was out at night. Last week, a Palestinian man was killed at a checkpoint near Jerusalem; Israeli soldiers claimed he posed an armed threat.
During the demonstration in New York, members of the Jewish Defense League counter-protested aggressively, repeatedly crossing barriers set up by the NYPD and attempting to intimidate the Al-Quds Day rally-goers. Many of the Jewish Defense League counter-protesters carried pro-Trump banners and paraphernalia. While the NYPD did little to restrain the Jewish Defense League, officers arrested a member of the Al-Quds Day protest for using a megaphone, despite the organizers possessing a sound permit.
Following the demonstration, the NYC Students for Justice in Palestine held a community Iftar to commemorate Al-Quds Day. Iftar is the traditional breaking of fast during Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown. Community Iftars are open to people of all faiths, and indeed, the room was filled with people from diverse backgrounds.
NYC Students for Justice in Palestine makes an active effort to ensure that its campus activities held on multiple New York college campuses are closely linked to the wider efforts of people in Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim communities off-campus. Prior to the breaking of fast, a volunteer with the group called on the Muslim community to use its resources and organizing strength to defend Palestinian rights and remarked on the specific Islamic significance of Jerusalem. Following the Iftar, the community broke out into dance, teaching newcomers how to dance the traditional Palestinian debke.