New Yorkers turned Times Square into a ground for dissent Friday afternoon, taking to the streets in support of Palestinians actively resisting Israeli occupation and dispossession.
More than 200 joined the mobilization organized by NY4Palestine, to mark a confluence of somber events: seventy years of Nakba, the unprecedented move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and Israel’s recent massacre of scores of Palestinians in Gaza.
Since March 30, tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza have participated in the Great Return March, demanding their right to return to the land Zionist militias seized and in 1948 declared the state of Israel.
“All [Palestinians are] doing is demanding their right to return, a right that is recognized by the international community” said Fatin Jarar of the Al-awda Right to Return Coalition. “They have just been going on the streets and marching and the response has been outrageous, it’s been brutal, it’s been sickening.”
According to numbers compiled by the Ministry of Health, Israel has killed a total of 120 protesters since the Great March of Return began on March 30th, among them civilians, medics, journalists, and minors. At no point did the protest pose any tangible threat to Israel’s border or sovereignty.
The international community has proffered widespread, if not hollow, condemnation of Israel’s human rights violations in Gaza.
In the United States however, both the Trump administration and most Democrats have defended the mowing down of peaceful protestors, parroting the Israeli government line which justifies killing unarmed civilians by characterizing them as members of Hamas. At the height of the killings, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced an impromptu trip to stand in “solidarity” with Israel, even as the number of wounded Palestinians passed 10,000.
Jarar stressed that NY4Palestine is founded on the principle of supporting the fundamental right of Palestinians under military occupation to resist by whatever means necessary.
“They’re not just representing themselves as the people of Gaza, they’re representing all Palestinians across the world. They’re representing Palestinians in the diaspora, millions of Palestinian refugees,” Jarar told Mondoweiss. “We have never trusted the international community to step in for us so we are taking matters into our own hands.”
The NYPD lined both sides of Broadway in large numbers alongside the rally and later the march.
Many of the organizations and speakers belonged to NY4Palestine, a coalition of New York-based Palestine solidarity organizations. Members include Al-Awda NY: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, local chapters of American Muslims for Palestine and the Muslim American Society, New York City Students for Justice in Palestine, Jews for Palestinian Right of Return, International Action Center, Committee to Stop FBI Repression, and the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network.
Organizers and those engaged in other struggles like that of black liberation spoke alongside members of the coalition, highlighting the intersectionality of Palestinian liberation at a time of a far-right nationalist insurgence globally.
Born and raised in Kashmir until moving to the US as an adult, Hafsa Kanjwal, Assistant Professor of history at Lafayette College specializing in South Asian history drove from New Jersey to speak at the rally.
“I’m here to support the Palestinian cause as another person from a struggle that is against an occupying power” Kanjwal told Mondoweiss. While distinct, she noted similarities between the Israeli occupation of Palestine and India’s occupation of Kashmir, including a legacy of British colonial rule followed by partition.
Having been to both places, she said, Palestinians and Kashmiris are subjected to the same forms of repression like shoot-on-sight orders, surveillance, a lack of hospitals, schools, and other basic services and an entrenched occupying military industrial complex.
2017 marked a record forty-percent increase in Israel’s arms exports sales from the year before and showed India’s $2 billion defense contract with Israel to be the single largest source of sales.
“India and Israel work in tandem with each other in terms of sharing military technology, surveillance techniques, torture techniques” Kanjwal told Mondoweiss, adding both states employ a racist ideology, “a particular form of Islamophobia that is used to undermine the legitimate struggle of both the Kashmiris and the Palestinians.”
Both peoples are “living and trying to exist in a society that’s completely structured by this military apparatus.”
In usual fashion, the Jewish Defense League showed up to counter-protest. Their numbers were notably larger than usual, though still paled in comparison to the Palestine solidarity rally.
After the rally, organizers lead a march across 42nd Street and several avenues east to the Israeli Consulate on 2nd Avenue. Outside the consulate organizers stressed the importance of taking their anger and frustration over recent events and translating it into strategic work toward ending US aid to Israel.
Noura Farouq, an organizer with NY4Palestine and co-founder of Within our Lifetime noted the particular significance of passing the 70th anniversary of the Nakba and the urgency among Palestinians to end the occupation and return home after seven decades.
Farouq’s 91-year-old grandmother was forced from her hometown of Akka in 1948 at the age of twenty, and has lived as a refugee in Lebanon since. After 70 years, the generation of Nakba survivors are getting into their later years which means losing much of the firsthand memory of the event.
“That’s creating a big sense of urgency, especially for the Palestinian youth,” Farouq told Mondoweiss. “Secondly, it creates the idea that Israel is a permanent fixture, that settler colonialism is a permanent thing, a success.”
“You can’t have settler colonialism without either expelling, killing or oppressing the indigenous population” and for exactly this reason said Farouq, “we can’t normalize settler colonialism.”
Correction: This article originally stated that Aaron Schlossberg participated in the Jewish Defense League counter-rally. We have deleted this after not being able to independently verify his attendance there.