As the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza continues to divide public opinion, a desire for freedom drew thousands of New Yorkers together at protests. People from a range of backgrounds took to Manhattan streets to demand a ceasefire in Gaza and equality for Palestinians—as well as to decry what human rights organizations call an apartheid state.
Protests have taken place almost weekly in New York since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, a Palestinian militant group that killed 1,200 people in Israel and took 240 hostages that day, roughly half of whom have been released as of early December. Israel has since sent a barrage of land and air attacks that have killed more than 16,000 people in Gaza, mostly civilian women and children, and displaced roughly 80% of its more than 2 million population, according to reports.
The protests have drawn a multi-ethnic coalition of supporters holding signs for Filipino, Black and Korean liberation in solidarity with the Palestinian cause for emancipation.
“I think as a Black person, Palestine’s Liberation is closely tied to Black liberation,” said activist Kiara Williams, 23, of Queens, who attended a Pro-Palestinian protest in Times Square on Oct. 13.
Williams co-founded the Instagram page Warriors in the Garden with a mission “to protect the community from all forms of systemic oppression,” as stated on the page, which has more than 42,000 followers. Her page expressed support for Palestinian protests and liberation, from “Palestine to Africa” and called for an “end to genocide” and “racial capitalist oppression.”
Williams’ organization also urged followers to turn out for Black Lives Matter marches, which brought an estimated 26 million people in the U.S. into the streets to protest following the murder of George Floyd in 2020.
At a recent pro-Palestinian protest in Midtown Manhattan, black and white checkered keffiyehs bobbed up and down 38th Street and Broadway, while a demonstrator from a Korean anti-imperialist organization banged a golden tin percussion drum.
“Korea and Palestine have both suffered from U.S. imperialism,” said Betsy, who marched with the organization for Korean reunification—Nodutdol—on Nov. 17, ”we find that their liberation is our liberation, and our liberation is their liberation.”
The New York-based organization advocates for the reunification and national liberation of North and South Korea, which were split following World War II. A statement on their website reads “from Baekdusan to Hallasan, Korea will be one,” next to “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
Other protestors at the rally had shirts that read Viva Palestina and some carried “Queers for Liberated Palestine” signs.
One protester also spoke out against what she described as “the violence that underpins Zionism.”
“I’m an anti-Zionist Jew,” said Emily A. from Brooklyn, who asked that only her last initial be used. “For me, being Jewish means standing up against Zionism, which I see as an ideology and practice which serves to oppress Palestinians and does not protect Jews or Palestinians.”
New York City is home to the largest group of Jews outside of Israel, with 1.6 million Jewish people, according to Brandeis Steinhardt Social Research Institute. But there are a range of opinions and attitudes about the Israel-Hamas war within the Jewish community, as the youth-based Jewish Voice for Peace advocacy group was recently criticized as being “anti-Israel” and sowing seeds of antisemitism by the longstanding Jewish advocacy organization the Anti-Defamation League, following Jewish Voice for Peace’s ceasefire demonstrations at Grand Central Station.
According to graduate professor of history and Middle Eastern studies at City University of New York, Dr. Simon Davis, social media has played a role in drawing together a coalition of people in New York and globally, because “people are more aware now of mass potential for organization and demonstration.”
“We can see with the Black Lives Matter movement that the introduction of the hand-held phone is revolutionary in presenting intimate evidence of the dubiousness of police evidence when it comes to the deaths of Black people in custody,” Davis said. “I think there’s a correlation between a sense of historic grievance that arises from a lack of power and a perceived sense of unfairness. When you witness that being told with such public impunity, it sets something off in you and you feel compelled to involve yourself.”