Far away from Gaza, a showdown in NYC’s Times Square
Hundreds protest in New York City in solidarity with Palestinians after another week of bloodshed in the Gaza Strip.
New York City, US – Iris Tatian remembers the first time she splashed red paint on an Israeli flag.
Horrified by an Israeli assault on the Jenin refugee camp in 2002, Tatian says she stitched a mini American flag on to the Israeli one and flicked red paint on both so that the flags would look drenched in blood.
She says she did it to showcase Israeli brutality and US complicity. Now in her late sixties, she didn’t expect to be still carrying it to Palestine protests all these years later.
“That was 16 years ago, and nothing has changed. I have carried this flag for years to protests,” the soft-spoken Tatian told Al Jazeera during a Palestinian solidarity rally in New York City on Friday.
“And yes, I am tired of carrying this flag, but imagine the Palestinians. It has been 70 years for them, imagine how they must feel,” she said.
Tatian was one of at least 800 people who descended on Times Square on Friday to join a demonstration organised by the NY4Palestine coalition in solidarity with Palestinians after another week of bloodshed in Gaza.
At least 64 people were killed and a further 2,700 injured when Israeli military opened fire on Monday on tens of thousands of protesters a day before the commemoration of the Nakba, or Catastrophe, when over 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from historical Palestine in 1948.
Since the Great March of Return protests began on March 30, the Israeli military has killed 113 people, including 15 children.
At least 12,000 others have been injured, including 3,500 with gunshot wounds.
The carnage on Monday prompted Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN human rights chief, to describe Israel’s response to the protests in Gaza as “wholly disproportionate” and call for an investigation.
Noura Farouq, spokesperson for the NY4Palestine coalition that organised the rally in New York City, one of several cities to host solidarity events for Palestinians over the past week – told Al Jazeera they had set up the event “to commemorate 70 years since the establishment of the state of Israel and the widespread expulsion of Palestinians from their homelands”.
“It was also organised as a response to the [US President Donald] Trump’s administration opening of US embassy in Jerusalem,” Farouq said, referring to the relocation of Washington’s diplomatic mission from Tel Aviv, which also took place on Monday.
Fully kitted out with keffiyehs, large Palestinian flags, posters and placards, the crowd that assembled under the dazzling lights of Times Square roared with songs and chants in support of Palestine.
A dozen speakers, community leaders, activists and academics, roused a boisterous crowd by linking the Palestinian struggle to the global fight against capitalism, racism, inequality and injustice.
Shellyne Rodriguez, a teacher and artist, told Al Jazeera that she was at the rally “to make sure that the Palestine issue would not be made invisible”.
“It is outrageous that colonialism would still exist in 2018; it is long overdue that Palestine is recognised and that their struggle against apartheid is recognised,” the 40-year-old from the Bronx said.
Likewise, Marshall Douglas, a 67-year-old US citizen, said that “Israel had to be recognised for what it was: a sadistic state”.
“What happened earlier this week shows that Israel wants to close off any form of Palestinian expression. This is grossly unfair. It just has to be rectified,” Douglas said.
IfNotNow, a Jewish movement that focusses on urging Jewish Americans to withdraw support for Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian territory, also held a vigil on Friday night for the Palestinians killed in Gaza.
The group said in a statement that they were gathering to “mourn the Palestinians killed by the Israeli army and make it clear that the future of the Jewish community rejects Israel’s horrific, deadly violence and the further entrenchment of the Occupation”.
While outrage and demands for accountability over the killings in Gaza continued to grow, there were others who came out to show support for Israel, describing the killings as self-defence.
Small counter rally
Across the picket line from Friday’s rally in solidarity with the Palestinians on 42nd Street and Broadway, about 20 people held a counter-rally in support of Israel.
Some protesters screamed expletives at the Palestinian supporters, calling the diverse crowd “Hamas sympathisers” and “anti-Semites”. Others screamed “Jerusalem is Jewish”, “F*** Palestine” and “All of you under the shoe”.
Elise Nahum, 47, who described herself as a “Puerto Rican Jew”, claimed that most at the Palestinian rally were paid to be there. “It’s always the same people who come to protest against Israel,” she told Al Jazeera.
“And look, we are not looking for trouble. Trump kept his promise to move the embassy and did it. We want to live in peace, and there are Arabs and Israelis who live in peace in Israel. These [here] are just troublemakers,” Nahum said.
Another protester, Ariel Kohane, 47, holding a “Jews for Trump” poster, said that “these supporters of Palestine were simply against peace”.
“Israeli soldiers bend over backwards not to hurt anyone. Only as a last resort do Israeli soldiers open fire on Palestinians,” Nahrum Kohane told Al Jazeera.
Responding to such claims, Douglas shook his head and said that excuses for Israeli soldiers’ violent actions were wearing thin.
“They aren’t allowed to fight, they aren’t allowed to protest peacefully … even if they throw Molotov cocktails, everyone knows it is mostly symbolic; these don’t hurt or impact anyone,” Douglas says.
Looking on at the handful of pro-Israel hecklers trying to disrupt the Palestinian rally, Iris Tatian, clutching her “bloody” Israeli flag tightly, says that she feels pity for protesters across the road, “on the wrong side of history”.
“They are uninformed and therefore fearful. They have been sold the Israeli narrative of victimhood. And in the end, they are just doing what was done to them,” Tatian says.
Follow Azad Essa on Twitter: @AzadEssa