About 500 people -- many of them Jewish -- amassed in Times Square yesterday afternoon to raucously protest the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the deaths of Palestinians.
A counter demonstration of about 50 people -largely Jewish -- formed to the south on Seventh Ave. to condemn the firing of rockets by Hamas toward Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and demonstrate support of Israel.
Gaza militants have fired 846 rockets at Israel in recent days, although more that 302 were intercepted by Israel's sophisticated "Iron Dome" defense system, according to news reports. Still, the attacks killed three Israelis and wounded another 68 people in the Jewish state. Israel's offensive, which began on Wednesday, has killed at least 65 Palestinians, including 15 children, and injured 560 people. The conflict has raised emotions and stirred loyalties among New Yorkers on both sides of the historically tense divide.
"The root cause of all these rockets is the birth of this movement called Zionism," said Rabbi Yisroel David Weiss, a Hasidic rabbi from Monsey who participated in the anti-Zionism demonstration. Weiss said his religious community commiserated with the Palestinians and was "humiliated by what is being done in our name. We cry with them," he said of the Palestinian people.
Andrea Revive, 23, of the Upper West Side, who was in the pro-Israel demonstration, said the protesters in Weiss's group "are supporting a terrorist organization (Hamas) that shoots hundreds of rockets each day at our people. Now that Israel is defending itself they're claiming they're victims."
"Israel has to protect its people," added Ariela Sera, 21, of Murray Hill.
Alia Shammas, 18, a Barnard student who lives in Morningside Heights and participated in the anti-Zionism protest, said she had a Palestinian father and an Israeli mother who came to the U.S. to escape overwhelming stigmatization in Israel. "Judaism is not Zionism," said Shammas, adding that she oppose U.S. aid to Israel because she believed it fueled the bloodshed. Yes, Hamas had fired rockets at Israel, she conceded, but Israel's response "was like a professional wrestler defending itself against a baby."
It was unclear if any arrests were made in connection with the demonstrations yesterday, although a man who appeared to be inebriated was being handcuffed outside the demonstration pens by police around 4:15 p.m.