139 Arrested as Thousands of Palestine Supporters Rally for Gaza Cease-fire in Midtown

Thousands of protesters rallied in Midtown on Oct. 20 to call for a cease-fire in Gaza and humanitarian aid for Palestinian civilians, staging a sit-in on Third Ave. 139 were arrested for disorderly conduct.

| 25 Oct 2023 | 07:10

Thousands of people gathered outside of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue at 5 p.m. on Oct. 20, waving Palestinian flags and signs that said “anti-war = anti-apartheid” and “let Gaza live,” and chanting “free Palestine” and “cease-fire now” to the beat of a pounding drum. They were demanding an end to Israeli bombardment in Gaza.

Hamas militants stormed communities in southern Israel in a surprise attack on Oct. 7, killing over 1,400 people and taking 222 people hostage, according to the Israeli Defense Forces. Following the brutal massacre, Israel retaliated by placing Gaza under “complete siege” and bombarded the territory with airstrikes. Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are without incoming electricity, fuel, food, or potable water, and the trickle of humanitarian aid entering the territory is far outweighed by need. As of Oct. 23, the Palestinian death toll has risen to 5,791 people, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

New York City is home to approximately 1.6 million Jews and 800,000 Muslims. A 2020 Pew Research study concluded that six-in-ten U.S. Jews feel an emotional attachment to Israel, while Gallup analyses have found that the majority of Muslim Americans are more sympathetic to Palestine than Israel. The Oct. 20 protest — organized by a coalition of groups, including Democratic Socialists of America, Adalah Justice Project, and Jewish Voice for Peace — was one of an ongoing wave of nationwide demonstrations for Palestine since Oct. 7. Pro-Israel rallies persist nationwide too, as attendees demonstrate solidarity with Israel and call for the rescue of the over 200 hostages still held by Hamas. Most of New York’s federal officials, as well as Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul, have voiced support for Israel.

In the crowd of protesters on Friday, some wore kippahs, a Jewish head covering, and some wore keffiyehs, a scarf that is often worn to demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinian people.

A handful of local officials joined the pro-Palestine demonstration. “A cease-fire is not a sign of weakness, but a testament to our strength as leaders and as peacemakers,” said Brooklyn Assembly member Phara Souffrant Forrest in a speech. “By calling for a cease-fire, calling to bring the hostages home, calling for aid to be let into Gaza, we demonstrate our commitment to preserving life, promoting justice, and working toward a lasting solution.”

“I am with you today as an American Jew, with my whole heart broken at the genocide that is being carried out in the name of Jewish safety with the full support of the United States government,” Morgan Bassichis, a leader of the New York chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, yelled through a megaphone from the steps of the library. “We will not let Jewish pain and Jewish fear and Jewish grief be weaponized to justify the collective punishment of Palestinians, to justify the genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.”

A D.S.A. member, who asked to remain unnamed for fear of retaliation, told Straus News that a sense of “basic solidarity” brought him to the protest. “As a Black man in America, I am connected with all oppressed peoples,” he said. “What has bothered me in the past couple of weeks is the gaslighting of it all. The pretending as if the [Hamas] attack a couple weeks ago was the foundational event, and not 75 years of occupation and annexation of an apartheid regime. Similar to how this country likes to pretend that 400 years of repression [since the arrival of enslaved Africans in the U.S.] did not happen and or if it did, hasn’t had any effect.”

Marie Edwards, 67, a Lebanese immigrant and Brooklyn resident, said Friday’s demonstration was the third pro-Palestine protest she had attended in two weeks. “I’ve been doing this for decades. But when I see the kind of crowd that we’re seeing today, it does give you hope. It does give you a sense that things, at least the next generation, might know better.”

Shortly after 6 p.m., the group of protesters — which by some estimates grew to over 3,000 people—began to march down East 41st Street, with State Senator Jabari Brisport, State Assembly member Zohran Mamdani, and NYC Council Member Alexa Avilés leading the way. As the protesters reached the outside of State Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office on East 48th Street and Third Avenue, they sat down in the center of the street, chanting, “Senator Gillibrand, we will not stop until you call for a ceasefire.”

At around 7:30 p.m., the NYPD began arresting the protesters and shut down the demonstration.

139 people in total were arrested, according to an NYPD spokesperson. Sen. Brisport was one of them. The arrestees were released by 2 a.m. the following day, with criminal court summonses for disorderly conduct.

In an Oct. 25 email to Straus News, Jeremy Cohan, co-chair of the D.S.A.’s New York City chapter, reiterated the aims of the Oct. 20 protest: “As we speak, Palestinians are being subjected to a US-funded ethnic cleansing. Sen. Gillibrand should know that her constituents put their safety and their freedom on the line to demand she stand on the right side of history and support a ceasefire now.”