At noon on Tuesday, 24 people were arrested in Midtown during a protest against the ongoing Israeli offensive in Gaza. Over 100 people had gathered for the event, organized by professor and author Norman Finkelstein, who had posted a message to his website stating that if 100 people committed to an act civil disobedience, it would take place at the Israeli mission at the UN in New York City on Tuesday.
“I don’t believe in individual acts of martyrdom,” Finkelstein wrote on Monday, on his website. “It’s got to be a collective action. If one hundred people either sign up to get arrested or to be there in solidarity, I’ll be there too.”
One hundred signed up and met at the corner of 2nd Avenue and 42nd Street (“Yitzchak Rabin Way”), and after chanting “The Whole World is Watching! Stop the Carnage Now!” for 20 minutes, the group proceeded to 43rd street, where about 40 lay down across the crosswalk. Police were quick to intercede, announcing that whoever didn’t want to be arrested should leave. They then arrested the 24 remaining protestors.
Among those arrested was Brooke Perry, a Vietnam War Veteran with a T-shirt that read, “Vietnam Veterans Against the War.” A paratrooper combat veteran from the 101st Airborne Division, Perry said he believed he had to speak up. “Because we’ve seen slaughter,” he said. “We’ve seen carnage. We’ve seen massacre, and we don’t like what we saw.
“I want to stop the massacre after massacre after massacre. To equate what they’re calling rockets—which are basically high school bottle rockets, which can’t even make a pothole in that asphalt over there, to equate that with a 200 pound bomb supplied by the United States to Israel that brings down these huge buildings all around us—you can’t begin to compare those,” he said.
Jim McLoughlin, a retiree who attended the protest, says he came to protest his own country—the United states—more than Israel. “I’m just really tired of watching our leaders disgrace us on the international stage,” he said. “I don’t like the way our Congress has allowed us to become second fiddle to Israel. I don’t like the fact that there’s no public debate in congress when it comes to Israel, but everything else is debated publicly. And I’m really tired of hearing all the pro-Israeli slogans that are used to frame the debate. For example, ‘Doesn’t Israel have the right to defend itself?’ I’ve heard that question for three quarters of my life. I’ve never heard the question asked, ‘Do the Palestinians have the right to defend themselves?’”
Raffoul Saadeh is a Palestinian Christian from Bierzeit in the West Bank who came to the US to attend Georgetown University. With family in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, Saadeh is very invested in the current crisis. “If you cage someone for so long, that would only make them more radical and hate you more,” he said. “Israel is boosting Hamas with the acts it is doing against the Palestinian people, with the siege and the violence that is going on.”
Saadeh’s position is complex. “As a Palestinian Christian, I want peace,” he said. “My mom lives in Jerusalem, my dad lives in the West Bank, I have both Israeli and Palestinian friends. I want peace. But I do understand why a lot of people are revolting against the siege. Even if you put an animal in a cage for a long time, he’s going to attack you.”
Norman Finkelstein said that what led him to organize the event was frustration—“sitting in front of the computer 20 days, 21 days, and not feeling I’m doing enough, not rising to the occasion, not commensurate with the magnitude of the horror in Gaza. So I just decided on the spur of the moment, let’s do something.”
Finkelstein and the others were arrested and driven away in a police van to the 7th precinct.
Batya Ungar-Sargon is a freelance writer who lives in New York. Her Twitter feed is @bungarsargon.