Fatih Aktas/Anadolu via Getty Images
Despite the cold temperatures, Wednesday saw massive crowds around Rockefeller Center for New York City’s annual Christmas tree-lighting ceremony. A few blocks away, a large crowd gathered in an attempt to disrupt the holiday tradition in solidarity with Gaza.
Organizers of the rally declared that there could be no celebrations in the United States while a “genocide” was taking place in Gaza, although the temporary cease-fire to facilitate the exchange of Israeli and foreign hostages was still in effect Wednesday night. The ensuing protest was the most chaotic and violent demonstration I have covered since Hamas’ terrorist attacks in Israel on Oct. 7.
As has become common in these demonstrations, ostensibly devoted to ending violence, members of the pro-Palestinian crowd quickly became confrontational with New York City police officers. The officers were telling the protesters to stay out of the road, but the protesters kept pushing back. A Black man in a kaffiyeh started heckling a Black NYPD officer: “Listen to that white man. … Get your dumb a** in the back!” Eventually the officers retreated to the perimeter, much to the enjoyment of protesters who saw that they had successfully forced the police out of “their” area.
The confrontations escalated from there. When some in the crowd started to move barricades again, the NYPD officers resisted and the crowd started to fight the officers. The brawl became massive as more in the crowd tried to help their comrades from being taken into custody. Spectators at the tree-lighting ceremony were caught on the crowded sidewalks, unable to easily get away from the brawls. One mother told me she was taking her daughter to see the Christmas tree for the first time. I told her to leave the area because it was not safe for either of them.
Large-scale fights broke out at least twice more before officers used pepper spray on the crowd and most of the protesters marched away. As the crowd roamed the streets, individual members with cans of spray paint broke off and vandalized buildings with pro-Palestinian graffiti. Others placed anti-Israel stickers on stores like Starbucks that they believed had conducted business in Israel. The pro-violence chants by the crowd ranged from “Long live the intifada” to “Resistance is justified when people are colonized.” The crowd was large enough to take up a whole street as they walked by, constantly blocking traffic in any direction they marched.
Confrontations between the NYPD and protesters were sparked again when the mob tried to stop officers from taking someone into custody. Once that person was secured, the crowd chased away an assistant chief and his outnumbered officers. Close to the end of the march, one protester started taunting officers who were blocking a road, praising occasions on which police officers had been killed or injured.
“Which one of y’all want to get Derek Chauvin’d?” he asked. “I’d give you that Chris Dorner treatment real quick!”
While there is no shortage of far-left groups who have put together protests for Gaza in the aftermath of Hamas’ terrorist attacks in Israel, one of the main organizers in New York City behind the protests here, like the one that took place Wednesday night, is Within Our Lifetime. Expertly using social media, WOL is the go-to group to check in with to find the next protest, big or small.
Originally called NYC SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine), WOL was co-founded in 2015 by Nerdeen Kiswani, an activist with a long history of making it clear that she does not want Israel to exist and wants Palestine to be free “within our lifetime,” hence the name of the organization. On March 3, 2017, Kiswani posted on Instagram, “Israel must be annihilated.”
Banners stating “Resistance By Any Means Necessary” are common, as Kiswani talks about how refugees will return to Palestine as liberators. At one last-minute rally outside the CUNY School of Law on Nov. 15, held to protest the school canceling an event featuring Kiswani, one speaker proudly explained why he is tearing down flyers featuring Israelis who were taken as hostages during the Oct. 7 attacks.
“These flyers, they’re targeted around areas where there is heavy Palestinian support—that is why they’re always around our school,” the speaker explained, to cheers from the crowd. “That’s why the same Zionist motherf**ker who waits here to catch people ripping them off tries with failed attempts to intimidate us—to silence us, to put us to shame and to ruin our lives, because over here we have rights and they’re upset about that. … I tear these flyers down, and when they question me, I only give them a chilling stare.”
At WOL’s “Flood Staten Island for Gaza” protest on Nov. 14, one speaker warned politicians who support Israel: “We will go to them in restaurants! We will go to them in front of their homes,” adding, “Keep shutting down New York City and the entire world until Palestine is free from the river to the sea!” Kiswani started expressing her sympathy with Hamas’ recent actions, before quickly redescribing the terrorist group merely as Palestinians.
That protest also became violent, after the crowd prevented buses from leaving the Staten Island Ferry terminal and then started to vandalize some of the buses. When the NYPD moved in and arrested one person, the crowd became enraged and followed the officers, resulting in fights. The man who was arrested that night was back out on the street the next day, participating in protests organized by WOL. I overheard him telling fellow protesters he was fine and it was only annoying that he had to spend the night in jail before being released.
But WOL’s activism goes beyond protests. On their social media, they took it a step further and created an infographic with a map that listed Jewish organizations in New York City to help followers “Globalize the Intifada.” It appears that WOL deleted the post after the map generated outrage.
WOL is just one of the many far-left groups that have organized “direct actions” in the United States in support of Gaza since the terrorist attacks. One of those groups is the far-left Berkeley-based Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a group supported by millions of dollars in grants from wealthy foundations including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, George Soros’ Open Society network, the Tides Foundation and the Kaphan Foundation, which was founded by Amazon’s first employee. Another is IfNotNow, which has many of the same big-money funders as JVP and is a Jewish-branded group with ties to the Momentum Community organizing network—the vaguely cultlike movement incubator that has been a source of considerable organizing energy over the past decade on the progressive left—which has been funded by the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Amalgamated Charitable Foundation, and other donors.
Together, JVP and IfNotNow organized the Nov. 15 protest outside the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C., that resulted in police having to remove people who were blocking the building’s entrances and exits while lawmakers were inside. Last Sunday, Jewish Voice for Peace halted traffic on the Manhattan Bridge for hours.
In Florida, Palestine Action US, Miami Anti-Fascist Newsletter, Miami Democratic Socialists of America, Broward County Democratic Socialists of America, Black Lives Matter Alliance Broward, and Broward Dream Defenders promoted a “shutdown” event on Nov. 9 outside Real-Time Laboratories, an Elbit Systems of America company, at their Boca Raton office. Jewish and Israeli counterprotesters showed up and the Boca Raton Police Services Department did not appear to be prepared to handle dueling rallies. Scuffles between the two sides were constant, as people from each side crossed the street to confront the other. One masked man on the Palestinian side shouted that he would go fight in Gaza if it meant he could kill the Israel supporters across the street “right now!”
Speakers expressing violent rhetoric against Israel and calls for global “decolonization” are a feature, not a bug, at these events. At what has been called the biggest rally for Palestine in Washington, D.C., in early November, activist Marte White told the crowd from the main stage that people should not think of decolonization “conceptually” or “metaphorically” because “this sh*t is real,” adding that those in Gaza have the right “to free their land from the river to the sea by any means necessary. And I DO MEAN any means necessary!”
Even with no fighting taking place in Gaza on Black Friday, protesting crowds still jeered and heckled shoppers in cities such as Los Angeles and New York, screaming, “Why are you shopping? Bombs are dropping!” One of the protesters gave the middle finger to people who were ignoring their demands. Police officers guarded the entrances of the big-name stores to prevent the protesters from going inside. This allowed shoppers to still enter and exit, even if they had to walk by the angry crowd.
It seems clear that progressive activists have established “Palestine” as this year’s rallying cry, and it is therefore likely that the momentum of these protests, with their consistently violent edge, will continue into next year’s election. At the CUNY School of Law protest, WOL’s Kiswani implored the activists to keep up the fight even if they are tired and have to make sacrifices to protest nearly every day.
I have made it clear to those who will listen that even if they do not consider the Israel-Hamas war to be America’s problem, the far-left within the United States considers it to be, because our nation is the problem—and they will do unreasonable things to force everyday Americans to care. Covering the BLM and Antifa riots in 2020 taught me that when the fire is in their eyes, these demonstrators will go to great lengths to achieve their goals by following the destructive mantra of “the ends justify the means.” In Thousand Oaks, California, a 69-year-old Jewish man, Paul Kessler, lost his life on Nov. 6 when he was bashed in the head with a megaphone by a pro-Palestinian protester, Loay Alnaji, a professor of computer science at Moorpark College. As these demonstrations continue, it seems likely that more injuries and deaths will follow.
Julio Rosas is a field reporter for his Substack, Mostly Peaceful. He has extensively covered riots and protests across the country since 2016. He is the author of Fiery But Mostly Peaceful: The 2020 Riots and the Gaslighting of America.