KINGSTON >> A total of about 100 people on opposite sides of the current Israel-Gaza conflict raised their voices — and signs — Tuesday on a Broadway sidewalk in Midtown to state their positions.
The protesters, holding placards with such statements as “Long Live Israel” and “Free Gaza,” were in front of the Seven21 Media Center building, where U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, has a district office.
There was back-and-forth shouting at times, but the demonstrators remained relatively calm under the watchful eye of Kingston police officers.
Cheryl Qamar of Saugerties said she attended to bring attention to the plight of Palestinians in Gaza.
“I am here to protest the Israeli siege of Gaza,” Qamar said. “... Israel has declared war on the very people they are occupying. It is against international law and it is a crime against humanity.”
Israel supporter Bruce Tuchman, a member of the Jewish Federation of Ulster County, sees things differently.
“Right now, Israel is fighting for its survival, as they have been fighting for their survival since 1948,” Tuchman said. “They [Hamas] are the people who put their children in harm’s way just to get a headline. It is disgusting, and Israel gets blamed for everything.”
Tuesday’s gathering initially was advertised as a pro-Palestinian event sponsored by the groups Middle East Crisis Response and Hudson Valley BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions). Local pro-Israel residents then organized a counterdemonstration.
Israel on Tuesday unleashed its heaviest bombardment in a 3-week-old war against Hamas, striking symbols of the militant group’s control in Gaza and firing tank shells that Palestinian officials said shut down the strip’s only power plant. The station’s shutdown further disrupted the supply of electricity and water to the 1.7 million people packed into the narrow Palestinian coastal territory.
The heavy strikes, a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of a “prolonged” campaign against Hamas, were a new blow to international efforts to reach a sustainable truce in the fighting.
Israel has vowed to stop the Hamas rocket and mortar fire that has reached increasingly deeper into its territory and to destroy a sophisticated network of tunnels that have been used by the militants to infiltrate the Jewish state.
For his part, Gibson said he hopes the two sides “come to the peace table” and resolve their issues.
“I think I join all Americans in praying for a peaceful resolution,” Gibson said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Gibson said he supports Israel’s recent actions, given the firing of rockets into the country by Hamas and its construction of underground tunnels.
“Israel has a right to protect itself, and I stand with Israel to do that,” Gibson said. “Hamas is committed to violence and has used terrorist attacks to advance its cause.”
Gibson also said he “welcomed” the protesters and “look(ed) forward to hearing their views.”
Pro-Gaza and pro-Israeli demonstrators share a sidewalk in front of U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson's Kingston office.
Pauline Liu/Times Herald-Record
By Pauline Liu
Times Herald Record
Published: 2:00 AM - 07/30/14
KINGSTON — When pro-Palestinian demonstrators and pro-Israeli demonstrators tried to occupy the same strip of sidewalk in front of U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson's Kingston office Tuesday afternoon, a scuffle broke out.
The outburst was perhaps a microcosm of the continuing struggle in the Middle East.
Other protestors and Kingston police quickly broke up the incident, and no one was hurt. The dueling demonstrations continued into the evening with one group lined up in front of the building at 721 Broadway, while the other positioned itself in front of the parking lot.
Carrying signs that read, "Free Gaza" and "End the siege on Gaza," the pro-Palestinian groups called on Gibson to help end what they called "our government's unconditional support of Israel."
Since the fighting began July 8, there have been more than 1,200 people killed on both sides of the war, almost all of them Palestinians. Hamas has been accused of firing thousands of rockets into Israel.
"Congress has given a blank check to fund Israel's attack on Gaza," said Jeff Cohen of Saugerties, founder of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. "Our tax money is underwriting it and I'm against it. I think it's obscene."
On the opposite end of the sidewalk on Broadway, stood Nat Borsky of the Ulster County Jewish Federation. He and other pro-Israeli groups organized their demonstration after learning about what the other side had planned.
They argued Israel has a right to defend itself.
"If Israel is going to be attacked by over 2,500 rockets, how in heaven can you expect Israel to not respond and just let itself die?" Borsky said.
Gibson, R-Kinderhook, responded from Washington, D.C., where Congress is in session. He said he supports Israel's right to defend itself, but he also called on both sides to come back to the table to find a peaceful solution to the dispute.
"Hamas is a purveyor of terror and has taken a violent approach which is complicating matters," Gibson said. "Israel has been the victim of attacks coming from Gaza."
-Sunday, July 13, WOODSTOCK: Silent Vigil to End the Genocide in Gaza will be held from 12 - 1 pm at the Village Green in Woodstock. This is a call to all residents of the Hudson Valley to stand in opposition to the US involvement in the slaughter of Palestinian civilians. No more funding of the Israeli war machine. No more protection of Israel in the UN. Sponsored by the Middle East Crisis Response . Contact: 845 876-7906
A presentation about the Freedom Bus by founder Ben Rivers
Tuesday June 3, 7:30 pm Deyo Hall, 6 Broadhead Avenue, New Paltz (next to Rail Trail—not on campus!)
The Freedom Bus, a project of the West Bank’s legendary Freedom Theatre, engages thousands of Palestinians and visitors from abroad in cultural actions, including Playback Theatre, to explore the experience of living under occupation. Freedom Bus events occur in villages, towns, refugee camps and Bedouin communities throughout the occupied West Bank.
Ben Rivers, co-founder of the Freedom Bus, will speak about the use of Playback Theatre and cultural activism within the broader popular struggle movement. Following Ben’s talk, Hudson River Playback Theatre performers will reflect audience responses. Admission is free. Donations to support the Freedom Bus will be accepted.
Endorsers of the Freedom Bus include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Judith Butler, Maya Angelou, Noam Chomsky and Peter Brook. Palestine Stories is cosponsored by Middle East Crisis Response. For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
The talk and Playback Theatre presentation drew about 35 people, and were very well received.
We had a very successful night showing My Neighbourhood, followed by Jeff Cohen's presentation. Jeff had visited the family portrayed in the film and talked about the family's continued battle to get their house back from Israeli settlers.
We had many questions about the occupation, the US involvement in supporting it, and the role of established religion in this country in hiding Israeli's apartheid practices from our citizens. Several audience members talked about their Jewish upbringing and how difficult it was reconciling the ideals of their religious beliefs with the horrors of the racial humiliation and ethnic cleansing being done in the Jewish state.
Jay had liberated a Nazi concentration camp as a young, Jewish soldier in World War II. His remembrance of that time coupled with a sad recognition of fascist tendencies in the state of Israel made us all think about the use the Holocaust by religious groups in denying human rights to Palestinians.
We had a nice crowd at the event. Close to 40 people saw the film and listened to Jeff Cohen's talk.