We’ve been sweltering in solidarity for over forty minutes now, between 42nd and 43rd Streets on 8th Avenue, parked across from the Israeli consulate building and preparing to march on the corporate headquarters of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which owns Fox News. As I scan the crowd, I see a young boy hoisted on his father’s shoulders. In his hands he lifts up a sign with a quote from the Palestinian scholar Edward Said, one of his incredibly lucid riffs on the fact that the tragedies of one people [the Holocaust] do not excuse their violence upon others [Palestinians].
The green-decked crowd had gathered on Wednesday July 9 to protest the collective punishment being inflicted on Gaza by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) — bombings that have spread misery from Hamas’ military command to the wider Gaza community. It is the latest episode in an escalating chain of events, triggered by Hamas’ alleged role in the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. But to me, it was the spirit of young Tariq Khdeir, a 15-year-old from Florida that was the real lighting rod.
Tariq Khdeir’s Face
Like many immigrant kids, he traveled to his parents’ “homeland” for a summer vacation to be with his extended family. But last week, his cousin Mohammad was kidnapped in his Jerusalem neighborhood and burned alive by Jewish settlers. It is believed that the act was retribution for the deaths of the three Israeli teenagers. Tariq Khdeir was subsequently arrested by Israeli authorities and subjected to a beating so severe that pictures of his mangled face managed to capture the jaded attention span of social media. At a time when most Palestinian victims go uncounted and unnamed, Tariq is a unique and galvanizing face. Indeed he was everywhere at the rally, his face held up in the hands of the diverse assembly.
Queers Against Israeli Apartheid signs stood shoulder to shoulder with a huge banner asking drivers to honk to free Palestine. Puerto Ricans stood with Israel, or so we were told, as one man walked past the handwritten declaration that there would be a worker collective state in Palestine — for both Arabs and Jews. Beautifully done-up teenage girls took protest selfies while mothers and their tween daughters stood in skinny jeans and headscarves. Members of the Neturei Katra handed out manifestos explaining why, as Jews, they were opposed to Israel’s existence, and generally, bravely, were as visible as possible. Even the Palestinian solidarity demonstrators seemed astonished to see Orthodox Jews wearing Palestinian flag pins, waving the red, white and black Palestinian colors directly across from the Stand with Israel counter-protest.
Across the street at the pro-Israel rally, I asked a protestor to pose with his “Stand with Israel, Stand with Peace” sign. He said that they, the counter-protesters, were here for peace on both sides of the wall. But beyond that vague demand for peace, unspecified and unbounded, the only actionable rallying cry I heard was “End Hamas!” It was never clear to me what their positions were on collective punishment, Tariq Khdeir, the shuttering of Palestinian universities by Israeli authorities, any one of the millions of issues that seemed to swell the pro-Palestinian rally on the other side of the street. As I turned to go I was invited to a “Coexist Battle of the Bands” sponsored by the Hillel chapter of the College of Staten Island. They asked if I could spread the word “over there” — across the intersection, a symbolic distance too far to cross without an invitation. When I turned to get back to my spot in the ever-growing crowd on the other side, a chant swelled behind me “Stop Hamas!” and then in front of me, “Stop the Killing, Stop the War!”
As the sun started setting on the News Corp headquarters (not that the sun ever really sets on Murdoch’s vast empire) and the still lively crowd dispersed, I pondered the great challenge Edward Said had set out in one of his lectures, years ago: he had insisted that what is needed is imaginative ways of coexistence — the beginnings of practical cooperation between people. As I crossed the street, I ran into a group of Indian office workers huddling outside the local Irish pub. Bemused, they joked among themselves that they were holding their own rally for everyone to join, a third rally for peace.