May 21, 2021 By Allie Griffin
A large crowd is expected to turn out in Sunnyside Saturday for a pro-Palestinian rally that comes after nearly two weeks of conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas.
The event will take place following a cease-fire that went into effect Friday and was brokered by Egypt. The halt to hostilities comes after more than 230 Palestinians — including over 60 children — have been killed in Israeli airstrikes and 12 Israelis killed in rocket attacks launched by Hamas, the New York Times reported.
The Israeli airstrikes have also left thousands of Gazans without a place to live, and critics of Israel say its occupation of Gaza and the West Bank needs to end.
Meanwhile, pro-Israel supporters argue that the Israeli government is just defending its people from Hamas, which it deems a terrorist organization whose goal is to destroy Israel. Hamas fired 4,000 rockets into civilian areas of Israel.
Nerdeen Kiswani, the Chair and Co-founder of WOL, told the Queens Post that her organization has been flooded with calls from Queens residents calling for a rally in support of Palestine in the borough.
“People have been reaching out to us for a while now from Queens, from Staten Island, from the Bronx asking to bring the Palestinian cause to their neighborhood,” she said. “Especially Queens —the most diverse place in the world — and it’s always been the people of the world who support Palestine, so we know there’ll be massive support for people there.”
WOL is encouraging attendees to come to Sunnyside and bring flags, signs and keffiyehs to the rally at 1 p.m.
— Within Our Lifetime (@WOLPalestine) May 17, 2021
Many young, progressive leaders in western Queens have expressed support for the plight of the Palestinians in recent times, including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani of Astoria and State Sen. Jessica Ramos of Jackson Heights.
Conversely, support for Israel is stronger among elected officials in central Queens.
A pro-Israel rally was held in Forest Hills last week attended by Council Members Barry Grodenchik, Karen Koslowitz and Jim Gennaro. They urged the public to stand with Israel, and speakers said that Israel has every right to defend itself from the onslaught of indiscriminate rocket attacks aimed at its civilians, reported the Queens Chronicle.
A number of western Queens officials will be attending the Sunnyside rally — dubbed Defend Palestine — Saturday.
Mamdani and Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents western Queens, told the Queens Post that they plan to attend. At least five candidates running to represent the 26th Council District said they are going.
Mamdani, who attended the Bay Ridge rally as well as one in Manhattan, said he feels the tide is shifting in favor of the Palestinian cause.
“As somebody who got into organizing because of the issue of Palestinian solidarity, this moment right now feels fundamentally different from any one that I have been a part of in the past,” he said.
The recent uptick in violence in the Middle East — combined with the Black Lives Matter movement last summer — has led many Americans to voice their concerns regarding the Israel Palestine conflict, Mamdani said.
He said that a growing number of people are no longer afraid to speak out against the Israeli government. In the past, he said, people feared that there would be repercussions for doing so.
“Right now, we’re at a moment where that threat of consequence is losing its power,” he said, arguing that people are now speaking up now because there is this “a realization that if we do not speak up, then this will only continue to escalate.”
Mamdani, who is an ardent supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, said the vast majority of his constituents support the movement as well.
Every single one of my constituents that has written to me about Palestine has supported my call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions on Israel.
Every single one.
The tide is turning. The fight for justice is here. The moment is now.
And there’s always room for you to join.
— Zohran Kwame Mamdani (@ZohranKMamdani) May 14, 2021
Some critics and pro-Israel supporters, however, have called the BDS movement anti-Semitic.
Mamdani said that charge is completely inaccurate.
He added that attempts to label BDS or any critique of the Israeli state as anti-Semitic are purely a means to silence any criticism.
“I can tell you that as somebody who has advocated for Palestinian rights for many, many years, I am sadly very familiar with this charge because it seeks to conflate any critique of Zionism, with a critique of Judaism,” he said. “And that is not those two things are not the same.”
We pay our electeds with our tax $$$ to represent us but they go on paid-for trips to Israel.
We have 3 letters for them: #BDS
— Zohran Kwame Mamdani (@ZohranKMamdani) May 12, 2021
Legislators, he said, are also more inclined to speak up on the conflict as well as on the U.S.’s role in aiding Israel.
“For a long time Queens elected officials marched in lockstep with pro-Israel propaganda and that era is over,” he said. “It’s not because we have a new crop of legislators that have their own ideas — it’s because we have legislators who actually reflect the values of their constituencies.”
Ocasio Cortez, whose district includes much of western Queens including Sunnyside, has boldly condemned the Israeli government in a series of tweets over the past two weeks.
Apartheid states aren’t democracies.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 15, 2021
She also introduced a resolution this week to oppose a $735 million sale of American-made weapons to the Israeli government.
A representative for Ocasio-Cortez was unable to confirm on Wednesday whether she would attend the rally.
Meanwhile Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who will be out campaigning Saturday for Queens Borough President, said he would stop by.
Van Bramer said he believes in a two-state solution, and condemned the Israeli government for bombing a building that housed the Associated Press newsroom and apartments.
“Israel and Palestine both have a right to exist and their people deserve to live in safety…,” he said in a statement. “Bombing the building that housed news organizations is wrong. Killing innocent people and dozens of children in Gaza is wrong, and it always will be.”
State Sen. Mike Gianaris and Assembly Member Cathy Nolan — both of whom represent districts in western Queens including Sunnyside — didn’t respond to inquiries asking if they planned to attend the rally.
However, several candidates running for to represent the 26th Council District, will be attending.
Candidate Badrun Khan, a first-generation immigrant and the daughter of Bengali parents, said she plans to attend Saturday and is urging her family and friends to join her.
“I am promoting this event to all my family and friends because I believe this is an important cause,” Khan said in a statement. “I’m glad people are finally starting to take notice of these humanitarian crimes.”
“Hundreds of innocent Palestinians have died, Israel is using our [military] resources to target media outlets, schools, and hospitals,” Khan said. “We know this is wrong and we must stand for justice. We have a responsibility to protect human rights.”
Amit Bagga, who is also running to represent the 26th Council District, said that he will participate in the rally Saturday. He issued a statement about the conflict.
“Both things can be true: Israel has a right to exist, and the Israeli State’s occupation of the Palestinian people has never made it safer,” he said. “Israel’s only path to the peace and security is to comply with the legally binding U.N. Article 242 of 1967 (which led to its own peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan), and to end the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank immediately.”
Candidates Jonathan Bailey, Emily Sharpe and Steven Raga also confirmed that they planned to attend.
Raga, who lived in the Middle East in 2009, said he saw the devastation in Palestine firsthand while there.
“The images and videos coming out of Palestine have been heartbreaking,” he told the Queens Post. “I’m glad we have this opportunity to demonstrate our solidarity for the people of Palestine right here in Queens.”