Thousands take to Bay Ridge streets in support of Palestine

Thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets of Bay Ridge on May 15 for Nakba Day.
Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Bay Ridge on May 15 to support the Palestinian people amid rising tensions in the Middle East on Nabka Day — the day Palestinians mark as the genesis of their permanent displacement from the State of Israel in 1948.

The march, which started near the corner of 74th Street and Fifth Avenue on Saturday afternoon, lasted well into the evening with loud chants of “Free Palestine.” The rally was organized by Within Our Lifetime, a Palestinian-led community organization that’s been building the movement in support of Palestine since its founding in 2015, in collaboration with Equality for Flatbush, Jewish Voice for Peace, and United for Palestine.

A massive crowd gathered in Bay Ridge to protest the Israeli presence in Palestine on May 15.Photo by Caroline Ourso

Nerdeen Kiswani, chair and co-founder of Within Our Lifetime, said the rally united Palestinians in Brooklyn and New York City with others around the world who are fighting against Zionism and for the right to return to their homeland. 

“The rally was a way to show how united the Palestinian people are in their resistance against Zionism,” Kiswani told Brooklyn Paper. “Not just here in New York but all over the world there are rallies like this happening, especially on the 15th, it was happening everywhere.” 

Protesters rode and walked through the streets of Bay Ridge.Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

Within Our Lifetime’s goal, according to its website, is to “revitalize the revolutionary spirit of the Palestinian diaspora to complement the resistance in Palestine in pursuit of a free homeland.”

Saturday’s rally wasn’t the group’s first demonstration in Bay Ridge. Last July, Within Our Lifetime led a similar, though not as large, rally in the southern Brooklyn neighborhood, which is home to a sizable Palestinian population and has been referred to by some across the city as “Little Palestine.”

A woman looks over a lunch menu as a massive crowd gathered in Bay Ridge on Nakba Day.Photo by Caroline Ourso

This year’s Nabka Day remembrance came as tensions continue to escalate between Palestinians and Israelis in the Middle East.

The organizer credits the heightened momentum in support of Palestine — which, she said, manifested Saturday with approximately 50,000 attendees — to increased awareness of the conflict from a Palestinian perspective due to social media.

Protesters stood in solidarity with Palestine.Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

“We are having a moment where people are waking up and realizing the truth,” she said. “Palestinians on the ground are sharing raw footage of the destruction and hardships they’re facing by the Israeli government.”

However, Kiswani claims that progress still has its caveats as some posts have been “shadow banned” or removed from social networking sites. “Social media as great as a tool as it has been, it also has been deleting a lot of the videos coming out of Palestine,” she told Brooklyn Paper. “It’s been shadow banning and censoring. We’ve had posts taken down.” 

Protesters called to “Free Palestine.”Photo by Caroline Ourso

But on May 15, “Bay Ridge” was trending on Twitter — as countless New Yorkers, and some celebrities, went live from or amplified others’ posts of the Nabka Day demonstration.

The massive Brooklyn showing comes on the heels of both pro-Palestine and pro-Israel demonstrations citywide. On Friday, also in Brooklyn, Jewish Voice for Peace led a group of protesters from Grand Army Plaza to the home of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, where they demanded he cut funding to Israel.

Crowds protested well into Saturday evening.Photo by Caroline Ourso

Outside the pol’s home, protesters left placards with the names of Palestinians who have been killed by Israeli air strikes.

In Bay Ridge on Saturday, just one of the area’s elected officials appeared to support the Nabka Day demonstration publicly.

“History was made in #bayridge today as thousands marched in the streets to protest the killings of families and children in Palestine,” tweeted Democratic Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus. “[Bay Ridge] has a robust Arab community and my heart aches to know that so many are mourning the loss of loved ones in Gaza. The bloodshed must end.”

Monday evening, Councilmember Justin Brannan told Brooklyn Paper, “There are no words to salve or make sense of the pain so many of my constituents are feeling – worried sick about family and friends back home.”

“Bay Ridge is home to one of the largest Palestinian communities in the country,” he went on. “I support the aspiration of the Palestinian people for self-determination, in an independent state. We must end violence in Jerusalem and Gaza and prevent further loss of innocent life. The US has a moral obligation to demand a ceasefire.”

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, on the other hand, joined at least 50 of her Republican colleagues in spotlighting acts of terrorism committed by Hamas, which recently launched rockets into Israel, killing multiple civilians. 

“My heart is pained by the tragic spate of ongoing violence in Israel,” said Malliotakis, the city’s lone Republican member of Congress whose district includes Bay Ridge, in a statement released the day before the rally. “We must continue to stand with our ally, against the terrorism of Hamas, and the White House must work to immediately deescalate the violence and build on the progress of the Abraham Accords to bring peace to the region.”

Aside from the clash of ideas over the conflict playing out overseas, some Ridgeites were simply bothered by the increased traffic congestion generated by the protests here at home, which consumed already traffic-dense thoroughfares like Third and Fifth avenues — and parts of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway — for hours over the weekend.

Kiswani responded to the complaints of congestion, arguing that, if the rally taught anyone about the 73-year plight of the Palestinian people, then it was worth a few people getting stuck in traffic.

“If it causes some traffic for people, but is educating folks overall about a cause that they should know about,” she said, “they should thank us for taking the time to deliver that message rather than ignore the suffering, the plight of the Palestinian people for something so arbitrary.”

Update (May 18, 10 am): This story has been updated to include comment from area Councilmember Justin Brannan.