The outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas has led to intense and emotional rallies across the world as the conflict stretches into its fifth day, with gruesome details continuing to emerge from southern Israel and the Gaza Strip coming under intense aerial assault.
Both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian protests have broken out, with heated rhetoric in some cases devolving into ugly displays of antisemitism, including chants of “gas the Jews” in Sydney.
Those protests can be an expression of solidarity — but also of long-simmering tensions political leaders had failed to resolve.
The Associated Press: Protests by pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrators span the world as war escalates (photo essay)
Middle East: Arab street shows solidarity with Palestinians
Since the founding of Israel more than 75 years ago, the Palestinians’ plight has been a rallying cry for neighbors such as Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt, even though they have also been criticized for not doing enough to materially improve the lives of Palestinian refugees.
“Palestine today appears like an afterthought in the Arab political order,” the policy scholar Imad K. Harb wrote last May for Al Jazeera.
Saturday’s attacks came after a years-long normalization of diplomatic relationships between Israel and the Arab world, a Trump-era initiative known as the Abraham Accords. Some believe Hamas carried out its attacks to scuttle a similar agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which would transform the Middle East — and potentially push the Palestinians’ pleas for statehood even further into the background.
“From Ramallah to Beirut, Amman, Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo, people have distributed sweets, danced and chanted prayers in support of ‘resistance’ to Israel's long-standing occupation of Palestinian territories,” reported AFP.
As Israelis grieve and Gazans brace for a heavy reprisal, Israel once again finds itself isolated in the Middle East. “We’ve been telling you guys over and over again that if you ignore the Palestine issue the region’s going to explode,” scholar Yousef Munayyer of the Arab Center told the Associated Press.
Europe: Long-simmering tensions erupt
Demonstrators gathered in front of the Israeli Embassy in London on Monday, waving placards with messages such as “Israel are the new Nazis,” as well as the green Hamas flag. Attendees danced and called for a “Free Palestine.”
“Fireworks were let off, flares were lit and chants of ‘Israel is a terrorist state,’ ‘Free Palestine’ and ‘Allahu akbar’ rang out,” the Evening Standard reported. The glass of a kosher restaurant was smashed in Golders Green, a Jewish neighborhood, recalling the horrors of the 1938 Nazi rampage known as Kristallnacht, when Jewish businesses and temples across Germany were destroyed in a cascade of violence
The rallies in European capitals reflect complex realities of migration from the Arab world, legacies of antisemitism and the challenges of globalization — clashing in vivid images of jubilation, grief and confusion.
There were also vigils for the 1,200 slain Israelis, including in the very heart of Berlin, where the poisonous ideology of the Nazis once reigned. Germans gathered in front of the Brandenburg Gate — illuminated by an image of the Israeli flag — to sing “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem.
Arab migration to Europe is a centuries-old phenomenon. Arab workers were essential to rebuilding Europe after World War II; there have been recent influxes of migrants fleeing war in Syria and North Africa.
Recent migration has only exacerbated those trends. In 2017, 55% of Europeans said they wanted immigration from Muslim countries stopped altogether. In countries like Germany and France, political and cultural clashes have sometimes devolved into chaos and police violence; in June, Paris exploded in protests after Nahel M., a 17-year-old from North Africa, was shot and killed during a police traffic stop.
To make matters more complex, many of these pro-Palestinian protests, with their occasional shows of antisemitism, are taking place in cities from which Jews were deported to the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Those scars are deep and can reopen at times like these.
There have already been “dozens” of antisemitic incidents in France, Reuters reported.
“In their eyes, attacking French Jews is a way of doing their share in the fight against Israel,” a representative of the French community said.
U.S.: Demonstration, condemnation and dismay
Saturday saw a pro-Palestinian rally take place in the middle of Times Square, with speakers endorsing the killing of Israelis by Hamas to cheers and applause. One young man held up his phone to show a Nazi swastika.
The socialist group involved in promoting the rally later distanced itself from the demonstration; liberal elected officials condemned the demonstration as well.
Still, the episode revealed tensions within American society — about Israel, Palestine and social justice.
There are about 3.5 million Muslims in the United States, and many of them have roots and family in the Middle East. Accordingly, there were large rallies for the Palestinian cause in communities like Dearborn, Mich., that have large populations of immigrants from Muslim-majority countries.
Some of the rallies took place on college campuses, where support for the Palestinian cause has been building for decades — and was galvanized by the Black Lives Matter movement, which sought to tether the fight against domestic racism to struggles abroad. While the parallels are inexact — disingenuous, critics would say — the campaign has been effective. (In some cases, those pro-Palestinian college activists are themselves Jewish.)
That has frustrated Jewish students who say that their peers and administrators have not done enough to support them. “On campus, we’re seeing students either turn a blind eye to the conflict,” the leader of the Jewish community at Tufts told The Hill, “or we’re seeing those who are openly celebrating our pain, you know, glorifying it, justifying it.”