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Israel-Palestine war: Pro-Palestine supporters face threats and intimidation in New York

Muslims and organisations in the city say they expect more acts of hatred and Islamophobia, after Mayor Eric Adams' inflammatory comments
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators gather in support of the Palestinian people during a rally outside the Consulate General of Israel in New York City on 9 October 2023 (AFP)
By Zainab Iqbal in New York City

Jannatul Ferdous Nila and her two friends were on their way to a pro-Palestine protest outside the Israeli  consulate in New York City on Monday, after leaving Brooklyn to take a train to Manhattan. 

All of them were wearing hijabs and Palestinian keffiyehs

While the journey was short, it was one they'll remember for a long time.

They were far from the protest when they exited the train station and were met by a man who stared at them and mockingly jeered: "Free, Free, Fuck you!"

The trio chose to ignore him.

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Later on, a woman stopped them and called them "monsters" and "murderers" and proceeded to swear at them, saying: "You guys are all terrorists! All of you!"

Nila and her friends ignored her as well and kept walking.

"We kept looking down but she was still yelling as we were walking away," Nila told Middle East Eye.

Later on, a man joined the mix and yelled insults at them, calling them "terrorists."

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"Go back to Iraq or Libya or Yemen or Pakistan or wherever the hell it is you're from," Nila recalled him saying.

"It was a long list of Muslim countries and I can't remember all of them."

Still, Nila and her friends ignored him. They made sure not to make eye contact and kept walking. While they pretended to be okay, they were gripped by fear of what could happen next.

"At some point, I just tuned it out and continued my regular conversations with my friends, because engaging with these people who are clearly being violently racist to me is dangerous and not worth entertaining," she said.

"How am I supposed to expect the streets of New York City to be safe as a Muslim woman when the mayor of the city of New York himself was spewing hateful Islamophobic rhetoric publicly on the internet and calling us terrorists?."

'Emboldened hate against Muslims'

Scenes of destruction have taken over the besieged Gaza Strip since Saturday when Palestinian fighters mounted the deadliest attack on Israel in decades, killing over 1,000 people and taking dozens of hostage in a multi-pronged offensive.

So far, Israel has unleashed what Gaza residents have described as the most intense bombing campaign in recent memory, with at least 950 Palestinians killed.

On Sunday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams tweeted: "At a moment when innocent people are being slaughtered and children kidnapped in Israel, it is disgusting that this group of extremists would show support for terrorism. I reject this. New York City rejects this."

Adams was referring to people who went to show their support for the Palestinian people at a rally on Sunday.

"Do not use our streets to spread your hate," he added. 

MEE asked the mayor's office about the statement with his office responding by saying: "The Mayor stands by his words."

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His statement was roundly condemned by Palestinians, Muslims and Jews.

"When the mayor of New York City announces that pro-Palestinian protestors are akin to extremists and terrorists, it is of no surprise that others will take licence to do the same," Rabea Ali, the communications coordinator at the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations told MEE.

"These statements will inevitably lead to emboldened hate against Muslims and Palestinians in a similar fashion as Trump's Islamophobic rants."

On Monday, the advocacy organisation Majlis Ash-Shura: Islamic Leadership Council of New York, laid out a set of demands directed at the mayor's office. 

The demands include a complete rescinding of the original tweet and a public apology, a reaffirmation of the freedom of speech rights of New Yorkers, and a clear acknowledgement of Palestinian rights and the broader historical context of the ongoing conflict. 

Additionally, they called for an open dialogue session with community representatives to address misconceptions and concerns. 

Bader El Ghussein, the executive council member at Majlis Ash-Shura, told MEE that while that numbers show that Islamophobia has already been on the rise, this could embolden others.

"When you have something like this going on and public officials making statements, including Mayor Adams’ tweet, it does not help and puts a target on the community," he said.

Reminded me of 9/11

On Monday, the New York Post's main cover page included a photo of hijab-wearing women at the pro-Palestine protest, with the headline, "Vile Rally."

"These clearly visible Muslims are being the target of their attacks," Ghussein explained.

Innayah Farooq was visiting her family in Queens from California and went to the rally on Monday with her cousins. While she said she didn't personally experience anything hateful at the rally, she did have to endure someone calling her names outside a park, the day before.

"We were all just hanging out near a park and I noticed this group of three men staring at us. Me and my cousin wear the hijab so it wasn't anything out of the ordinary to have someone staring," she told MEE.

'The only time I experienced something like this was when I was in high school a couple of months after 9/11'

Innayah Farooq, visiting New York from California

She continued to chat with her cousins and paid no attention to the men. That’s when she saw through her peripheral vision that one of them was approaching her. She turned around and the man stuck out his middle finger and said, "Get out of here, you fucking bitch. Leave Israel alone."

"I was terrified. We all were. My cousin started to talk back to him, but we were five Muslim women and afraid so we quickly left," she said.

She said that afterward when she calmed down, she felt like a "wimp" and wished she could have done something to defend herself.

"He had evil in his eyes. How do you defend yourself from that? The only time I experienced something like this was when I was in high school a couple of months after 9/11."

She said she remembered that moment like it was yesterday. A boy from her class cornered her on a staircase and tried to pull off her hijab. He called her "Bin Laden" and spat at her. 

"The guy from a few days ago had the same hate in his eyes as the guy from 22 years ago," Farooq said. 

"Does it ever end?"

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