Newton Gaza Protest Meets Pro-Israel Counter-Protest at Auchincloss’s Office

Peace Advocate April 2024

Taken during Malden's "Stand With Gaza" rally on April 11th, Photo credit: Noble Larson, MAPA

By an attendee of the Newton rally

Amidst a sea of Israeli flags at Newton’s Gaza rally on April 11, Susan E.’s poignant sign stood out: ‘Another Jewish mother against the slaughter of Palestinian children — ceasefire yesterday!’ Despite our group being outnumbered nearly fourfold by a pro-Israel counter-protest, her message, joined by a handful of other signs calling for an end to the ongoing genocide in Gaza, marked an important interruption of the blue and white block swarming Washington Street last Thursday. Honking cars were met with confused muttering instead of cheering, as both groups struggled to assess whose side the driver was supporting. While the scene seemed almost comical, it was also disturbing and chaotic. 

Peacefully protesting alongside one another proved nearly impossible: while many pro-Israel protesters calmly held signs and flags, a handful of aggressive individuals decided to follow us everywhere we went, subjecting us to verbal harassment and relentless provocation. We found ourselves confronted by multiple protesters who shouted questions and statements at us and blasted music in our ears. Despite our usual practice of ignoring hateful comments by bypassers, this time was different: some of us, either hoping to engage in a genuine dialogue or simply unable to withstand the provocations, began responding. In hindsight, those who responded regret having engaged in any way, as these interactions fueled heated arguments.

Behind us, a particularly aggressive pro-Israel protester was screaming at a young man who had shown up to support our rally, “YOU ARE NOT A TRUE AMERICAN! ISRAEL IS OUR ALLY!.” The young man opened his arms, calling, “I AM American, this is also MY America, and Israel is NOT my ally!”. The intensity of their argument eventually prompted the aggressive man’s own supporters to intervene, urging him to calm down and step back. Meanwhile, others tried convincing us that there is no such thing as apartheid in Israel and that our facts are entirely wrong. The amount of disinformation we heard during these discussions was highly concerning, some still spoke of the “beheaded babies” myth that has been debunked by mainstream news or told us that the official numbers of how many Palestinian children have been killed are false because they “stem from Hamas.” 

The intensity of emotion and raw anger surrounding this issue is something I am still wrapping my head around. There is so much division, so much misinformation, leading to entirely different “truths.” A  young man who was holding a ‘ceasefire now’ sign and standing next to me shared that he had recently quit his job due to disagreements over Gaza with his work colleagues. “It feels crazy to say that out loud,” he admitted, shaking his head in disbelief. It is deeply disturbing how much this crisis has polarized not just American society, but the world at large. We are talking about basic human rights, about opposing a gruesome situation that has led to two countries facing trial in the World Court for committing and for being complicit in genocide. Genocide. And yet, people feel the need to resign from their jobs, to sever ties with family and friends, all because of how disputed this very genocide is. 

However, Thursday’s scene showed that despite profound divisions, not all protester’s positions were inherently contradictory. Do we, too, want to bring home hostages? Of course. Do they, too, seek an end to the war? Some do. Interestingly, some protesters on both sides recognized this. “I think many of us are fighting for the same thing, but we have very different strategies in going about it,” one person remarked. The need for cultivating environments for meaningful dialogue is evident. Yet, how do we create these spaces amongst so much hate, heightened emotions, and disinformation? While we may not know the answer, last Thursday’s events taught us that engaging with counter-protesters is not the right way to have these conversations.