Nearly 1,000 demonstrators gathered outside of the Nassau County Legislative Building in Mineola, N.Y., on Sunday, Oct. 15, to call for an end to Israel’s attacks on the Gaza strip and the media’s bias in reporting on the conflict.
On Saturday, Oct. 7, Hamas, a Palestinian militant group that governs the Gaza strip and has been deemed a terrorist organization by the U.S. since 1997 — attacked Israel’s southern border, murdering at least 1,400 civilians and injuring over 3,200 more. In response, Israel declared war against the group and has since launched an all-out attack on Gaza and some surrounding areas with over 6,000 retaliatory air strikes in six days — so far killing over three times the amount of innocent civilians as Hamas has in its initial attack, with about half of the casualties being children.
Israel has since cut off access to food, water and electricity to 2.2 million Gazan civilians, half of which are also children.
In the midst of all this destruction and death, Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson, Daniel Hagari, made the startling admission that “hundreds of tons of bombs” had already been dropped on the strip, adding that “the emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy.”
As a response to all of this ongoing violence, signs and chants filled the air in Mineola, with some protesters calling to “Free Palestine” while others pointed out the “inhumane conditions” the people of Gaza are facing daily. “My family has no access to water, electricity, food or medicine because of the Israeli blockade,” Gazan-born resident Najla El-Temawi Khass said.
The demonstration started with a large group prayer on the front lawn outside of the Nassau County Executive’s office as they called for peace in the Middle East. Protestors were vocal in their opposition to the war, calling it a humanitarian crisis, a genocide, and saying the way the Israel-Hamas conflict is being covered in the media is pitting those of the Jewish and Muslim faiths against each other.
“Our problem is not with our Jewish brothers and sisters,” said Abdul Aziz Bhuiyan, chairman of the Muslim Communities of Nassau County. “We are not antisemitic, we are anti-occupation.”
Pro-Palestinian rallies have been smeared by the Western media as endorsing terrorism and antisemitism, something that Bhuiyan points out. “A criticism of Israel and the apartheid state that it is, is not a criticism of the Jewish people by any means.”
The real issue at play, according to protestors, are the open-air prison conditions the Palestinian people are subjected to, and the land they say was stolen from them by the Israeli settlers, also referred to as Zionists. Since 1948, Zionist settlers have been actively displacing, disenfranchising, and murdering Palestinian families out of their ancestral homes under “the Jewish birthright claim.“
However, not everybody agrees that Israel’s occupation of the Gaza strip is to blame, with some insisting all of the blame falls squarely on Hamas’ shoulders.
“The Israel-Palestinian conflict is a very complex issue and there are many civilians who are suffering in Gaza right now which is a terrible human tragedy,” said Rabbi Abe Lebovic of Congregation Beth Israel in Hempstead, “but what happened on October 7 was a brutal massacre and the cause of everything that came afterward and which Hamas is responsible for. There is no room to excuse what happened that day. None whatsoever. Whoever does, is essentially complicit in murderous terrorism.”
Muslim Communities of Nassau County, the group that organized Sunday’s protest, says they condemn the violence committed by Hamas, but point out the hypocrisy in asking for their condemnation. “We speak out against anyone committing violence, not just Hamas,” Bhuiyan said. “Of course we condemn the violence, children and innocent people were killed, but when have you heard anyone condemning what is happening to the children and innocent people in Gaza?”
Afaf Nasher, the executive director and attorney with Muslim civil rights group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations New York, called the portrayal of this conflict “an Intentional, dishonest, one-sided narrative that keeps trying to frame genocide and apartheid as self-defense.”
Meanwhile, David Wayne, president of the East Meadow Beth-El Jewish Center, says Hamas is the one who is the “true roadblock to peace,” and is to blame for all of the casualties on both sides. Hamas mainly operates underground through a complex series of tunnels, while the civilians of Gaza are all above ground — being left to bear the brunt of the force from Israel’s missile strikes.
“Hamas is an evil that is clearly a stain on all humanity, evident by its horrific action’s last week against the elderly, the young, and babies torn from their parent’s arms,” Wayne said. He called their method of moving below the surface a “disregard for human life,” saying that by doing so, “many innocent Palestinians are used as human shields.”
Lebovic agreed, saying that the only way to end the horrors in Gaza is for Hamas to lay down their arms and release its nearly 200 hostages.
“If they do that, then humanitarian crisis in Gaza will end,” he said. “They put their own people in peril, and always have.” Interestingly, Hamas has offered up just that – a release of all civilian hostages in exchange for the bombing of Gazan civilians to cease. Israel has yet to accept the offer.
But the consensus on the other side of the pond is different in Israel. According to the Jerusalem Post, Israel’s most-read English publication, 86% — or four out of five Jewish Israelis — believe the government and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are to blame for the rise of Hamas and the massacre that took place on Oct. 7. In addition, 94% of those surveyed believe the Israeli government must bear some responsibility for the lack of security preparedness that led to the assault, with over 75% saying the government holds most of the responsibility.
Meanwhile in this country, 71% of Americans call Israel’s response justified, according to a CNN poll, with only 8% saying they are going too far.
“We live in a world where an apartheid regime’s defense minister is calling the people of Palestine ‘animals,’ and people are cheering,” Bhuiyan said, “It is an open-air prison, they have no clean water, no food, no electricity, nothing coming in or out, and they were given 24 hours to evacuate then had the evacuation routes bombed — I mean what is the moral compass here?”
Bhuiyan also says he is working to better foster the relationship between the Muslim and Jewish communities on Long Island. The community is made up of about 80,000 practicing Muslims and 230,000 practicing Jews in Nassau County — one of the largest Jewish communities in America.
“We have neighbors who are Jews, Christians, and Muslims,” he said. “We are all residents of this country and Long Island, and we all want to live peacefully with each other — and our religions call for it. Whenever the Jewish people are harmed, we are there to stand shoulder to shoulder — we just ask for the same.”
Edited by: Steven London, Christen Amer & James Sutton
Editor’s note: This article was revised to reflect updated language and images.