February 21, 2024

Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war shut down traffic in Midtown Manhattan on Thursday night, marking one of the largest actions in New York City in recent weeks.

Earlier in the day, dozens of students protested at schools around the city.

Pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protests have become a daily occurrence on the city’s streets and campuses in the last month, as anger over the war rises and fears about antisemitic and anti-Muslim bias escalate. Other campus conflicts have broken out on social media, sometimes between students furious with the response of administrators and with each other.

The march in Midtown closed sections of Fifth Avenue before protesters turned onto 34th Street, snarling evening commute traffic. Participants waved Palestinian flags and chanted “Shut it down” and “Free Palestine” to a drumbeat as they passed under the Christmas lights already strung along Macy’s facade.

“I think there’s a real need for solidarity right now,” said Sam Cribben as she marched along West 34th Street toward Eighth Avenue with a group of friends. “Palestinian people can’t really use their voice that much right now, and it’s on us to use our voices because they’re being silenced.”

Some high schoolers walked out at noon to gather in Bryant Park for a pro-Palestinian rally.Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

The day’s protest began as a student walkout. Small groups of high schoolers left their buildings around noon and joined a rally that began in Bryant Park around 3 p.m. Further north at Columbia University, roughly 300 students gathered on the Low Library steps to show their support for the Palestinian cause.

A group of pro-Israeli protesters wore shirts that said “Bring Them Home,” a reference to the 240 hostages who were taken during the Hamas attack and who are still inside Gaza.

At one point during the campus protest, a student near the Low Steps shouted a profanity aimed at Jews, prompting an uproar from the students around him.

Tensions have risen on college campuses in recent weeks as the debate over the Israel-Hamas war has divided student groups and roiled campus life. Fadi Shuman, a computer science undergraduate who is Palestinian, said he was upset Columbia wasn’t doing more to combat Islamophobia on campus.

“If we’re lucky, we get a sentence in the emails of two paragraphs,” Mr. Shuman, 31, said. “They won’t use the word ‘Palestine.’ They won’t use the word ‘Gaza’ — it says a lot.”

The Bryant Park rally expanded into a march through the streets, but paused as the crowd reached the City University of New York campus on Fifth Avenue. Sandor John, an adjunct professor at CUNY, said he came to support the high schoolers, and recalled protesting the Vietnam War when he was in high school.

“I want to show solidarity with the high school students and other students who are very courageously standing up in defense of the people of Gaza,” Mr. John said.

Protesters shut down portions of 34th street, marching past the Christmas lights already strung along Macy’s facade.Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Luis Cruz, 19, who traveled to Bryant Park from Staten Island, said he was glad to see students in the crowd.

“I always think a younger generation are mostly with the people who are being oppressed instead of the oppressor,” he said.

As the protest wound its way up Eighth Avenue toward Times Square, it paused in front of The New York Times, where a group of journalists and writers had also gathered in the lobby to demand The Times’ Editorial Board call for a ceasefire.

Outside the building on West 40th Street, a police cruiser’s back window was smashed, and the vehicle was graffitied with the words “IDF KKK.”

Troy Closson, Nate Schweber, Liset Cruz and Erin Nolan contributed reporting.