Hundreds of people gathered in Times Square on Friday to protest the weeklong Israeli bombardment of Gaza that has followed the Hamas attack, waving Palestinian flags and antiwar banners as more than one hundred police officers and scores of television cameras looked on.
The gathering, and a rally planned later in Brooklyn for Jews supporting Palestinians, might once have been considered unremarkable. But in the days leading up to the protest, rumors about it sent a wave of anxiety through New York. The city has been stricken by grief and living on edge since the incursion and the Israeli response, which together have killed thousands of civilians.
Amir Fattah, 31, a Palestinian-American from Staten Island, said his parents had spent the week at home, watching the news and crying.
“All we have is our tears,” he said. “We can’t do anything.”
But he did not tell his family he was coming to Times Square, he said, because they would be worried.
The rally unfolded amid the routine business of New York: pedicabs weaving, tourists navigating the crowds, people shopping for sneakers. But social media posts had spread false information about a terrorist attack supposedly planned to take place in Times Square at the same time as Friday’s protest. Cable news segments and tabloid coverage had warned about a “Global Day of Jihad.” A thrum of worry seemed to power endless doom scrolling.
The public unease led some companies to advise employees to consider working from home on Friday. An increased number of police patrols monitored synagogue and mosques for any sign of trouble, Mayor Eric Adams said. Some families kept children home from school.
Tomer Applebaum, 37, an Israel Defense Forces veteran who lives on Staten Island, stood among a group of pro-Israel protesters. Friends of his kept their children home from school on Friday, he said, but his own children went to class.
“I’m not going to let some terrorists in a hole in Gaza scare me,” Mr. Applebaum said.
Elected officials tried to calm the public’s nerves before the rally. At a news conference on Thursday evening, Mr. Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul told New Yorkers there were no signs of danger, an assertion backed up by the New York City Police Department and the Anti-Defamation League.
Nevertheless, some New Yorkers remained on edge. Linda Salamon, 68, a child of Holocaust survivors, said she went to Times Square in support of Israel over the objections of her daughter, who had sent her online posts warning of danger today.
“It was every place on social media,” she said. “My daughter’s sending me clips, ‘Be careful today.’”
Ms. Salamon came anyway because she said she viewed the Hamas attacks, which killed more than 1,200 Israelis, as “just like another Holocaust.” She did not see a meaningful distinction between supporting Palestinians and supporting Hamas, she said.
“I don’t understand how somebody could support terror — you know, support the Palestinians right now,” she said.
Across the street at the pro-Palestine rally, Rachel Acuña, 39, said it had been difficult to watch the news coverage of the Hamas attack on Israel and Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, which has killed at least 1,900 Palestinians, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
“I’ve been crying a lot,” she said.
The last week had felt “isolating,” said Ms. Acuña, who is part Dominican and part Palestinian. Neighbors in Washington Heights had given her dirty looks when she went out wearing Palestinian earrings or a traditional kuffiyah scarf, she said.
“I was raised as a Latina in this country and when 9/11 happened, I realized the rest of the world didn’t see a Latina, they saw an Arab woman,” said Ms. Acuña. This week, she said, “people in my neighborhood are uncomfortable making eye contact with me, lots of people shake their heads at me.”
Chelsia Rose Marcius and Olivia Bensimon contributed reporting.