A messy morning commute in NYC as pro-Palestinian protests shut down East River bridges and Holland Tunnel

By Julia Gergely
January 8, 2024

(New York Jewish Week) — Commuters faced major delays Monday morning as several pro-Palestinian protests shut down traffic on the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges on the East River as well as the Holland Tunnel under the Hudson River linking New Jersey to Manhattan.

Organizers said that the goal of the coordinated protests was to escalate disruption and send a message to the city about Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza. “Particularly with blocking main arteries of transit, the idea is to confront New Yorkers — just for a brief hour or two hours — with the kind of reality of what it’s like to not be able to move, to not be able to freely travel where you’re trying to go,” Nas Issa, an organizer with the Palestinian Youth Movement, told the New York Jewish Week.

“Take this inconvenience and imagine what it’s like for the 2.7 million Palestinians in Gaza who have nowhere to go and have no safe place to hide,” added Issa, who said she was on the Williamsburg Bridge Monday morning with a “few hundred” others. 

In videos posted to social media, protestors at the different locations can be heard chanting “NYPD, KKK, IDF, they’re all the same”; “Shut it down”; “Free Palestine”; “Palestine will never die” and “From Haiti to Palestine, occupation is a crime” while planting themselves on the pavement and linking themselves together with cement-filled tires.

NOW: Pro-Palestine supporters chant “NYPD KKK, IDF they’re all the same” after lines of protesters arrested and cuffed at Holland Tunnel.

Along with the Palestinian Youth Movement, the actions were organized and attended by members of the New York chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, the New York chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, Palestinian Youth Movement and Writers Against the War on Gaza, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Critical Resistance, Party for Socialism and Liberation and Al-Awda: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition. 

The New York Police Department issued a traffic advisory just before 10 a.m. Monday morning. At 11:30, the NYPD tweeted that all the protests had been dispersed. 

The protests drew ire from commuting New Yorkers and some government officials. 

In a statement posted to X, New York City council member Robert Holden called the protests “terrorism,” deeming it “unacceptable” and describing the protesters as “anarchists.” 

“We must allow this terrorism to continue,” he said. “Swift and decisive action is needed. Arrest and prosecute them now!”

“It’s absolutely ridiculous and helping nobody,” East Village resident Mia Kratchman told the New York Daily News while stuck in an Uber outside the Holland Tunnel. “As a person who takes this route every single day, I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.”

Several New Yorkers worried about the hindrance the blockade might have caused to emergency vehicles. “There are approximately 70 life-threatening emergencies that EMS responds to in New York City every hour. The Pro-Hamas crowd is proud to harm New Yorkers by shutting down the means for Ambulances to take people to the hospital,” David Greenfield, the CEO of the Met Council on Jewish Poverty and an adjunct professor at Brooklyn Law, posted on Twitter.  “Arrest. Them. All.”  

Greenfield’s remarks were reposted by Yehiel Kalish, the CEO of Hatzalah, the Jewish volunteer ambulance service. “You are correct,” Kalish wrote in response to Greenfield. “Thankfully, agencies like ours are notified about these events immediately, and we are forced to make contingency plans.”

Protestors were not deterred. “At the end of the day, there’s always people who are going to be upset by any disruption,” Issa said. “Historically, if you look at anti-war protest movements, in the moment, they’re not very popular because they’re disruptive.” 

“The broader message is trying to keep Palestine at the top of people’s minds,” she added. “Another aspect of it is escalating the disruption and escalating the drain on the New York Police Department’s resources and, in that way, putting pressure on decision makers within the city.”

Over 300 people on the bridges and at the Holland Tunnel were arrested, according to the NYPD  Chief of Patrol Chief John Chell. Many will face misdemeanor charges.

Monday’s actions were the latest in string of pro-Palestinian protests in recent weeks, including one that shut down the Belt Parkway leading to JFK Airport on New Year’s Day and as well as rallies that disrupted the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. 

CBS New York reported that nearly 500 protests have occurred in New York City since the war between Israel and Hamas began.

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