Dueling Protests In Front Of County Building Highlight American Rift Over Israeli-Hamas War

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Group Called Rockland For Ceasefire Wants Israeli Flags Removed From Town Halls In County; Americans In Solidarity With Israel Say The Country Has A Right To Defend Itself

By Tina Traster

On one side of New Hempstead Road in New City, a newly formed group called Rockland for Ceasefire protested on Tuesday, calling for “the killing to stop” in Gaza. On the other side of the street, a group gathered waving Israeli flags and playing Israeli music in solidarity with the country that was attacked by Hamas on Oct. 7.

While the protest, which started at 3 pm, remained peaceful, opinions on both sides of the street were deeply divided and often bitterly strident at the opposing opinions. Those representing the Palestinian cause, which they define as oppression and occupation by Israel, are demanding a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war. On the other side, those who came to bolster Israeli’s right to defend itself and in fact to exist, express rage at the notion that Israel’s statehood should be challenged.

“We want the killing to stop,” said Elizabeth Roberts, a New Jersey resident, who pointed out she is Jewish but added “I don’t believe Israel stands for me. The state of Israel has been occupying Gaza for 75 years.”

On Dec. 10, Rockland for Ceasefire sent an announcement saying it would hold a protest march and rally on Dec. 19 to demand that charges against a 15-year-old Palestinian boy who tore down an Israeli flag from Clarkstown town hall be dropped. Roberts said, “The minor, who was arraigned in the Town of Clarkstown should never have been charged, calling his offense ‘a form of protest’ and that the youngster’s family did not want the case to go to court.” A Clarkstown Town Justice Clerk said the case was referred to Rockland County family court due to the offender’s age.

Roberts said the parties struck a deal that includes 10 hours of community service and one month of probation. He’s due in Rockland County court Jan. 10th, and if “things go smoothly, the case will be dismissed.”

In November two men accused of stealing an Israeli flag at Ramapo town hall were arrested on hate crime-related charges. Police arrested Alter Goldberger, 75, of Monroe in Orange County and Yehonatan Ovadia, 32 of Chestnut Ridge, on charges of fourth-degree criminal mischief, petty larceny, and sixth-degree conspiracy.

Chanting “Not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Israel’s crime,” those protesting for a Middle East ceasefire said they were offended by the choice of Clarkstown, Ramapo, and Haverstraw to raise Israeli flags in the aftermath of the attack.

“We want to see the flags taken down,” said Roberts and other protesters who spoke to RCBJ. “We feel this is insensitive.”

Rockland for Ceasefire in its original press release stated that it was illegal to hoist the Israeli flag on government property, but the United States Supreme Court in Shurtleff v. City of Boston found the flying of a foreign flag to be a permissible expression of government speech, though it also found that if a government allows third parties to fly flags on municipal buildings, it cannot discriminate based on content.

Therefore, Rockland towns that have raised flags to Israeli on their own volition have a legal right to do so.

Members of Rockland for Ceasefire say they want to see the Palestinian flag flying as well if Israeli flags remain aloft.

Meanwhile, Rockland County Ed Day, in response to the planned protest, said it is not the county’s policy to fly flags from other countries on county property.

Those standing in solidarity with Israeli danced and waved flags, maintaining it was Israel that was attacked and has a right to defend itself.

“We are the Jewish people,” said Sandra Saffer, a New City resident. “We are about family and love. If we put down our arms, there is no more Jewish people. There is no more humanity. We have to fight. Our future is at stake.”

Rockland County Legislator Itamar Yeger, who attended the rally and stood in solidarity with Israel protesters, said “Israel is on the side of right. Saying ‘River to the Sea’ means eradicating the state of Israel. Why shouldn’t our government support our strongest ally?”

Rockland For Ceasefire says it plans to protest every Sunday at 1 pm on the Corner of Middletown Road and Route 59 in Nanuet.