Outside the steps of the 42nd Street Library, close to a thousand demonstrators gathered Thursday night, demanding an immediate ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, which has cost the lives of nearly 10,000 Palestinians and 1,400 Israelis thus far.
Among the demonstrators were hundreds of New York City public school students who had walked out of their classrooms earlier that day in protest. Together they chanted, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” as they stood atop the library’s iconic lions, proudly waving Palestinian flags.
Earlier that day, at 2 p.m., the students began a massive city-wide walkout that involved at least 75 high schools. The walkouts were organized by the Queens-based Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM), The Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE), Teachers Unite, the Palestinian Youth Movement, and other community-based groups. In anticipation of the planned walkout, Department of Education Chancellor David Banks sent an email Wednesday warning educators of the ramifications of participating.
“When speech and action — even on one’s personal time — undermines the mission or core functions of NYCPS, we will review and take appropriate action on a case-by-case basis,” the email read.
Despite the DOE’s email, a diverse array of students took to the streets demanding an end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. Kailey Rodriguez, 17, walked out of Beacon High School in Hell’s Kitchen because of her frustration with the Biden administration’s lack of compassion for Gaza, she said.
“Biden could do so much more to stop this, but he’s not, he’s allowing this to happen,” she said. “I feel like he’s urging it on because it makes the U.S. money, and I just think that’s wrong.”
Although she is Dominican, Rodriguez said she feels a sense of solidarity with the Palestinian cause.
“I don’t want this to be who we are in the future because I feel we can be better than this,” she said.
Bassem, who declined to give his last name, walked out of class to attend the protest. An Egyptian-American attending Fort Hamilton High School in Brooklyn, Bassem, 17, was motivated to participate by what he said was a lack of empathy from his school.
“The issue with my school is that they stand very neutral about it,” he said. “They are not doing anything about it, they are only saying if you need help, you can talk to your counselor, but that doesn’t change anything, though.”
According to Bassem, Fort Hamilton High, which serves Bay Ridge’s large Arab community, could be doing much more to engage the community.
“They should let us do fundraisers through the school, ’cause they did that for Ukraine. I don’t see why they don’t do that for Palestine.”
Although he’s not entirely sure if the walkout would make much of a difference, Bassem, with a youthful smile, is determined to stay optimistic.
“Every person makes a difference. You can’t think ‘Oh what will it change?’ Just be there and it will start a change.”