People wave flags atop cars in traffic during a demonstration to voice support for the people of Palestine at Toronto City Hall in Toronto on Saturday. – Agencies

NEW YORK: Thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators rallied in cities across North America on Saturday, calling for an end to Zionist attacks on the Gaza Strip. Gatherings to show solidarity with Palestinians took place in cities including New York, Boston, Washington, Montreal and Dearborn, Michigan.

About two thousand people turned out in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn, chanting “Free, free Palestine” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. They waved Palestinian flags and held placards that read “End (Zionist) Apartheid” and “Freedom for Gaza.” Many protesters wore black and white, and red and white, keffiyeh scarves, while drivers sounded car horns and motorcyclists revved their engines as the sun beat down.

Several Jewish people attended, carrying placards that said “Not in my name” and “Solidarity with Palestine” as the protesters took over a street in the area which has a large Arab population. A few dozen police officers looked on at the peaceful protest, dubbed “Defend Palestine”. “When you have a nuclear-armed state and another state of villagers with rocks it is clear who is to blame,” said 35-year-old Emraan Khan, a corporate strategist from Manhattan, as he waved a Palestinian flag.

Alison Zambrano, a 20-year-old student, travelled from neighboring Connecticut for the demo. “Palestinians have the right to live freely and children in Gaza should not be being killed,” she told AFP. Mashhour Ahmad, a 73-year-old Palestinian who has lived in New York for 50 years, said “don’t blame the victim for the aggression”. “I’m telling Mr Biden and his cabinet to stop supporting the killing. Support the victims, stop the oppression. The violence committed by the (Zionist) army recently is genocide,” he added, raising a poster above his head that said “Free Palestine, End the occupation”.

‘Catastrophe’ day
The protests were held on the anniversary of Nakba Day, or “catastrophe”, that saw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced during the Zionist entity’s creation in 1947-1948. Throngs of people gathered in Copley Square in Boston, while a few hundred rallied on the Washington Monument grounds in the US capital. Several thousand demonstrated in Montreal, calling for “the liberation of Palestine”.

Protesters also denounced “war crimes” committed by the Zionist entity in Gaza and carried placards accusing the Zionist entity of violating international law during the protest in the center of the Canadian city. Earlier, a caravan of cars sounded their horns and drove with Palestinian flags blowing in the wind as they protested outside the consulate of the Zionist entity in the western part of Montreal. A protester was arrested for breaking a window, a police spokesperson said, but otherwise the demonstration was peaceful.

Meanwhile, Paris police used tear gas and water cannon Saturday to disperse a pro-Palestinian rally held despite a ban by authorities, who feared a flare-up of anti-Semitic violence during the worst fighting between the Zionist entity and Hamas in years. The interior ministry said between 2,500 and 3,500 people converged on the heavily immigrant Barbes neighborhood in the north of the capital, while organizers claimed as many as 5,000 rallied amid a massive security presence involving some 4,200 officers.

Police blocked off wide boulevards as well as narrow streets where some of the protesters were forced to retreat, while knots of residents and passers-by watched or recorded the scene with their phones. Some threw stones or tried to set up roadblocks with construction barriers, but for the most part police pursued groups across the district while preventing any march toward the Place de la Bastille as planned.

“You want to prohibit me from showing solidarity with my people, even as my village is being bombed?” Mohammed, 23 and wearing a “Free Palestine” t-shirt, told AFP. Other demonstrators chanted “Free Palestine” or “Get out, Palestine doesn’t belong to you” while waving the territory’s flag.

As a cold rainstorm settled over the city toward evening, many protesters left, leaving a large group of mostly young men facing off against ranks of officers who held their ground on a stretch of boulevard. A handful of garbage bins were set on fire and rocks and other projectiles were hurled toward police, who broke up the demo by around 7:00 pm (1700 GMT). Out of 51 arrests at protests nationwide, 44 people were held in Paris. One policeman was slightly hurt in the capital and another in Nice.

Ban ‘unacceptable’
The march was banned Thursday over concerns of a repeat of fierce clashes that erupted at a similar Paris march during the last war in 2014, when protesters took aim at synagogues and other Zionist and Jewish targets. “We all remember that extremely troubling protest where terrible phrases like ‘death to Jews’ were yelled,” Mayor Anne Hidalgo told AFP on Friday, welcoming a “wise” decision to ban the march.

But Walid Atallah, president of the Association of Palestinians in Ile-de-France, the region encompassing Paris, accused the government of inflaming tensions with the ban. “If there were genuine risks of public disorder, of serious problems, they would have prohibited it right away,” he told a press conference ahead of the march. “They banned it at the last minute – it’s unacceptable,” he said.

Similar protests in Germany and Denmark this week have degenerated into clashes leading to several arrests. The protest had originally been called to mark the Nakba, as Palestinians call the “catastrophe” of the Zionist entity’s creation in 1948, which turned hundreds of thousands into refugees. But a Paris court upheld the ban Friday, saying the “international and domestic context” justified fears of unrest “that could be as serious or even worse than in 2014”.

Protests around France
Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin also called for similar bans in other cities if necessary, and officials prohibited marches in Nice, where around 150 people gathered nonetheless, and in some Paris suburbs. “We don’t want scenes of violence, we don’t want to import a conflict onto French soil, we don’t want eruptions of hate on our streets,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal said Saturday in Marseille.

But no incidents were reported as around 22,000 people nationwide gathered for 60 protests and marches around France, according to interior ministry figures. Demonstrations took place in Strasbourg, Marseille, Lyon and Nantes, among other cities. Critics accuse France of being too favorable towards the Zionist entity in the latest conflict, which has seen a barrage of rocket fire from Gaza met with Zionist artillery and air strikes.

The ban has caused a split among French politicians, with President Emmanuel Macron’s center-right party and the rightwing opposition supporting the move, but leftists calling it an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression. France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, with an estimated five to six million people. It also has the largest Jewish population worldwide after the Zionist entity and the United States. – Agencies