Chants of “Free, free Palestine” and similar slogans rang out in Newtown Wednesday evening as about 35 pro-Hamas protesters rallied and then marched with Palestinian flags waving.
More than 100 Jewish counter-protesters also turned out, with Israeli and American flags. They chanted, “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”
Since the Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel by Iran-backed Hamas terrorists, pro-Palestinian demonstrators have marched in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and other U.S. cities. The Jewish community has also rallied in support of Israel.
Hamas terrorists killed more than 1,200 people, including women, the elderly, and children. They also took some 240 hostages. As of Jan. 13, Hamas was holding 132 hostages in its network of tunnels beneath Gaza. Six of them are U.S. citizens.
On Wednesday, both groups rallied at opposite ends of the Newtown Shopping Center and began walking through Newtown. There was a heavy police presence, and some streets shut down temporarily as marchers passed through.
Montgomery County resident Aisha Chughtai came to the Palestinian protest and said she’s been active with the Liberation Center in the Kensington section of Philadelphia.
“It’s important for us to go to every county, every street, and every locale,” said Chughtai when asked why the group had come to Newtown. “We’re based in Philadelphia and have been organizing many protests (in the area). They’re popping up regularly.”
The fact that people came out despite the cold weather “shows how much they’re affected,” said Chughtai. However, she said some of the protesters she expected did not show up because they went to Newtown Square in Delaware County instead of Newtown in Bucks County.
Philadelphian Timon Kamran led chants and gave a speech.
He accused Israelis of “genocide” and the Biden administration of being complacent and sending taxpayers’ money to Israel. He blamed the U.S. government for the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and claimed that Jesus was Palestinian. Despite his anti-Israeli rhetoric, he contended that he and the protesters were not antisemitic.
Bucks County resident Luba Gutman took part in the counter-protest and said she was surprised to see the pro-Hamas protesters in Newtown.
“It’s very shocking and very disappointing,” Gutman said. Her family emigrated from Ukraine when she was a child, and she never expected to “see such hate” in America. She speculated that the protesters came to Newtown because it has a large Jewish population and supports three synagogues.
A man said he came to show his support for Israel and the hostages.
Jewish counter-protesters also demonstrated outside the Lubavitch Center on State Street as the pro-Hamas protesters walked by. Lubavitch Center Rabbi Aryeh Weinstein told DVJournal the center did not request those counter-protesters presence, but they were part of a “grassroots counter-protest.”
There was no violence; “only voices were used,” he said. “Peaceful chanting.”
“There were no incidents. We were happy about that. We were concerned.”
He added that many protesters came from out of the area and out of state to “spread propaganda.”
“I hope it becomes clear to them that whatever happens in Newtown will be met by double or triple the response,” Weinstein said.
Asked to comment, Michael Balaban, the president & CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said, “The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia upholds and respects free speech and the right to peacefully protest. However, as we have seen with other pro-Palestine protests in the Philadelphia area, these protests can often spread dangerous misinformation about Israel and utilize harmful language that can incite hatred against Jews and Jewish-owned businesses. As we have said many times before, any attempts to scapegoat or isolate Jews are unacceptable and need to be denounced immediately.”
Newtown Police Chief John Hearn posted on Facebook that his department worked to ensure a “peaceful resolution.”
“The protest and march, which was organized privately by a local resident and shared via social media, aimed to raise awareness and express community concerns regarding the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza,” said Hearn. “The police department, after receiving notification through other means, deployed a comprehensive strategy to identify the organizer and facilitate a peaceful gathering, ensuring the protection of First Amendment rights while maintaining public safety in Newtown.”
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