Pro-Palestinian protesters disrupt NYC’s Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting

Fights broke out between police and protesters as tensions rose near Christmas tree lighting event

Amelia Neath
Thursday 30 November 2023 16:20 GMT
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Pro-Palestinian protesters disrupt NYC's Rockefeller Christmas Tree lighting

Several people were arrested on Wednesday night after fights broke out between demonstrators and police during a pro-Palestine protest near the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting event in New York City.

The pro-Palestine protest allegedly planned to “flood the tree lighting for Gaza,” as was written on the X account of Within Our Lifetime, the demonstration organisers.

The police said they knew about a planned protest over the Israel-Gaza conflict that would be happening near the Christmas tree light display but said they had taken extra measures to keep it under control.

The rally was initially held outside of the News Corp building down the street from Rockefeller Center, until several hundred protesters started to make their way in the direction of the Christmas tree event. They were met with a line of police and barricades to try and stop them from proceeding.

"This is the ebb and flow of protests. We try to keep it calm; we let them move; we let them exercise their right. Sometimes things get a little hectic, but we’re gonna do our best out here to keep everybody safe," NYPD Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey said to CBS amid the chaos.

ABC said that protesters were trying to reverse their steps away from the Rockefeller Center after they met with police, yet this caused a crush of people.

Protestors caught in a crush as police attempt to turn them around

Arrests began after one fight reportedly broke out over someone holding up a sign of a swastika.

However, tensions escalated further, with video footage from Wednesday night showing numerous scuffles between demonstrators and police throwing fists and shoving each other.

Local reporters said that despite extra security reinforcements, the NYPD was unable to hold onto some of their barricades as demonstrators broke through and continued to march onto the streets.

Despite the fracas, police said the protest did not disrupt the nearby Christmas tree lighting celebration at the Rockefeller Center.

The group moved southbound on 6th Avenue, away from the scene, according to ABC.

Demonstrators protesting for the end of violence in Gaza

Investigators told CBS that around five to seven people were in custody with pending charges after fights reportedly broke out involving protesters and police.

Before the protest broke into chaos, the organisers told CBS they anticipated a peaceful night.

"All we’re asking for is an end to the ongoing bombing of Gaza, the end to the siege and blockade that continues to place a chokehold on the Palestinian people," said Nardeen Kiswani, with Within Our Lifetime, to the outlet.

The NYPD spoke to local news reporters before the event and said they had increased their security presence around the annual Rockefeller Center event, with drones circling the tree, several layers of railings and security checkpoints before people entered the area.

A protestor holding a sign at the ongoing holiday celebration in NYC

“This is New York, this is America, and we want people to exercise their voice; what we don’t want them to do is commit crimes, and we don’t want them to interrupt something that the whole country is looking forward to seeing tonight,” NYPD deputy commissioner Tarik Sheppard told NBC hours before the event.

“That’s selfish, and that has nothing to do with the conflict overseas.”

Despite the successful event, some spectators were unhappy with the nearby protest.

“Politics has no place at an event like this, but that’s exactly why they do it — to disrupt the status quo, to ruin the things we cherish and take comfort in,” Lillian Gonzalez, who attended the lighting event, told the New York Post.

The extra security measures come after a pro-Palestine protest halted the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade when demonstrators rushed the parade walk and poured blood over themselves.

The NYPD arrested 34 individuals in connection with the Thanksgiving Day protest on charges such as harassment, obstruction of governmental administration, resisting arrest, trespass and disorderly conduct, according to the document obtained by ABC.

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