By Alaa Elassar and Emma Tucker, CNN
New York, NY (CNN) — At least 320 pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested after staging a demonstration across New York City on Monday, blocking traffic on several bridges for more than two hours during rush hour to demand a ceasefire in Gaza, according to city officials.
More than 1,000 protesters stood hand-in-hand, halting outgoing traffic from downtown Manhattan at the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, Williamsburg Bridge and the Holland Tunnel, according to Jamil Madbak, an organizer with the Palestinian Youth Movement, which led the demonstration.
“Our aim today was to clog the arteries of New York City to draw attention to the ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people and the people of Gaza,” Madbak, 29, told CNN. “American bombs and American-made internationally prohibited chemical weapons are being dropped on Arabs again, financed by American tax dollars and protected by the American media, again. Those in power think they can get away with this, but us being out here every week is our way of saying we won’t let them.”
Demonstrators, many wearing keffiyehs, the traditional Palestinian scarf, or holding up the Palestinian flag, chanted, “Free Palestine,” and carried banners and signs that read “ceasefire now” and “USA stop arming Israel.”
The protesters are calling for “five key demands,” which include “a permanent ceasefire, an end to the U.S. government’s arming of the Israeli regime, an end to the siege of Gaza, an end to Zionist occupation, and the release of all Palestinian political prisoners,” the Palestinian Youth Movement said in a news release.
The protest caused “massive traffic jams” throughout lower Manhattan, including SoHo, Tribeca and Hudson Square, as well as the exit into New Jersey. The blockades on the bridges also caused “gridlock throughout the Financial District and Lower East Side,” the release said. All lanes on the bridges and tunnels were reopened by 11:15 a.m., according to the New York City Police Department.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah announced Monday in its daily update at least 22,835 Palestinians have been killed in the besieged enclave since the beginning of Israel’s war in Gaza, sparked by the devastating Hamas attack in October that killed 1,200 people.
That staggering death toll means 1% of the enclave’s pre-war population of 2.27 million people has now been wiped out. Over 60% of those killed have been women and children, and an additional 58,416 Palestinians have been injured, according to the health ministry.
Starvation, disease and winter chill threaten the survival of displaced civilians in Gaza, who are miraculously surviving Israel’s relentless bombardment and shootings by sheltering in cold, crowded tents with little food, clean water or medicine.
“All our actions, including today’s action, stem from an understanding that this is an American war on Gaza and an American genocide of the Palestinian people,” Madbak, who is Palestinian, said. “The protests are important to maintain pressure, to show that the US government and media are accountable to the people who are demanding an end to this genocide.”
Mayor criticizes protests as organizers call for more action
During a news conference Monday after the demonstrations, Mayor Eric Adams said, “The right to protest does not give one the right to block bridges and tunnels, as we saw this morning.”
“The goal is to peacefully protest without doing major disruption to the city,” Adams said, adding people use the bridges to get to work and deal with emergencies.
“I have been extremely clear – it gives us all pain to see innocent lives being lost right now,” the mayor continued. “We need to do everything that is possible to end anything that is going to take the lives of innocent people. But Hamas must be destroyed. They are a terrorist organization. Their barbaric act on October 7 should not be ignored.”
Monday’s demonstration was led by the Palestinian Youth Movement in collaboration with seven other organizations, including Jewish Voice for Peace and the Party for Socialism and Liberation, which have been bringing together tens of thousands of people across the nation in protests since the beginning of the war.
“The massive disruption of four of New York City’s major bridges and tunnels during rush hour traffic this morning signals growing unrest as Israel continues its relentless bombardment of Gaza,” Jewish Voice for Peace organizer Jay Saper told CNN. “The hundreds of protesters arrested taking this bold action represent a broad range of organizations united in uplifting the call of the Palestinian Youth Movement to bring about an immediate ceasefire and address the root causes of injustice faced by the Palestinian people.”
Along with shutting down busy transportation hubs, bridges and streets, other actions have included forcing evacuations of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, DC, holding a sit-in on Capitol Hill and marching to the front of President Joe Biden’s Wilmington, Delaware, home.
Madbak said Monday’s demonstration was an escalation from the organization’s previous actions. “Because of the dire situation on the ground in Palestine, the organizers of today’s action are calling on others to be more bolder, more courageous, and more relentless in their solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle for national liberation.”
The protesters met at City Hall Park – which surrounds City Hall in lower Manhattan – Monday morning before marching to the four separate locations, a spokesperson for the NYPD told CNN. Protesters were arrested at all four sites and the number of arrests is still being updated, according to NYPD Detective Arlene Muniz.
Roughly 200 protesters were arrested at the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges, according to the NYPD. The Port Authority Police Department, which manages the bridges and tunnels between New York and New Jersey, arrested 120 protesters blocking the Holland Tunnel’s New Jersey-bound lanes, said Port Authority spokesperson Lenis Valens.
“The point today was to say there will be no business as usual, no flow of daily life while Palestine continues to suffer,” Madbak said. “We will stop the city until they stop the bombs.”
CNN’s Nicki Brown contributed to this report.
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