Fearing outbreaks of violence as supporters of Israel and the Palestinian cause square off in the wake of Hamas’ attack on Israel, police in cities across the country have been sending extra officers to protests and are ratcheting up security at potential targets like mosques, synagogues and consulates.
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore sent extra patrols to neighborhoods with large Jewish and Muslim populations as a precaution Saturday, just hours after Hamas militants launched a series of deadly raids inside Israel, NBC News has confirmed.
As Israel retaliated with missile attacks Monday on Gaza and Hamas threatened to execute the Israelis they had taken hostage, police sources said Los Angeles police are preparing for large pro-Palestinian rallies and potential counterprotests in the coming days.
In New York City, a police spokesperson said extra police officers were present Sunday outside the United Nations headquarters, where a skirmish between supporters of Israel and the Palestinians erupted, as well as earlier in Times Square, where police set up barricades to keep a group chanting “Free, free Palestine; long live Palestine” separated from a pro-Israel group.
“There was an astonishing amount of police,” said Munir Atalla of the Palestinian Youth Movement, which helped organize the rally. “It was maybe more police than I’ve ever seen come to a protest.”
The Hamas attack caught the Israelis and the rest of the world by surprise. In the U.S., many people with ties to both regions found themselves rallying on the streets over the weekend, waving Israeli or Palestinian flags as they gathered with members of their communities.
Atalla, who said his family was expelled from Jerusalem in 1948 by “Zionist militias,” said he sees the Hamas attack as the culmination of years of frustration among Palestinians who say they are trapped in teeming Gaza by the Israelis, which maintains a blockade that has been condemned by the U.N. and more than a dozen human rights organizations.
“Palestinians anywhere, we’re all connected,” Atalla said. “And we have family, friends we worry about, as Israel is essentially bombing Gaza without any kind of regard for civilians.”
In Kirkland, Washington, police had to intervene Sunday after scuffles broke out between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrators.
Omer Lichtig, an Israeli living in Richmond, Washington, said police had quelled the violence by the time he and his wife arrived to show support for Israel. But the anger was still there as dozens of police officers kept the two sides apart.
“We couldn’t just stand by after what happened, after seeing our people slaughtered,” said Lichtig, whose family lives outside Tel Aviv. “So we came with our flags, and they [the pro-Palestinian demonstrators] started intimidating us and provoking us.”
Lichtig said he has friends whose relatives were killed when Hamas gunmen raided a kibbutz near the Gaza border.
“I lost a few friends who were still in the service,” he said. “And it’s a very tough moment for us. Think about it. Like, almost each Israeli knows someone who got kidnapped, injured or murdered.”
In San Francisco, police were called in after thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators were confronted Sunday by a much smaller group of Jewish protesters and eggs and water bottles were thrown.
In New Jersey, police vehicles were parked outside many synagogues and mosques Monday.
New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin said in a statement earlier that “law enforcement will be increasing patrols in sensitive areas” and keeping close watch over “houses of worship for both the Jewish and Islamic faiths.”
Vigils for victims of the latest outbreak of violence in the troubled region were being planned for later Monday and Tuesday in New Jersey and across the rest of the country