NEW YORK – Thousands of supporters of Israel rallied near the United Nations on Sunday to declare that the Jewish state's two-week-long military action in the Gaza Strip is an act of self-defense.
"For the last three and a half years, Israel's been bombarded daily by a number of rockets coming from Gaza," said Gov. David Paterson, one of a dozen elected officials who addressed the crowd that filled a block of 42nd Street in Manhattan. "The founding charter of Hamas calls for the obliteration of the state of Israel."
Across town at Times Square, about 150 pro-Palestinian demonstrators waved signs with pictures of dead and wounded children and chanted, "No justice, no peace! Israel out of the Middle East."
More than 800 Palestinians have died in the Israeli offensive, which began Dec. 27 in an attempt to halt years of Palestinian rocket attacks.
Militants from Hamas, the elected leadership in Gaza, launched barrages of rockets Sunday at the Israeli city of Beersheba and at the town of Sderot.
Partisans of the two sides blamed the other side at their New York rallies.
"What country would be asked not to defend itself?" Sen. Charles Schumer asked the pro-Israel rally. "Would any country that had rockets launched at it day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year be told, 'Let the rockets continue? Just sit down and talk?"'
Demonstrators wore red baseball hats in solidarity with Israelis who go on red alert at rocket attacks and chanted, "Israel yes, Hamas no!"
At the smaller pro-Palestinian rally, Lebanese-American Bassem Nassar said Israel "is creating the situation that allows people to fire missiles at them" by occupying Palestinian territory.
"The occupation has to end," he said. "If the occupation ends, they have a right to defend themselves, just like any other country has the right to defend itself."
Police said seven officers were injured during the rallies.