‘There is no justification’: NYC reacts to war in Israel and Gaza

Family in Israel evacuates after attack near Gaza
Israeli police officers evacuate a family from a site hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in Ashkelon, southern Israel, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. The rockets were fired as Hamas announced a new operation against Israel. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel in the Gaza Strip on Saturday evoked strong responses from New York City officials. 

Militants bulldozed part of a border wall enclosing the Palestinian enclave and flooding into Israeli border communities, indiscriminately attacking and brutalizing both Israeli soldiers and civilians, including women, children, and the elderly.

Speaking at Temple Israel in Albany, Gov. Kathy Hochul expressed “deep, deep sadness” at the events unfolding in the Middle East and said history will record them as a “black mark on humanity.”

Gov. Hochul speaks at Temple Israel in Albany on Oct. 8, 2023.Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

“There is no justification. There never has been,” the governor told congregants. “There never will be for such cowardly heinous acts by this terrorist organization known as Hamas. And tonight, we grieve for the families.”

The governor said she “offered all the assistance they could possibly need from New York” in a conversation with Israel’s Consul General, and said the state would work with the US Embassy to identify any New Yorkers trapped in Israel and bring them home. On Sunday, she said she discussed “the safety of New Yorkers who are currently in Israel” with President Isaac Herzog.

Mayor Eric Adams, speaking from Colombia, said he’s instructed the NYPD to “remain vigilant” of any threats that might arise in New York — the city with the largest Jewish population of anywhere outside Israel — and directed police to deploy manpower and resources to Jewish communities and houses of worship around the five boroughs.

“I want to extend my sincerest condolences for all innocent lives lost in these attacks and hope that not another family has to experience the pain of losing a loved one,” said Hizzoner.

Both City Hall and the state Capitol were lit in the blue and white colors of Israel’s flag, as was the Empire State Building.

The bodies of Israeli civilians killed by invading Hamas militants in Sderot.AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg

Some 600 people have been killed in Israel as of Sunday morning, a body count not seen in decades in the Jewish state, according to the Associated Press. Hamas terrorists have also taken scores of hostages back to Gaza. About 370 people have been killed in Gaza as the Israeli military seeks retaliation, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.

The death toll is likely to climb considerably on both sides and the conflict could turn into a larger regional war, with Hamas’ Lebanese ally Hezbollah claiming responsibility for firing rockets into disputed border areas between the two countries.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the nation is at war and promised to exact vengeance on Hamas. The PM said the Israel Defense Forces would reduce Hamas hideouts to “rubble.”

Seeking aid for Israel

On Capitol Hill, New York’s two most powerful legislators — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries — said that they would push for additional defense aid to Israel amid the conflict.

Dozens of New York’s federal, state, and local legislators expressed outrage at the incursion and sympathy with the Israelis.

“While we should be celebrating the joyous holidays of Shabbat and Simchat Torah, we are instead heartbroken at this morning’s unprecedented terrorist attacks on Israel,” said the City Council’s Jewish Caucus. “We stand with Israel and condemn these attacks.”

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said she was “deeply saddened” by the events, noting she is “praying for the victims and hoping that peace will prevail.”

Many also condemned a Sunday afternoon rally in Times Square by the Democratic Socialists of America and other left-wing groups, expressing solidarity with Palestinians’ right to resist Israel’s decades-long military occupation.

“The people of Israel are facing violent terrorist attacks and civilian kidnappings,” said Hochul. “I condemn plans to rally in Times Square tomorrow in support of the perpetrators of these horrific actions. The planned rally is abhorrent and morally repugnant.”

The rally drew throngs of pro-Israel counter-protesters and a heavy police presence.

An apartment building in Gaza explodes following an air strike by the Israeli military.AP Photo/Adel Hana

A history of violence

After Hamas took control of Gaza in 2006, Israel, with the support of Egypt, imposed an ongoing land, air, and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip that residents and advocates often liken to an “open-air prison.”

The movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza is tightly controlled by Israel; the blockade has wrecked Gaza’s economy and severely limited available supplies of food and clean water for its 2 million residents. Electricity in Gaza is also controlled and tightly rationed by Israel, which said Saturday that it would completely cut off power to the Palestinian enclave.

When Gaza residents marched to the border wall to protest the blockade in 2018, Israeli army snipers shot and killed hundreds of civilian demonstrators. This weekend, Netanyahu urged Gaza residents to “leave” before the army unleashed a torrent of bombs on the region, heightening worries of mass casualties given Gazans lack freedom of movement.

The conflict also comes amid increasing violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank, which has been under military occupation since 1967. Last year, the army acknowledged settlers had committed a “pogrom” in the city of Huwara, while during a military raid at the Jenin refugee camp, members of the army assassinated Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Israeli police attacked pallbearers at her funeral.

The Israeli government, the most right-wing in the nation’s history, has also been the subject of considerable protest from its own citizens amid an overhaul to its judicial system proposed by Netanyahu. The attack’s surprise nature suggests a massive intelligence failure on the part of the technologically-advanced Israel.