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Hundreds of pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel demonstrators traded dueling chants in Times Square Sunday as the conflict in Gaza stirred strong emotions in the streets of New York.
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators held signs and chanted, “From the river to the sea, Gaza will be free.” After a large pro-Israel group arrived, and the two continents began shouting at each other from across the busy interaction. Demonstrators flooded the street, stopping traffic and spurring police to push demonstrators back onto the sidewalk. Police then directed the pro-Israel group to move down the street.
Midway through the word, Husneia Qurbani took a moment to think. Then she finished triumphantly: “B-A-N-I.” She smiled, pleased, and said a few words in her native Pashtu.
“She says she just learned how to spell her name last week,” said Yalda Atif, a fellow Afghan expatriate who stepped in to translate at the Queens-based non-profit Women for Afghan Women, where Qurbani takes English lessons.
Qurbani, 58, the wife of an Afghan political refugee, left Afghanistan during the civil war that led to the Taliban’s rise to power. She has been living in New York for over two decades, but she never learned English. As a stay-at-home mother of five, she said, she did not see the need.
“I had never taken any classes of anything before,” she said through her translator. “I had never been to school, so it did not even cross my mind for a long time.”
About 50 Tibetans packed a small basement on 73rd St. in Jackson Heights on a recent Monday and set up a makeshift altar. A portrait of the Dalai Lama and Snow Lion flag of Tibet flanked an image of Buddha.
Then the mantra of the Sangcho Monlam, a prayer for the dead, filled the room, normally a Burmese center. They were mourning two Tibetans — a nun and a monk — who set themselves ablaze to protest China’s rule.