NEW YORK, May 5 (UPI) -- The 38th annual Israeli Day Parade drew record crowds to Manhattan's Fifth Avenue today, with over 1 million people in attendance to support Israel.
At least 100,000 marchers, mostly from Jewish schools in New York and other parts of the country, raised Israeli flags and sang Hebrew melodies. The colors of the Israeli flag, blue and white, were present everywhere -- from the floats that carried waving passengers to the stickers, posters and buttons found all over the parade route.
Their message was clear: Israel and the United States should stand together against militants.
"What New York went through on September 11th is how Israelis live every day, thanks to Israeli suicide bombers," said Efrat Mansdorf, a 27-year-old Manhattan resident whose family lives in Israel. "So many people are here today because it's more important than ever to show our solidarity with the Jewish homeland."
Many in the crowd offered support for the Israeli government's military tactics in the Palestinian territories, with some saying Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hasn't gone far enough. "If it's going to take putting Palestinians in body bags to control terrorism, so be it," said Butch Dener, a 52-year-old resident of New Paltz, New York.
But not everyone on Fifth Avenue would agree.
Several hundred protesters formed a counter-demonstration along the parade route at 59th street, calling on the Israeli government to halt its "occupation" of the Palestinian territories. "When Jews cry about Nazis and Hitler, they don't see that Sharon is not much different," said Michael Khan, an India-born New Yorker at the demonstration. "He is brutalizing the Palestinian people, and it has to stop."
The overwhelming majority of parade attendees stood by Sharon, however. Citing the prime minister's trip to Washington, D.C., this week to meet with President George Bush, Stacy Cohenson of Stamford, Connecticut, said the impressive parade turnout sends the right message to Capitol Hill. "We can't let the president forget that there's a significant number of Americans who stand by Israel," she said.
Bettina Kramer, a Woodmere, New York, resident arrived with her husband and three children to make sure the people of Israel would see that their friends in the United States are supporting them in their time of crisis. "When Israelis know about how many people came out here, it will lift their spirits," she said. "It was important for my whole family to be here."
Thousands of New York City police officers were on the scene in Manhattan as well, roving the streets with bomb-sniffing dogs as well as a helicopter that hovered high over the parade route. Though there were plenty of shouting matches between Israel's supporters and Palestinian sympathizers, no arrests were reported, according to the NYPD. Also present at today's parade was New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as was former mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Ed Koch.
The tribute to Israel wasn't New York City's only parade Sunday. A celebration of the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo and a Cuban parade also took place several avenues away.
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