Israeli and Palestinian supporters face off in Westwood
The Federal Building in Westwood was the sight of two opposing demonstrations Sunday, Nov. 18, as pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian advocates made appeals for their respective causes in light of the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza.
The two factions were separated by Wilshire Boulevard. On several occasions, pro-Israeli supporters were seen crossing the street, attempting to engage their ideological opponents.
These actions led to several clashes between demonstrators. Police, as well as private security hired by pro-Israeli groups, frequently re-directed pro-Israeli demonstrators back to their side of the street.
One man suffered a broken arm as a result of the clashes, according to the Los Angeles Times. No arrests were made.
Three pro-Palestinian demonstrators were observed with Israeli flags tied to their feet so as to step on and soil the flag as they walked.
Though historically both Israelis and Palestinians have been responsible for the killing of innocent civilians in Israel and in occupied Palestine, both sides chastised each other for these actions, often referring to each other by such names as “baby killers.”
Speaking to pro-Israeli demonstrators, Orit Arfa, executive director of the Zionist Organization of America’s western branch, said the enemy of Israel was not just Hamas, but “Islamic totalitarianism and its absolute hatred of Jews.” She said this enemy could “never be appeased by giving land away or negotiating a cease fire.”
“Just as the United States had to crush Nazi Germany and imperial Japan to obtain peace,” she said, “Israel must do whatever it takes to crush Hamas and all of their partners in murder, and that includes cutting off power to Gaza and unplugging terrorism.”
The current Israeli attack on Gaza is in response to a growing number of rocket attacks from Hamas, the militant leadership in Gaza. Before the recent violence, 700 rockets had been fired into Israel this year, a marked increase since 2010, when Israelis endured only 200 such rocket attacks, according to The New York Times. In 2011, there were 600 attacks.
Roz Rothstein, CEO of the Israeli-advocacy group StandWithUs, said it was impossible to expect any population to live under such circumstances and not fight back. While speaking to demonstrators, she thanked those in Israel for defending what she referred to as “the homeland.”
“No nation could possibly put up with this kind of regular attacks,” she said. “There are children constantly under tables, afraid because they hear the sirens and they have to hide from incoming rockets.”
Toward the end of the demonstration police shut down the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Veteran Avenue. LA County Sheriffs were armed with less-lethal rounds and pepper-ball projectiles, which release pepper-spray upon impact. None were deployed.
The Los Angeles Police Dept. estimated as many as 1,500 people participated in the demonstrations. Roughly 100 people made up the pro-Palestinian side.
Though both groups of demonstrators expressed anger toward their opponents, the pro-Israeli demonstration also possessed an observable jubilance. While Israelis and Palestinians were suffering from the terror of renewed violence in which several civilians, mostly Palestinians, have been killed, pro-Israeli advocates in Los Angeles played music through a sound system, danced and cheered.
Sunday marked a particularly bloody day in the conflict when an Israeli airstrike “killed at least nine members of the same family – mostly women and children,” according to the Los Angeles Times. The blast destroyed the three-story building where the family lived and blew out windows blocks away.
“In a grim, heart-wrenching scene that played out over 90 minutes, the bodies of four children were pulled out one after another,” reported the LA Times.
According to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, two neighbors were also killed in the attack.
Israel has been targeting the homes of alleged members of Hamas, the militant ruling party in Gaza. Israel Defense Forces have also targeted communications services. The IDF has twice bombed the Al-Sharouk compound, which contains several media offices, according to Russia Today. Several journalists have been injured in the attacks.
As of Sunday, the IDF had conducted more than 1,000 airstrikes in Gaza. Sixty-nine Palestinians had been killed, 660 wounded. On Sunday alone Hamas fired 114 rockets into Israel, wounding five people with shrapnel.
Attempting to secure the Jewish vote, City Controller and mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel made an appearance at the demonstration. She relayed to demonstrators her experience of visiting Israel and speaking with children who live under threat of Hamas rocket attacks.
“We wanted to be here, standing shoulder to shoulder, with all of you to send a very clear message: You are not alone,” she said.
Several pro-Israeli demonstrators said the problem was not the Palestinians, but Hamas, which some characterized as a regime that simply wanted to kill Jews.
“They have no value for human life,” said Amnon Charash, a pro-Israeli demonstrator. “They say, ‘We love death as much as the Israelis love life’ – how can you deal with people like this? So, when they start firing at us, we have to put an end to it.”
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators called for the end of the attacks and the liberation of Palestine. On this side of the debate there was not much affinity for Hamas either, but there was more understanding as to their tactics and place within Gaza.
Sophia Azeb, an organizer with the Palestinian American Women’s Association of Southern California, said Hamas was elected because they promised the people of Gaza the most basic necessities: food, water and shelter.
Since June of 2007, Israel has ran a blockade of Gaza. Fisherman are unable to go out to sea more than three miles before being fired upon by the Israeli navy. Gaza has been referred to as “the largest open air prison in the world,” by Noam Chomsky.
Azeb said that given their situation, “Gazans made the choice that was offered to them.” However, she said, a solidarity demonstration was not a message of support for Hamas.
“The message overall is that we support the Palestinian people and their quest for liberation, equality and human rights,” said Azeb. “At the end of the day, it all boils down to the occupation.”
Mark Kleiman, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, attended the pro-Palestinian demonstration out of his disagreement with Israeli foreign policy, which he said countered basic Jewish values. He also disagreed with America subsidizing the Israeli military with several billion dollars in aid every year.
“It doesn’t serve U.S. interests,” he said. “It’s the source of the real reason why they hate us in the Middle East. It doesn’t have to do with our freedoms. It has to do with Apache helicopters, made and designed in the U.S. and bought with U.S. aid dollars, destroying homes in Gaza.”
Mazen Almoukdad, an organizer for Al-Awda, a Palestinian-rights organization, also boils the issue down to the occupation, the occupiers and its victims. He stressed the need for Palestinian refugees to return to Palestine.
“The Palestinian right to return is a legitimate human request, unless you solve that problem you are going to have aggression from the people seeking justice and fairness,” he said.
After the demonstration, pro-Palestinian demonstrators were escorted by LAPD officers in riot gear to a nearby parking lot where many had parked their cars. Pro-Israeli demonstrators shouted at them as they passed by, calling them “terrorists.”
Another demonstration against Israel’s attack on Gaza is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 5 p.m. at the Westwood Federal Building.