Protesters gather in Santa Monica to condemn Israeli attacks on Gaza
The front of the Israeli Consulate on Wilshire Blvd. became the site of a major protest on Tuesday against the latest Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip. Protesters which included students, activists, locals and organizations such as CodePink and Jewish Voice For Peace, chanted slogans and read messages from Gaza. Palestinian flags filled the air while cars sped by, their occupants also waving Palestinian flags and raising their fists in solidarity to loud cheers.
The gathering was inspired by the latest uptick in Middle East tensions as the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu intensifies a military assault on Gaza while Hamas militants fire rockets into Israel. So far 24 Palestinian Gazans have been killed with no casualties on the Israeli side as of yet.
Across the street a smaller group of pro-Israel demonstrators waved Israeli flags, chanted nationalist slogans and condemned the Hamas rocket fire.
"Free Free Palestine!" shouted those attending the pro-Palestine protest as they demanded an end to the Israeli operation, the occupation of the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Among those attending was renowned Palestinian analyst and author Ali Abunimah, whose latest book "The Battle For Justice In Palestine" was just published. "The main message is that the violence that we see is the result of very deep, very entrenched injustice. We have to deal with that injustice," said Abunimah. "Israel claims it sanctifies life. Well today it killed 8 children in Gaza," he added.
When Abunimah crossed the street to casually converse with pro-Israel protesters, someone reported him to the police. Two officers accosted Abunimah and despite his cooperation, he was pushed against a glass store window and handcuffed before being led away.
Internationalists were also present. Berny Motto of El Salvador, and a member of the Salvadoran guerrilla movement turned political party Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), was there to voice solidarity with the Palestinian people.
"We stand for an end to the occupation and we want to put charges on all the war criminals in Israel. They have to stop the genocide," said Motto. "The FMLN put an end to the [Salvadoran] war, we signed a peace treaty and we recommend a peace treaty to put an end to this war. It worked for us, it can work for the people of Gaza and Israel."
Mary Hughes Thompson, a founder of the Free Gaza movement, stood with a Palestinian flag and commented on how she first visited Israel and the occupied territories in 2002 during the last Palestinian uprising. "Israel always initiates and the Palestinians respond," she said. "Hamas is a political party with an armed wing, the same way Israel has an armed wing," she pointed out.
Egyptian UCLA student Yosef Diab was there to show support for Gaza. "In American media everything done by the Israeli police or IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) is considered to be okay. But it's not. I want people to do their research and see how many kids are dying at the hands of the Israeli forces," he said.
Across the street in the pro-Israel side protesters chanted "peace in the Middle East" mixed with nationalist phrases. Cars passed by waving Israeli flags and honking in support for their side as well.
Santa Monica College student Mati Cohen was the chief organizer of the event and shared his views on the conflict. "Most people are unaware of what each side is proposing and what each side is opposing," said Cohen while accusing protesters on the other side of supporting terrorism in the form of Hamas. "We are standing for 99 percent of what the other side is for. We do not support attacking Arabs. There are people on that side who, if you ask them if they support Hamas they will say yes. That means they support the elimination and murder of Jews."
Cohen said he would support an Israeli reconquest of Gaza. "When Israel ruled the Gaza strip the Palestinians there were living better lives, the Israelis were living better lives," he said.
Joshua Rabotnick sported a shirt of murdered, radical right-wing rabbi Meir Kahane. "They murdered three of our boys and we get no attention," said Rabotnick in reference to the recent kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank.
Alana Corre said "I love Israel and that's why I'm here. We want peace and this will only stop when both sides talk."
After the protests cleared out the tensions created by the conflict spilled into a nearby neighborhood as a group of Palestinian girls found themselves being shouted at by a gang of pro-Israelis waving a giant flag and yelling obscenities in Arabic and Hebrew and shouting, "f--- your children. When you stop killing your children I'll care."