Voices in protest as Gaza burns

Israel's war on Gaza has spilled over into the streets of Los Angeles. Like determined resistance fighters, a barrage of faces and voices, dismissive of age or class, have taken to the edges and inroads of Wilshire Blvd. for weeks now to protest the ongoing conflict.

In the news, on the web and in the newspaper their eyes have seen Gaza burning and they now wish to ignite the consciences of their fellow citizens with a sense of justified rage at the invasion which has killed over 1,000 Palestinians, 80 percent civilians, and over 50 Israeli soldiers.

On Friday the latest weekend of demonstrations began with the Muslim call to prayer outside of the Federal Building. A crowd of men and women, some in traditional Islamic garb, gathered to initiate a practice as old as the conflict they were here to lament.

When the melody of the prayer's call ended, Taher Herzallah of the American Muslims For Palestine organization, stepped up to the mic to deliver a history lesson. "We stand together today to say no to injustice," began Herzallah, in a grey suit jacket and dark shades. Herzallah denounced with an impassioned voice the U.S. bias towards the Israeli narrative of the conflict in Palestine.

Herzallah narrated Gaza's long and bloody history of resistance to foreign invaders. He described how Alexander The Great himself met fierce resistance upon his arrival in Gaza. "It took him five months and a brutal storm, five months of siege, in order for the Gazan resistance to succumb to his armies, and even then all the men continued to fight until the death, creating one of the biggest losses for Alexander The Great's army," said Herzallah to a captivated audience. The narrative continued to evoke how the Mongols, the British and now Israel have all faced the iron-clad will of Gaza's people.

"God himself made oppression prohibited for himself," said Herzallah in quoting the Koran, "so why would he promise an oppressive people land?" Herzallah stated that the true servants of God are those who fight oppression and injustice.

Like a ritual the crowds took up their signs and banners after prayers were over, they were ready to protest the latest attempt to conquer Gaza, this time by the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, himself driven by messianic impulses. The crowd grew as others from all walks of life came to join the protest.

This is more and more common with each protest. Jews, Christians, anarchists, soccer moms and anyone who feels a profound ache over the war gather at Wilshire Blvd. to chant slogans in support of Palestine and the besieged Gaza Strip.

"Gaza, Gaza don't you cry! Palestine will never die!" is one of the common chants, evoked like a war cry under the scorching summer sun. Their demands were clear: Israel must end the siege and war on Gaza and end the occupation of the West Bank so Palestinians may have a country of their own, sovereign and free. Others go further and call for the overthrow of corrupt Arab regimes who do nothing for the Palestinians and obey dictates from the United States.

A letter was also passed around addressed to California state politicians demanding they petition for an end to U.S. support for Israel's wars.

Joel Norman, a Mennonite, was there on Friday with a sign condemning the bloodshed. "It's pretty simple, the situation is not simple but my stance is. I'm against violence, I'm for peace," she said. "Violence begets violence. The starting point is to listen," she continued. "We all have issues with injustice and anger, we all experience what is to be forgiven and to forgive," she said, evoking the spirit of the Anabaptist ancestors of her faith.

While the conflict is framed in much of the popular arena as two ethnic groups at war, there are those who cross the invisible line. Rachel Levy, a Jew, stood with a sign that read "Jews & Arabs Are Not Enemies." For Levy, the question of violence and killing surpasses ethnic loyalties. "Genocide and killing are not the way to do things," she said. "We are here in solidarity with Palestine," she added.

For Jews who might scoff at her position, Levy said "they need to do more reading, and educate themselves."

Sarah Rosenthal, herself from Israel, stood next to Rachel, also firm in her conviction that solidarity need not be determined by tribal identities. "Jews are being brainwashed by Israeli propaganda," said Rosenthal. "The propaganda machine does not educate them on what the historical facts are or the war crimes being carried out right now," she said. Rosenthal called on Arabs to not confuse the actions of Israel's government with the sentiments of all Jewish people.

The battle of ideas also played itself on the street as cars would speed by with motorists throwing peace signs in solidarity, others would wave Palestinian flags. Arab taxi drivers would honk in support, also throwing peace signs out open windows. But once in a while, the other side of the conflict would also make its presence known. One pro-Israeli driver, a quite irritated-looking woman in dark shades with a cigarette in-between her fingers yelled obscenities at the protesters and said "we'll kill your children and as many as necessary." Another passerby simply yelled "f--k you!" from his car, and another gentleman raised his cell phone and dropped it on his passenger seat to imitate a bombing raid. Others would silently drive by waving small Israeli flags through their windows.

The lone pro-Israel protester who attempted to plant himself across the street from the pro-Palestine demonstrations was an Israeli named Avi. Dressed in the safari cap, shorts and dark shades more typical of a Minuteman or Tea Party partisan, Avi held aloft a sign claiming it was the Arabs occupying Israel's land.

For Avi the conflict is not a matter of Palestinians seeking a state of their own, it is instead a war between Western civilization and the barbarism of radical Islam. "We are facing not just an attack from the Islamic fundamentalists but from the entire world. For some reason they are siding with a people who have 22 Islamic countries," began Avi, like a lone warrior baffled as to why world criticism against Israel's invasion was mounting.

"Islam is only 1,400 years old, Christianity is 2,000, Judaism goes back to 5,474. There's no such thing as an occupation, Palestine has never even been a country," offered Avi in terms of his view of regional history. For Avi Jews who support the Palestinian cause are the equivalent of sick patients. "Liberalism is a disease, it infects people," he concluded.

A ferocious debate ensued when pro-Palestinian protesters crossed the street to surround Avi and debate the conflict face to face. After even crossing ongoing traffic as one, debating tumbleweed, the crowds chanted in victory when Avi simply left with his lone sign.

A priest made his way down the grassy way towards the protests. Father Gregory was draped in a scarf the colors of Palestine. "Genocide and oppression are always wrong," he said with a serene wisdom. "It is never acceptable to oppress a people."

After a break on Saturday, the crowds returned again on Sunday before the towering monolith of the Federal Building. Loay Elbasyouni, one of the event's organizers, was a cheerful fellow hiding a deep drive to fight for Gaza. He had good reason, he was born and raised there.

"It's not a conflict, it's colonization and occupation," said Loay about the situation. He compared the partition of Palestine in 1948 to the displacement of Native Americans by U.S. colonists. All of his uncles are at this moment in Gaza facing the Israeli onslaught. "Most of my family are scattered all over. They are staying in random houses all over Gaza City." He called for an immediate ceasefire and the lifting of the siege. "Even if the war ends people will still be dying because of the siege. Food and medicines are not allowed in because of the closures by the Israeli military," he explained.

When the topic of Hamas and armed resistance is raised, Loay evoked the American Revolution. "Palestinians have the right to self defense, they are under occupation. In the United States they fought English colonialism, there is no difference between the Palestinians and the Americans in that point in time."

Loay even evoked Patrick Henry. "As Henry said at the Virginia Convention, 'give me liberty or give me death.'"