International voices, calls for peace at mass rally against Gaza war

As Israel's war on Gaza reached a bloody crescendo on Saturday, over 2,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the Federal Building on Wilshire blvd. to again voice their rage and discontent over the Israeli invasion and U.S. support for it. This was the largest demonstration yet in West Los Angeles against the conflict in which over 1,800 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed, including 300 children. On the Israeli side 60 soldiers have been killed.

Even as the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu began withdrawing troops from the Gaza border, yet continuing airstrikes on the enclosed territory, protesters from diverse movements, walks of life and political allegiances came together to demand the same, unitary points: An end to the war, an end to the Israeli siege of Gaza and an end to the occupation of all Palestinian territories such as the West Bank. A young Communist held a sign calling for a Socialist Federation of The Near East.

What was striking about Saturday's protest was the diversity of the crowds. Muslims, socialists, Jews and even Latino immigrant groups were present. Among them were a curious gallery of individual characters who made their way to partake in their own way. At times the situation grew volatile with the passions of the conflict taking on human form.

There was actor John Del Regno, known for roles in "Seinfeld," "Born On The Fourth Of July" and "Another 48 Hours" videotaping confrontations between pro-Palestinian protesters and pro-Israel supporters who numbered at much smaller figures. Early in the protest a man appeared with a giant sign claiming Muhammad was a pedophile while sporting a shirt calling on everyone to convert to Christianity.

A crowd immediately surrounded the man shouting "bigots gotta go! Bigots gotta go!" Suddenly one of the protesters grabbed the sign and threw it to the ground before proceeding to stomp all over it.

"This doesn't help your cause!" yelled Regno. After the scuffle subsided the man who had brought the sign continued to tell demonstrators that Islam was a violent faith that sought to murder Jews and Christians, even praising Russia's government for stamping out the Muslims who rebelled in Chechnya.

By a table displaying books on Marx and Polish-Jewish revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg was Kevin Anderson, the co-editor of the definitive collection of Luxemburg's political writings, "The Rosa Luxemburg Reader."

"This massacre is really horrible, it will go on and on and solve nothing," said Anderson. "

"The occupation we see of Gaza and the West Bank should be seen in the context of colonialism and imperialism," he went on to explain, "both are part of capitalism. The conflict we see between Jews and Arabs makes it difficult for the working class to see beyond nationalism."

Badger Cohen, who identified himself as Jewish, was clear that for him there is no compromise when it comes to protesting genocide. "I'm out here because I'm Jewish and I think Jewish people should stand up for Palestine. We need to unite. When I see injustice and it's not happening to my exact race, it is happening to my race, it's called the human race. The state of Israel is a terrorist organization, as a Jewish person Israel is my enemy. It is not a war going on, it is genocide. The Palestinians don't have tanks," he said.

Jhana, from Pakistan, shared this internationalist mindset and said "speak for the truth. Stand up and help these people and anyone else going through these wars and problems. Everyone should speak up right now."

The crowds chanted the catch phrases that have become common echoes on Wilshire since the war began like "Gaza! Gaza! Don't you cry! Palestine will never die!" "Netanyahu you will see! Palestine will be free!" Cuban flags, Venezuelan and Salvadoran flags also waved in the air those of Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Algeria, Egypt and other nations which have known war, repression and rebellion.

Across the street a smaller group of pro-Israel protesters numbering at around 15 people waved Israeli flags and tried to make their own case.

Katherine Rosenberg was persistent on justifying the case for Israel's operation. "Every country has the right to defend themselves," she began. "30 days ago Hamas kidnapped three of our boys and murdered them, Israel sat quietly and then they fired rockets at us. If anywhere in the U.S. was bombarded with missiles, the country that launched the missiles would have been destroyed."

But tensions would flare and inner rages manifest themselves. At one point an Arab women with a protest sign stood on the Israeli side, waiting to cross the street. One of the pro-Israel demonstrators began mocking her say "look at you, look at what you're wearing. You are a jealous people because you are so poor." Another woman clinched her nostrils and said "you smell, go away, you smell so bad."

The protest soon made its way down Wilshire in one, mass wave which stopped traffic as it proceeded towards the Israeli consulate. Under the towering buildings of West Hollywood fists were raised in the air and voices continued to declare the liberation of Palestine as pedestrians looked on from the streets and hills by the 405 highway. Through the tunnel of the 405 underpass the crowd began cheering in a massive roar. Some drivers would throw peace signs in solidarity, others would shout obscenities in support of Israel.

In front of the consulate the crowd stopped and yelled words of rage at a consulate official who stood outside, flanked by security guards in dark sunglasses. Letters were read from inside Gaza sent by witnesses describing the carnage and gunfire, the bombs and dead children.

A minute of silence was observed for Gaza's dead as the crowd then regrouped to march back to the Federal Building. Along the way the small group of pro-Israel protesters re-emerged. One jolly, bald protester with an Israeli flag hanging around his neck like a large apron yelled "free free Palestine, from Hamas!"