LOS ANGELES — Some 3,000 Israel supporters flocked to a community solidarity rally outside the Los Angeles Federal building in West Los Angeles Sunday afternoon. Though largely peaceful, the demonstration’s conclusion was marred by violence when four Palestinian activists allegedly beat pro-Israel demonstrators with sticks, according to the Los Angeles Jewish Journal.
At the demonstration’s start, pro-Israel demonstrators wrapped in American and Israeli flags and holding banners aloft cheered and chanted as cars drove by honking their horns in support of Israel’s right to defend itself against the ongoing Hamas rocket launches into the country. As the day wore on, the numbers swelled until three corners of the busy intersection were flanked with a sea of blue and white.
Initially only a small contingent of around 25 Palestinian supporters waving a Palestinian flag passed through the Israeli phalanx to the opposite side of the street, where their numbers eventually swelled to some 200. This first confrontation between the two groups was brief but uneventful, with hundreds of Israel supporters chanting “Am Yisrael Chai” (“The People of Israel Live”) while uniformed Los Angeles police kept them a safe distance apart.
However, as the rally was drawing to a close, the relative peace was shattered when a pickup truck carrying four men holding Palestinian flags and long wooden sticks arrived. The men, reportedly Palestinian citizens residing in Orange Country, California, allegedly attacked the pro-Israel demonstrators, according to the Los Angeles Jewish Journal.
The Journal reports a gun was fired at the truck by a Department of Homeland Security officer who was at the scene, according to Brian Thomas of the LAPD West Los Angeles Patrol Division. Later Sunday evening, the Journal updated its original story and wrote the four men were handcuffed and being held by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
There have been a number of reports of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic violence in the past days, including at a pro-Gaza rally in Paris, where protesters trapped Jews inside a synagogue Sunday evening.
Organized by StandWithUs and the Israeli American Council, the Los Angeles event drew not just Jews, but many Christian supporters of Israel.
Armenian Christian Linda Savadian wore a sandwich board which on the front read, “Christians in USA support our friends in the Holy Land.” The back proclaimed, “Peace, not pieces USA. Who is our ally in the mid-east?”
“I support our brethren in Israel,” Savadian said. “I’m angry that they have to put up with all those bombings, especially after those teens were killed.”
Johnny – “I go by Yochanan now” – was born and raised in the US and said he is part of a Messianic congregation. He recently learned he has Sephardic Jewish ancestry.
“We’re here to show that there are Americans that are standing with Israel. Israel is our heart, but it’s also God’s heart,” he said.
Shirley Landau came to the rally well prepared. She sat in a deck chair under the shade of a tree, proudly waving an Israeli flag.
“I’m very pro-Israel,” Landau said. “I’ve been there more than 40 times and I have a granddaughter who [immigrated to Israel] 18 years ago.”
Over the din of the crowd and the honking of car horns, several community leaders made quick speeches reiterating Israel’s right to defense.
“This war is hard for Israel to fight because Hamas is cowardly. They are hiding their rockets and rocket launchers in schools and mosques, hospitals and apartments,” StandWithUs President Roz Rothstein told the crowd. “They are intentionally endangering everyone, on both sides. All of us here today, who support liberal democratic values and peace, hope that Israel succeeds in defeating Hamas.”
Leehy Sha’ar – whose nephew, Gil-ad, was one of the three teenagers kidnapped and killed by Hamas on June 12 — also spoke briefly.
“Israel only wants to live in peace but she can only live in peace with neighbors who also want to live in peace with her,” Sha’ar said. “In the name of the three holy boys, Gil-ad Sha’ar, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach, may Hashem [God] bless us with unity and strength to defeat the Hamas and terrorist enemies and may Hashem bring us closer to the true peace that we all deserve.”
Consul General David Siegel, who also addressed the crowd, said afterwards that it was wonderful that people from all over Southern California came to the rally.
“There’s a need for people to be here together,” he said. “But more importantly, the people of Israel will hear that all across this country and hopefully around the world there will be statements of support from those who understand what Israel is going through.”
He added, “I think the moral case for Americans is very clear. When you say 80 percent of Israel is under fire people understand that that’s [the equivalent of] Philadelphia to Los Angeles. We have to hammer home that message that this is something that no one should accept and that Israel won’t accept.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.