Houston taken by surprise at pro-Palestinian rally
Jewish community readies itself for Friday’s Al Quds Day counter demonstration in support of Israel
HOUSTON — Approximately 900 pro-Palestinian protestors stood on one of Houston’s busiest roads Sunday to protest the conflict in Gaza and Israel during Operation Protective Edge.
Donning kaffiyehs and hijabs and draped in Palestinian flags, they lined both sides of Westheimer Rd. across from the Galleria while holding incendiary placards.
Despite a strong police presence on horseback, the Jewish community made a poor showing on the opposite side of the road, with no more than a dozen protestors waving Israeli flags.
Asaf Golan, one of the founders of Network Houston, an organization dedicated to Israel advocacy and countering the vocal anti-Semitic community here, was present on the Israeli side of Sunday’s demonstration.
“We found out about the rally at the last minute and gathered as many people as we could to counter demonstrate,” he said. “We showed up with a bullhorn and Israeli flags. At first the police didn’t want to let us be there because we didn’t have a permit. Eventually they let us take a corner of the intersection.
“The police in Texas are very on edge and they kept our two sides separate. The sticks that hold flags, for instance, can’t be thicker than a finger. If it’s long it can’t be thicker than half a pencil so that people don’t have anything resembling a weapon. Even though ‘open carry’ is legal in Texas, no weapons can be carried,” said Golan, who reported one Arab protester was arrested and others received tickets for “bad behavior.”
The Houston Police Department’s press office wasn’t informed of the rally, saying, “They never sent [me] notification on that. But I saw it on the news.” After consultation withe officers on scene, it confirmed the attendance figure at approximately 900.
Rabbi Barry Gelman, Rabbi of UOS, the largest Orthodox synagogue in Houston, stated that he “had no idea” the rally would be taking place. A pro-Israel rally, however, is planned for July 25 at the same intersection.
When asked if he thought the community was intimidated to come out on behalf of Israel he said, “I don’t think so. There have been nice turn outs at various rallies in the past, whether they have been in synagogues or out in the public.”
Golan, who is organzing the July 25 rally with Network Houston, said that he is expecting a big turnout.
“Arabs will be out there in large numbers for Al Quds Day and we are getting as many people as we can on the other side,” said Golan.
The Jewish community in Houston numbers approximately 50,000.