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Gaza strikes trigger L.A. protests

The Region

About 600 people on both sides of the conflict demonstrate on Wilshire Boulevard. Police form lines to separate rivals.

December 31, 2008|Raja Abdulrahim

Three demonstrations over the Israeli government's repeated airstrikes on Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip roiled parts of Wilshire Boulevard during peak traffic periods Tuesday.

The demonstrations drew roughly 600 participants on both sides of the issue. Police formed lines in front of each group in an effort to contain them.

There were no reported injuries, and police arrested one pro-Palestinian demonstrator but released him without charging him. They said they would refer the matter instead to the city attorney's office.

The protests were touched off by Israeli air attacks in the Gaza Strip that began Saturday. The attacks are aimed at reducing Hamas' ability to launch rocket attacks against Israel.

One group of demonstrators rallied outside the Federal Building in Westwood.

"We're Jewish people making a statement," said LA Jews for Peace organizer Jeff Warner. "I think it's important because Jewish Americans are assumed to back Israel no matter what it does, which is not true."

In front of the Israeli Consulate at Wilshire Boulevard and La Jolla Avenue, two larger, rival rallies drew roughly 500 people. The groups, which did not leave until 7:30 p.m., stretched a full block.

In the larger of the groups, pro-Palestinian demonstrators chanted and waved hand-lettered signs. A man and a woman took turns speaking into a bullhorn to lead such chants as, "From Beirut to Jenin, stop the Zionist war machine," and "Israel, Israel, What do you say? How many kids did you kill today?"

Demonstrator Fares Saleh, 33, of Beverly Hills wore a T-shirt with the likenesses of Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama.

"The reason I'm wearing this shirt is because Martin Luther King said 'I have a dream' to be free, and that's what the Palestinians want."

Hisham Allani, 50, who came from Orange County to the protest, waved an American flag and stood beside a sign reading, "Stop US Funded Israeli Massacres." He saw no conflict between the two symbols.

"The flag has nothing to do with it. This represents the American people, not the killing people. It represents the American people and freedom."

Across the street, a smaller but equally passionate group waved Israeli flags and carried signs reading, "Israel is doing the world's work." Some sang peace songs in Hebrew.

Allison Rowen Taylor, 54, of Studio City stood with the pro-Israel crowd, wrapped in an American flag. She said her son, 22, is a sergeant commander with the Israeli army and was being deployed to the conflict in Gaza. She had just talked to him by telephone before she came to the demonstration.

"All I can say is, 'Are you OK? Are you scared?' and 'I love you,' " Taylor said as she began to cry.

Roz Rothstein, an organizer of the pro-Israeli group StandWithUs, said Tuesday's rally was an opportunity to educate the public about the situation in Gaza.

Referring to one of the many slogans the pro-Palestinian demonstrators chanted throughout the evening, Rothstein said, "You hear them chanting, 'From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free' and that means the complete elimination of Israel."

She continued:

"The river is the Jordan River and the sea is the Mediterranean Sea and in between is Israel."

On Tuesday, the four-day death toll rose to 384 Palestinians. The United Nations said nearly 70 civilians had been killed in Gaza, fueling diplomatic pressure for Israel to halt the offensive. In the same period of time, three Israeli civilians and a soldier were killed in rocket attacks. In the wake of the destruction, Israel said it is considering the possibility of a 48-hour truce.

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raja.abdulrahim@latimes.com

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