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Dispatch From Westwood: Where Israel And Palestine Meet

Matthew Tinoco |
August 12, 2014 | 5:16 p.m. PDT

Senior Reporter

A drummer and a demonstrator on the Palestinian side. (Matthew Tinoco/Neon Tommy)
A drummer and a demonstrator on the Palestinian side. (Matthew Tinoco/Neon Tommy)

The spectacle began around 1 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 10. The sidewalks surrounding Wilshire Boulevard and Veteran Avenue in Westwood were populated with flags and signs as demonstrators gathered to proclaim their support of either Israel or Gaza.

Gaza supporters lined the southern edge of Wilshire, mostly on the corner where the Los Angeles Federal building stands. Green, red, and black were the colors decorating flags, clothing and hand-drawn signs condemning Israel.

Israel supporters, clad in blue and white, stood on the northern side of the boulevard. Dozens of giant flags were waved in figure eight motions. Handcrafted signs were common, but most of the signs were printed, either with some bold black text defaming Hamas or an illustration of the American and Israeli flags blended together.  

Amy Hunter is the main organizer of the pro-Israel demonstration. Amy Hunter, a fit, blonde woman in her late twenties from Sherman Oaks organized the event as a “Counter-protest/Support Israel Rally.”

At the time, these Israeli demonstrators were shouting "Go back to Jordan, Arab scum." (Matthew Tinoco/Neon Tommy)
At the time, these Israeli demonstrators were shouting "Go back to Jordan, Arab scum." (Matthew Tinoco/Neon Tommy)

“We are here to show solidarity and support for Israel and the Israeli people. Hamas is a very dangerous threat, and we need to show the world that Israel is not alone,” Hunter said while helping to assemble a 30 foot banner reading “Radical Islam is the New Nazi”

Hunter continued explaining how Hamas’ demands in the present war are unacceptable, and are a threat to Israel. She listed their alleged demands—open borders, a port, and more humanitarian aid—as absolutely unacceptable because Hamas poses such a threat to Israel. 

“Hamas does not recognize Israel as a state, nor have they ever. They want to annihilate Israel and the Israeli people,” she said.

Hunter added that “the opposition” across the street wants everyone to think that Hamas is the victim here. It’s actually Israel.”

When asked if the opposing side supports Hamas, Hunter instantly responded, "Yes!"

Other demonstrators, most of whom strongly identify as Zionists, echoed Hunter's tone.

READ MORE: Israeli War Crimes Cannot Be Ignored

Pro Israeli demonstrators line the northern side of Wilshire Boulevard. (Matthew Tinoco/Neon Tommy)
Pro Israeli demonstrators line the northern side of Wilshire Boulevard. (Matthew Tinoco/Neon Tommy)
While Hunter worked on the sign, another nexus of activity surrounded a shaggy haired man cloaked in an Israeli flag. The man, Arlan Mitnick towered over other demonstrators, loudly and passionately preaching against the inhumanity of Hamas and the people of Palestine.

Like Hunter, Mitnick came to show his solidarity with Israel.

“The whole Palestinian cause is based off of Nazi indoctrination from the 1930s,” he announced. “There has never been a real cause for their people. It’s all bullshit, and it’s all a bunch of rich, corrupt Arabs getting their way.”

"This is not a free Gaza situation," continued Mitnick, gesturing towards the signs across Wilshire. "Gaza has its own government. They elected terrorists to shoot rockets at Israel. They don’t care about their people. That’s why I’m here. Because somebody has to show the world they are bullshit.”

“The Palestinians put their children into this indoctrination, to hate Israel," added Mitnick." They wouldn’t do that if they wanted peace. They’ve put themselves into their own impasse because their hatred overcomes their logic.”

A man stands proudly with his sign decrying Islam. (Matthew Tinoco/Neon Tommy)
A man stands proudly with his sign decrying Islam. (Matthew Tinoco/Neon Tommy)
He blames the governments the Palestinian people chose to lead their land. Defaming them as “utterly corrupt," squandering and embezzling aid money, while leaving the people who elected them with nothing.

“Yasser Arafat died with over a billion dollars while his people starved and didn’t have education systems. Gaza gets 400 million dollars a year, yet they don’t have a sewage system. The leaders take the fucking aid money and purchase rockets and build tunnels. This is not a way to make peace.”

Arafat did die with more than a billion dollars, an often-questioned fact that alleges some serious corruption on Arafat’s part. A 2003 investigation by CBS News revealed a variety of people who worked with Arafat condemn him of stealing tax revenue meant for the Palestinian people. 

Mitnick’s rhetoric continued regardless, explaining how, in an ideal situation, he’d want Hamas and Fatah to be thrown out of power, and to have someone who “has an education and was not brought up in a system that indoctrinates you from the beginning” to take charge.

He paused for breath, and surveyed the crowd across the street.

“Most of them are probably from rich families who were part of the Arab regime back home," Mitnick said." These kids have been brainwashed by their parents who are sponsoring and funding these types of rallies."

“This is like the Hitler youth reborn.”

READ MORE: Yasser Arafat's Death May Cause More Anxiety And Hostility

A pro-Israel demonstrator shouts at the Palestinian demonstrator who crossed Wilshire. (Matthew Tinoco/Neon Tommy)
A pro-Israel demonstrator shouts at the Palestinian demonstrator who crossed Wilshire. (Matthew Tinoco/Neon Tommy)

A single member of the Palestinian crowd crossed Wilshire to the Israeli side. He held a drawn sign saying “Free Gaza” on one side and “We need aid, supplies, water, and peace” on the other. 

Warrantless hysteria broke out among those supporting Israel.  

“Get out of here,” screamed a woman draped in an Israeli flag.

“He has a bomb,” shouted another man, breathing palpable fear and loathing. 

The Gaza supporter stopped moving forward, and screams right back, “It's a fucking camera!” The supporer opens it to show a few pieces of Nikon glass. 

A dozen Israel supporters swarmed around the man, screaming for him to get off their side and go back to where he came from. It’s pandemonium, all while the parade of cars on Wilshire keep honking indiscriminately. 

A few Highway Patrol officers formed a barrier, guarding the man from what very quickly became a boilerplate angry mob. The light changes, he crossed back to the southern side of the boulevard. The situation deescalated from virulent hate back to passionate nationalism. 

READ MORE: No Justice, No Dignity, No Food

Flags and banners adorn the Palestinian side. (Matthew Tinoco/Neon Tommy)
Flags and banners adorn the Palestinian side. (Matthew Tinoco/Neon Tommy)
Omar Zahzah, the President of Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA, stood watching from across the street. Zahzah is a quiet, refined graduate student studying Comparative Literature, a stark contrast from the bombastic pro-Israel supporters.

Zahzah explained that he and the other pro-Palestine demonstrators were on Wilshire “To show our solidarity with the people of Gaza, but also to voice our discontent with the U.S.’ continued support of Israel. We do not support the tactics of blockade and carpet-bombing civilian infrastructure.”

Zahzah continued, making the case that while we can talk about ceasefire right now as a sort-of stopgap, what’s needed is ability to address the long-term problems plaguing the population in Gaza. He pointed to the blockade as the most important example preventing needed resources from entering Gaza.

He strongly disagrees with those who argue the civilian population of Gaza supports Hamas’ actions.

A young boy hold up his crayon colored flag. (Matthew Tinoco/Neon Tommy)
A young boy hold up his crayon colored flag. (Matthew Tinoco/Neon Tommy)

“It’s incorrect. It is very important to distinguish between the civilian population of Gaza and Hamas,” said Zahzah, as a chant of “Free, Free, Palestine” rose up in the background. “It’s against international law to collectively punish a population for the actions of a few political actors. To treat everyone like they are Hamas is simply wrong.”

Part Palestinian himself, Zahzah views the geopolitics of the region as blatant colonialism. He refers Israel as one of the most prominent examples of pure colonialism in the modern world, a state established by the United Nations in 1948 as a Jewish state. 

“Most importantly,” Zahzah added, “its tremendously important to remember the civilian population in Palestine is not Hamas. These people out here today, by and large do not support the actions Hamas has taken.” 

READ MORE: Israel And Gaza Continue To Trade Blows

A woman screams into a megaphone. (Matthew Tinoco/Neon Tommy)
A woman screams into a megaphone. (Matthew Tinoco/Neon Tommy)
Though significantly less virulent than the north side, cries of racism and anti-Semitism were still common on the Palestinian side.  

“Baby Killers” screamed a woman through a megaphone. “Jews kill babies. Jews kill babies” she repeated. Another woman grabed the megaphone away from her, and shouted at her, saying “that’s not our message. You’re wrong.”

A man walked around with a sign portraying the Star of David with super imposed swastika arms. A large banner portrayed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as a Hitler caricature. 

“I’m glad young people are taking this seriously," said Mohammad Samir. "It’s important to enforce global sanctions against belligerent power. That’s what needs to be done here against Israel.”

Samir stands resolute with a Palestinian flag. (Matthew Tinoco/Neon Tommy)
Samir stands resolute with a Palestinian flag. (Matthew Tinoco/Neon Tommy)

Samir grew up as an expat. He was born to a Palestinian family who were evicted from the region to Jordan in the late 1940s. While he views a two-state solution as a necessity at this point, it’s far from what he thinks is really right. 

“They took our land. Just like Americans did to the native peoples here, or the French did in Africa,” said Samir. “I know now we cannot have all the land back, but I fully support Palestine’s right to defend itself against more encroaching power. That’s a United Nations charter.” 

READ MORE: Palestinian Liberation Organization And Hamas Agree On Unity Pact

At 3 pm, a slew of L.A.P.D. cruisers rolled onto Wilshire. An organizer called out for the Palestinian demonstrators to move out onto the street and start their march west towards the Israeli Consulate. Israeli demonstrators remained at the intersection.

As the march passed under the 405 freeway, the shouts condemning Israel of war crimes echoed off the underpass and turning into a dull roar crying out to free Palestine and promote peace.

Demonstrators march west on Wilshire Boulevard. (Matthew Tinoco/Neon Tommy)
Demonstrators march west on Wilshire Boulevard. (Matthew Tinoco/Neon Tommy)
At the Consulate, the march met more demonstrators from Los Angeles Jews for Peace. Organizers instructed the crowd of about 1,500 to sit down on the street.

A representative from Los Angeles Jews for Peace advocated for an end to the violence plaguing the Palestinian people. Omar Zahzah read a letter written by a sixteen year old Palestinian girl, decrying the conditions she has to live under in a state terrorized by a superior military. 

Six Israeli demonstrators were present opposite the consulate. The crowd was antagonistic, but a group of Palestinian demonstrators quickly linked arms to keep the crowd from getting too close to the Israel supporters. After about half an hour, the rally concluded with a symbolic trial of Israel and its Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The trial condemned the country and its leaders of crimes against humanity, murder, and colonialism.

Ultimately the message is for peace and justice. But seeing the hate on both sides makes it clear this is not a situation easily diffused. 

Contact Senior Reporter Matthew Tinoco hereAnd follow him on Twitter.



 

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