"Anti-apartheid!" a young man wearing a kaffiyeh yelled into a megaphone, rallying a crowd of anti-Israel protesters marching in a circle in front of the Israeli consulate on June 29 to protest Israel's action in Gaza. "Anti-oppression!" he shouted.
Last Thursday afternoon, ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism) gathered some 75 people bearing Palestinian flags and signs like, "Free Palestine!" and "End the Occupation Now" for the consulate protest.
On the other side of Wilshire Boulevard, about two dozen StandWithUs counterdemonstrators held Israeli and American flags and banners that read, "Hamas Stop This Abuse!" "Stop Using Gaza as a Base for Terror," and "Free Gilad Shalit."
The Israeli consulate has not been a site for demonstrations since the disengagement from Gaza last summer, and last Thursday's demonstration and counterdemonstration was relatively small -- perhaps attesting to general world support for the release of the kidnapped soldier.
"Israel is going to have to protect its soldiers and it's going to have to respond to Qassam rockets," Roz Rothstein, executive director of StandWithUs, told The Journal. Regarding the constant barrage of rockets, so far, "Israel has been extremely restrained," she said.
Amnon Mahler, former head of the Council of Israeli Communities said, "I am angry at the Arabs because of what they are making us do to them. We don't want to do it, we don't like to do it, they are forcing us to do it."
The pro-Palestinian protesters, in their widely distributed e-mail call for the demonstration, wrote that the kidnapping was just a "pretext" for the "Israeli Occupation Forces" to launch "a brutal assault on the entire population of Gaza."
"We see this as a form of collective punishment that must be opposed, and that's why we're demonstrating today," said Muna Coobtee, one of the ANSWER organizers. She also said they want to end the economic damage that Israel, the United States and the European Union are doing by withholding funding from the Palestinian government.
On the ANSWER side, there were many UCLA students and women covering their hair, like Nahida Al Khairat, a Syrian woman who has lived in the United States for the last 10 years. She brought her four children -- ages 3-8 -- to the demonstration, and her 5-year-old son chanted into the megaphone: "Free Palestine!"
Do they have relatives there?
"We the Arab people are all related," she said.
For security purposes, Ehud Danoch, consul general of Israel, remained upstairs in the consulate, watching the action below.
"What absolute nerve people have at a time when Israel is being held hostage to these terrorists and an Israeli citizen has been killed," he said.
He has received numerous letters of support for Israel and prayers for the kidnapped soldier.
"These [pro-Palestinian] people have come to show support to the Palestinian murderers and kidnappers," he said. "Everyone knows how hard it was for Israel to leave Gaza. They didn't do it just so they could go back in.... The action can end immediately if they would just release Gilad Shalit."
Downstairs, both groups grew as the work day ended, but the rallies were relatively peaceful. Both groups' organizers expressed hope that the people, not the leadership, would bring justice to the Middle East.
"I think the outrage of the Israeli society at the kidnapping has to be directed toward their government," Coobtee said. "Israelis feel so outraged by one kidnapping -- they should take a look around and feel greater outrage."
Rothstein said she was generally pleased by the world's support for Israel and that now they see the true face of Hamas.
"There will come a time when the people will get so angry at this game of baiting Israel into responding," she said. "The Palestinian people will get so fed up with terrorist groups like Hamas baiting Israel that they will overturn the terrorist leadership."
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