The message was loud and clear: Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, with terrorist backing by Iran and Iraq, was considered no less a monster than Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Ladin. That was the message backed by thousands of Southland residents who lined Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood with signs, balloons and Israeli and American flags last Sunday to show their support for the state of Israel and their disgust with the escalation of Arab-backed terrorism that has taken scores of innocent civilian lives since the second Intifada began in the fall of 2000.
The recurring sentiments of those in attendance near the Federal Building at the April 7 rally was that enough is enough with the Palestinian suicide bombings and Arafat's duplicitous political games.
UCLA student Robin Nourmand, 21, held a sign that read "Honk! We Love Israel! We Love America!" Across Wilshire, his 18-year-old brother, Raymond, also held up a banner.
"This is the least we can do," Robin Nourmand said. "In Israel, people are making sacrifices on a daily basis by just living there."
The rally, organized by lead group StandWithUs, in concert with a wide range of co-sponsors, came after a week that saw other Middle East-related outcries, including an April 2 StandWithUs rally in Westwood that drew several hundred people and a separate Palestinian demonstration elsewhere that drew about 700. On the same day as Sunday's L.A. rally, pro-Israel demonstrations took place in New York, Chicago and other North American metropolises, as well as in Paris.
At the pro-Israel rally in Paris, a melee with anti-Israel demonstrators erupted. A police officer was stabbed in the fighting.
Like its April 2 counterpart at the Federal Building, which drew several hundred people, Sunday's StandWithUs rally relied largely on an Internet campaign and word of mouth to draw about 2,000 people to the Westwood demonstration.
Among those in attendance were: Pooya Dayanim, of the Council of Iranian American-Jewish Organizations; Darlene Basch, founder of Descendants of the Shoah; Steve Sass, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California; Rabbi Marc Rohatiner, president of Beth Jacob Congregation; Larry Tishkoff, West Coast aliyah emissary for the Jewish Agency for Israel, who runs the Israel Aliyah Center out of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; and Sinai Temple's Rabbi David Wolpe and his wife.
The local support comes at a critical time in Israel's history, as terrorist attacks have claimed more than 130 lives during March alone. At the rally, participants said they felt a lack of international and mainstream media support for Israel.
On Sunday, however, if there was a lack of support, it was not apparent from all the honking, cheering and commotion the rally stirred up in Westwood.
At the rally were a cross section of the city's Jews, young and old, religious and secular -- and some non-Jews who came because they said they were protesting terrorism. Persian Jews came down to join the banner-waving Magbit delegation: "It's an incredible turnout," said Magbit President Doran Adhami. "It's nice that people stand united for peace." Ariella Adatto, an Orthodox mother of four, came in from the Valley with her husband and their young children. Gary Meisels, 38, said he was willing to go fight for Israel if they need him. "We're being tested," he said of the deteriorating situation in the Middle East.
Ori Blumenfeld, 24, stood alongside a ledge at the corner of Westwood Boulevard and Veteran Avenue with a group of his friends, waving flags. Blumenfeld calls relatives in Israel often. He said his cousin is fighting in the Israeli military. "It's scary!" he exclaimed. "Nobody's leaving their houses."
Aside from a skirmish involving a lone pro-Palestinian supporter, who suffered a bloody nose in a physical encounter toward the end of the day, Sunday's rally ran smoothly.
Middle East demonstrations and discussions will continue into the weeks ahead. Another StandWithUs rally is planned for Friday, April 12, at 2 p.m., in front of the French Embassy, 10990 Wilshire Blvd. Americans For Peace Now held a town meeting with Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller and Dr. David Myers at UCLA Hillel and will hold an April 26 discussion at Leo Baeck Temple with co-founders of Israeli-Palestinian Coalition for Peace. A national rally in solidarity with Israel will take place on Monday, April 15, in Washington D.C. in front of the Capitol. For more information, visit www.israelrally.org