LA Protest in Support of Palestine Met with Pro-Israeli Backlash

Sunday, August 10th -- Hundreds of people gathered in front of the Federal Building in Los Angeles to protest Israel’s effort to reinforce its apartheid state through over a month of offense in Gaza. Hundreds of pro-Israel supporters and Zionists draped in Israeli flags also gathered on the other side of Wilshire Boulevard, forming a counter protest.

It was hot. Like most mere mortals, I hate sunburns. I reached into my camera bag and pulled out a dark olive and black kafyia I've been carrying with me since working along the Jordanian border of Syria. I quickly wrapped it around the vulnerable areas of my neck. As I approached the protest along the pro-Israeli side, shouts of “Terrorist” and “Fuck You” were hurled in my direction.  I paused and snapped a picture of a man holding a grammatically challenged sign. He ran up to me accusing me of being a terrorist and a murder. “How do you know that?” I asked.

The girl next to him screamed, “Because you're wearing that thing! Go back to hell, where you came from!”

Startled by the pure hatred, I replied, “So your approach to foreign policy is to judge people by their attire? This isn’t even the Palestinian black and white, but that shouldn't matter. I’m not a terrorist. I'm a journalist who got this while working in the Middle East.”

She then told me I look Jewish, so I should throw “that disgusting thing” away and join them. Another supporter of Israel's siege came around my left side and got within inches of my face to scream his theory on how there has never been a Palestine. As I was about to tell him I considered his breath an assault, a cop jumped between us. At the sight of that, the crowd got even more riled up. It was as if the police between us gave them a greater right to let their venomous commentary fly. As other officers came up on the sidewalk to push the crowd back, I crossed the street to see what was happening on the Palestinian side.

Due to the contention and growing police presence I was pretty much regulated to the Palestinian side of the street after my little incident. I surveyed the crowd. A large chunk was of Arab descent. However, there were all sorts of people protesting Israel. College students of every creed and ethnicity, punks, old kooky communists, bearded feminists who identify as male, that guy in the Che Guevara shirt who is at every protest, parents with their children in hand, and even those people with that annoying "coexist" bumper sticker wrapped around their body, were present. Occasionally shouts of hostility also flowed from the Palestinian side. Fortunately, there was always someone there to cool the situation. I could tell that, while a few people on the Palestinian side of the street were filled with hateful rage, others in the crowd knew why Martin King Jr. held self-purification as one of the four necessary steps in nonviolent campaigns.

The protest was organized by a group of UCLA students. They had brought water, which they passed out to the protesters. Frequently they took to the microphone for call and response chants as well as a means to calm the crowd. At one point about 100 people on each side rushed into the middle of the street for a shouting match. A dozen or so cops in the middle were able to squelch the encounter after a couple turns of the traffic light. The organizers had appointed monitors  to keep everyone in check and ensure an orderly event. This was absolutely necessary considering that at 3pm the protesters marched to the Israeli Consulate and several people called Israel out for war crimes over a crackly PA system they had rigged to a pushcart.

This protest in LA was not the first, nor will it be the last. As hundreds of thousands of people gather for similar events worldwide, it seems there’s a shift in perspective regarding this complex and contentious situation in the air. Still, it's unclear whether this decades long conflict will be resolved anytime in the near future.