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Conflict in Middle East draws support for Palestinians, Israel in separate San Diego rallies

San Diego Union Tribune

MORGAN COOK, KAREN PEARLMAN

MAY 15, 2021


As a violent military and civil conflict raged over the Gaza Strip this past week, scores of local supporters of Israel and the Palestinian territories held separate rallies in San Diego in solidarity with loved ones and strangers caught in the fray.


On Saturday, about 700 people marched in support of Palestinians in Balboa Park, many waving flags and holding signs with messages including “End the occupation” and “Israel is built on stolen land.” Many wore the Palestinian keffiyeh, a black-and-white checkered scarf that is often worn as a symbol of Palestinian nationalism and pride.


A few nights earlier, about 200 to 300 people rallied for Israel outside the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center in La Jolla, with some supporters draped in Israel’s Star of David flag and hoisting signs that read, “Israel we stand with you” and “Stop rocket attacks from Gaza.”


People on both sides said the conflict was hard to watch, especially for those with friends and family in the warzone.


“Of course I’m worried,” Ismail Aqil said of his family in Palestinian territories. “This is beyond oppression, deeper than oppression.”


Rihanna Boulanouar, 21, of San Diego said she has family in the West Bank, and while it was painful for her to watch the violence on the news, attending the Balboa Park rally reminded her of the Palestinian people’s strength and resolve. She carried a sign that said, “Exist, Resist, Return.”


“It’s amazing to see the resilience that everyone has,” Boulanouar said. “Especially today. It’s beautiful to see all over the world people are protesting. It’s liberating.”


Yael Steinberg, director of the pro-Israel organization StandWithUs chapter in San Diego, said her community has close ties to Israel, where some of their loved ones were under fire.


"American Jews like me find it very painful to watch videos of rockets raining down on civilian neighborhoods, because we worry deeply about our family and friends that have only 15 seconds to find shelter once the rocket sirens go off,” said Steinberg, who was among the organizers of the La Jolla rally Thursday. “It’s an impossible situation. How do you bring your sleeping children or elderly parents to a bomb shelter within 15 seconds? We are constantly checking to see if everyone is OK.”


The pro-Palestinian event, organized by Palestinian Youth Movement and other groups, coincided with the anniversary of what many Palestinians describe as the “Nakba,” or the start of Israeli efforts to expel non-Jewish Arabs from their homes in and around Israel since Israel declared itself a state 73 years ago, on May 14, 1948.


Amid the war of 1947 to 1949, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians left, fled or were forced out of their homes in the land that is now Israel. Most were unable to return.


As evidence that the Nakba is ongoing, Palestinians point to an upcoming Israeli Supreme Court decision about whether to uphold the eviction of six Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem. The decades-old legal battle is between the families — who say the property is theirs — and Israeli settlers — who also claim ownership of the property and say the Palestinian families have been squatting.


The violence of the past week erupted on Monday, after Israeli police raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. They said the raid was in response to worshippers at the mosque throwing a stockpile of stones at them.


Hamas, the military arm of the Islamist group that rules Gaza, and its allies then began firing rockets into Israel. Israel responded to the rocket attacks with aerial warfare over Gaza that continued Saturday. At least 145 people have been killed in Gaza, while 10 Israeli residents and two Israeli soldiers have died. The casualties include at least 41 children, mostly in Gaza.


Some people at the pro-Palestinian rally Saturday said Palestinians were outgunned by Israel, and the military conflict underway there was not a fair fight. Further, some said they were angry that the United States government has helped arm Israel using American tax dollars.


Hasan Zubaidi, 15, of Qatar, said he was visiting his sisters in San Diego when the latest wave of violence broke out. He said he wished he was protesting back home because rallying for Palestinians in the U.S., which has shown almost unwavering support for Israel for decades, felt a little like shouting into the wind.


“It feels a little redundant because it’s not like U.S. policy is going to change,” he said.

Dr. Eli Ben-Moshe, an Ocean Beach optometrist and Israeli native, disputed suggestions that Palestinians are unable to put up a fair fight and blamed misinformation campaigns.


“We are getting hurt by what we’re seeing in the media, and on Instagram and TikTok, places where there are no fact checks,” said Ben-Moshe, co-founder of the local nonprofit Shield of David, a pro-Israel group. “People are making stuff up. Kids are being shown these videos saying that ‘Israelis are baby killers’ and attacking for no reason.”


El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, who identifies as a Christian, expressed solidarity with Israel in a speech at the La Jolla rally, saying Christianity could not exist without Israel, a country which he said “is eternal.”


“We need to unite with Jewish people, we need to unite with Israel,” Wells said.


Israel is home to many sites of major religious significance to people of Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths, and the region’s history is marked by centuries of conflict as various groups have sought control of the land.


Freelance photographer Ariana Drehsler contributed to this report.


Read the article here.

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