Sunday, June 23

Thousands rally in L.A. against Israel’s air and ground war in Gaza

Thousands of people waving the black, green, red and white Palestinian flag and chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” gathered at Pershing Square on Saturday afternoon to protest Israel’s escalating air and ground war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The event began with a series of speakers who decried the deaths of thousands of Palestinian civilians in Israeli bombing attacks since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants launched their bloody incursion into Israel, and called for an end to what they termed an Israeli occupation of the densely populated enclave on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

The crowd then began marching slowly down the middle of 6th Street, attracting hundreds more people who had arrived to show their support by joining the event led by groups that included the Palestinian Youth Movement, an independent, grassroots organization of Palestinian and Arab youths.

Thousands gather to be a part of The Palestinian Youth Movement demonstration in support of Palestinians.

Demonstrators carry a gigantic black, green, red and white Palestinian flag in showing their support for Palestinians at Pershing Square in downtown L.A. on Saturday.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Among them was Salah Odeh, of Pasadena, who said he was supposed to have joined his University of La Verne teammates in a game on Saturday but decided that the situation in his home country is “bigger than football.”

He said it’s imperative that the people of Gaza be given humanitarian aid and that Palestinian fighters receive military assistance in the face of Israel’s bombing campaign in recent weeks.

“People are offering their prayers, and that’s good — but we need physical help. We need military assistance,” said Odeh, who wore a black-and-white keffiyeh on his head, a Palestinian flag around his neck like a cape, and a pro-Palestine shirt and necklaces.

Gaza, he added, “is an open-air prison where everyone has been given the death penalty simply because they are Palestinian.”

Thousands gather to be a part of The Palestinian Youth Movement demonstration in support of Palestinians at Pershing Square.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators march down 6th Street in downtown L.A. on Saturday.

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

Many of the demonstrators were heartened by the size of Saturday’s protest, which they view as an indication that younger generations are rejecting media narratives that they say unfairly seem to portray all Palestinian people as terrorists.

Negar Mizani, of Los Angeles, was accompanied by her husband and 3-year-old daughter in their third street demonstration since the war erupted on Oct. 7 with an attack on Israel by Hamas militants.

She shared an impassioned plea. “We would like for the Israeli apartheid to end — and a cease-fire,” she said. “It’s about recognition of the humanity of the people of Gaza.”

Nearby, Roy Nashef, of Los Angeles, held up a sign calling on the media to differentiate between Hamas and the residents of Gaza. “I’m just here to grieve with everyone else,” he said.

The war has led protesters on both sides to take to the streets across California and around the world.

A week ago, thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered at Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles, then began marching down Hill Street chanting and carrying signs denouncing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “war criminal.”

Thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered two weeks earlier near the Israeli Consulate in West L.A. to condemn the bombardment of Gaza.

The next day, thousands marched to the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance in solidarity with Israel. Los Angeles is home to the second-largest Jewish community in America, with more than 500,000 members, and while views on the conflict run the gamut, many have found themselves reeling by the events that have unfolded in recent weeks.

The latest bloodshed began Oct. 7 when Hamas launched its incursion into Israel, killing more than 1,400 people — mostly civilians — and taking more than 200 hostages. Since then, Israel has launched a barrage of airstrikes across Gaza that have destroyed neighborhoods as Hamas militants fire rockets into Israel.

On Saturday, Palestinian officials published the names of 6,747 Palestinians killed and pleaded for help in a humanitarian crisis, with more than 1 million people displaced.

Israeli officials said 230 hostages are still being held in Gaza by Hamas. On Saturday night, Netanyahu said that the military had opened a “second stage” in the war by expanding the bombardment and sending ground troops into Gaza.

Times staff writer Louis Sahagun contributed to this report.

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