Rallies for Israel, Palestinians face off

Members of the Zionist Organization of America and a group supporting Palestinians hold opposing protests.
Members of the Zionist Organization of America and a group supporting Palestinians hold opposing protests. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 18, 2012

Scores of demonstrators showed up outside the Israeli consulate in Center City on Friday, responding to escalating violence in Israel and Gaza.

Pro-Israel demonstrators occupied the southwestern corner of 19th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard, shivering under Israeli flags draped around shoulders. Those in support of the Palestinians set up across 19th Street.

Both groups said they have small demonstrations each Friday, but this week's noontime events were larger than usual, with estimates of at least 100 people attending the 90-minute rallies.

Tensions have escalated as Israel and Palestinians in Gaza have traded rocket fire with increased intensity. An Israeli air strike Wednesday killed the leader of Hamas' military wing. Thursday, Palestinian rockets landed near Tel Aviv. And Friday, for the first time in decades, Palestinian rockets targeted Jerusalem.

The air strikes and rocket fire this week represent the first major escalation since Israel's invasion of Gaza in late 2008.

Israel says it is responding to Hamas rocket fire. Palestinians accuse Israel of strikes at Hamas leaders that also have killed civilians.

"We're here because there's no other way to get the word out. There's no one backing Palestine," said Hanan Kayed, 31, a Philadelphian of Palestinian descent. "In a way, we all feel helpless. There's not much we can do."

Across the street, Drexel University undergraduate Shoshana Weiss, 21, of Cherry Hill, said she came because of the current violence, but the conflict is more fundamental.

"If you read an article, you assume it escalated from Wednesday. But in reality, it escalated from a decade ago," Weiss said. "If you really understand facts, you would understand why the American government supports Israel. And as an American and with American values, I have to support them."

The America-Israel link was acknowledged by the demonstrators.

"America stands for Israel," pro-Israel demonstrators chanted, to a quick response from the Palestinian supporters: "Israel and U.S.A., how many kids have you killed today?"

The rallies were peaceful, with both sides chanting, singing, and sometimes trading verbal jabs. But standing on either side, the chants from across the street were often hard to understand. Often they were similar - "Stop the rockets, there will be peace," shouted the pro-Israel demonstrators; "No more air strikes," called the Palestinian ralliers.

And in one striking moments, both sides shared the same rallying cry.

A few from the Israel side began chanting, "Peace, not war," and the rest of the group began to pick it up. Then, pro-Palestinian voices began the same refrain.

Suddenly, for a brief moment, both sides were chanting loudly at each other, "Peace, not war!"

Within a few beats, it was over, with both sides exchanging accusations once again.

Contact Jonathan Lai at 215-854-2771, jlai@philly.com, or on Twitter @elaijuh.

Inquirer staff writer Michael Matza contributed to this article.

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