Protests, pro and con, at Philadelphia's Israeli consulate

Protesters supporting Israelis and Palestinians hold opposing demonstrations at 19th Street and JFK Boulevard near the Israeli consulate.
Protesters supporting Israelis and Palestinians hold opposing demonstrations at 19th Street and JFK Boulevard near the Israeli consulate. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 20, 2014

The latest engagement between Israel and Hamas set off loud protests Friday in Center City as hundreds of supporters and critics of the Jewish state rallied outside the Israeli consulate.

First to arrive were Israel's supporters, who gathered at 19th Street and JFK Boulevard around midday and began engaging motorists.

Among them was Asya Zlatina, 27, who arrived around 1:15 p.m. with a sign that read: "Honk 4 Israel."

Zlatina, who said she hadn't really been involved in a protest before, came after deciding that it would be the least she could do to support Israel.

And if her sign affected just one person, she considered her effort worthwhile.

The pro-Israel crowd was a sea of white and blue. There were children with "support Israel" T-shirts and people of all ages waving the Israeli flag. Though the crowd was large - more than 100 - and took over the sidewalk, it was peaceful. Police set up barriers early on to prevent protesters from moving off the sidewalk and into the streets.

Steve Feldman of the city chapter of the Zionist Organization of America said he was there because he had expected pro-Palestine supporters "spreading lies" about Israel, and he wanted to provide the "antidote to the poison."

Around 2 p.m. the pro-Palestinian supporters began trickling in, standing on the opposite side of the street. Their numbers quickly swelled and they took over the sidewalk, waving Palestinian flags and hoisting signs with such messages as: "Zionism = Racism" and "Israel - Release Kidnapped Palestinian Children Now."

Alat Mustafa, 17, came with dozens of white balloons in tow. Each held a notecard with the name of a child killed in July as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The potentially combustible situation was kept from igniting by the more than two dozen police officers who monitored the scene.

Although they occasionally taunted and yelled directly at one another, the protesters stayed on their own sides.

"Everybody has been law-abiding," said Police Lt. Joseph O'Brien.

One of the protesters was Marilyn Loos, 82.

Tied around her neck with a shoelace was a piece of paper inside of a plastic bag that read: "Thou shalt not murder."

She also carried three flags: one for the United States, one for Israel, and one for Palestine. She said she feels "loyalty" to each. She was born in Jerusalem, lived in the Middle East until she was 14, and returned to the region to do her graduate work.

After many decades, the conflict still persists. "I don't expect to see peace," she said, "but it would be wonderful if I did."

Zlatina was still there when the pro-Palestinian crowd began to grow, some of them chanting: "Stop killing children."

Zlatina said this is a common goal - no one wants to see children die.

215-854-5607 @CaseyFabris

Inquirer staff writer Chris Hepp contributed to this article.

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