Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters rally in downtown Los Angeles

Thousands of Pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered at Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon to call for an end to Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, part of a wave of protests that have taken place this month across California in response to the Israel-Hamas war.

After a round of speeches, the demonstrators began a slow march down Hill Street chanting and carrying signs opposing the occupation of Gaza and denouncing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “war criminal.”

Among the protesters was Hilda Tarazi, 91, who joked that she is “older than Israel.” She moved with the help of a walker, over which she placed a handmade sign reading “This is Not a Conflict This is Not a War This is Genocide.”

She was 16 when she fled Jerusalem at the start of the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, she said. She said several relatives were killed when an Israeli airstrike this week hit the grounds of a church in Gaza.

The relatives were killed “as they were praying,” in a church that was sheltering hundreds of displaced Palestinians, she said.

The war has led protesters to take to the streets across the state. Last week, thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered near the Israeli Consulate in West L.A. to condemn the bombardment of Gaza. The next day, thousands marched to the Museum of Tolerance in solidarity with Israel.

In San Francisco, pro-Palestinian protesters rallied Thursday outside the Nancy Pelosi Federal Building, which is home to Pelosi’s district office, in an effort to persuade the congresswoman to sign on to a cease-fire resolution.

Progressive Jewish activists also gathered outside Vice President Kamala Harris’ Brentwood home this week holding signs that read “No War Crimes in Our Name.”

Also this week, Gov. Gavin Newsom traveled to Israel. His office has said that California is “working to ship medical supplies to support humanitarian relief efforts in Israel and Gaza.”

The fighting began Oct. 7 when Hamas launched an incursion into Israel, killing more than 1,400 people and capturing about 200 hostages. Since then, Israel has launched a barrage of airstrikes across Gaza that have destroyed neighborhoods as Palestinian militants fire rockets into Israel.

At least 3,785 Palestinians have been killed and Gaza faces a humanitarian crisis, with more than 1 million people displaced.

On Saturday, the border crossing between Egypt and Gaza opened to allow a limited convoy of trucks carrying urgently needed aid to enter the Palestinian territory. Israel sealed the crossing after Hamas’ attack, cutting off supplies and leading Palestinans in Gaza to ration food and drinking water. Hospitals have said they are running out of medical supplies and fuel for generators.

In recent days, furious condemnation of Israel has mounted across the Arab world amid the continuing airstrikes in Gaza.

On Saturday, a speaker from the Muslim American Society led the crowd in a chant of “Palestine will be free, Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea, from the river to the sea.”

Loud cries of support rose from the crowd as one speaker gave an “air hug” to Jewish people supporting their cause, drawing a distinction with the actions of the Israeli government.

The crowd also stopped to recognize Wadea Al Fayoume, a 6-year-old boy who was stabbed 26 times in his home outside Chicago last week, in what authorities described as a hate crime.

Salma Zahr, 41, said her 7-year-old daughter, who hid behind her and clutched her shirt as she spoke, has been scared since she heard about Wadea’s killing.

Mother and daughter arrived at the protest in soccer jerseys, having come straight from a Saturday game. This week, Zahr said, her daughter asked her to turn down music and put away flags that identify them as Palestinian.

“We believe in our humanity and we hope the world will come to a humane position for Palestinian people,” Zahr said.

As the demonstration began to disperse, Lara Hijaza and her husband lingered to watch a small procession of cars waving Palestinian flags and blowing their horns. She said they are Palestinian and have family in the West Bank; the possibility of a potential Israeli ground invasion of Gaza has filled her with dread.

Her husband, who was pushing a stroller, nodded in agreement. She said she attended the rally to to show her support for the Palestinian people, while using her voice to condemn the bombing by Israeli armed forces.

“They say they’re targeting Hamas when they’re really targeting innocent people,” she said.

Times staff writer Paloma Esquivel contributed to this report.

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