Parties at the demonstration included representatives from nearly 50 of San Diego’s synagogues, schools and Jewish organizations, who united under the position that Israel has the right to defend its people against rocket attacks by Hamas, while nearly 100 supporters of a Palestinian state rallied behind the message that the barrage of Israeli bombs on Gaza is a massacre of innocent civilians.
Michael Sonduck, interim president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of San Diego County, said the torrent of rockets fired into Southern Israel by Hamas — which is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States — warrants the right of Israel to defend its people, sparking the launch of Operation Pillar of Defense on Nov. 14.
“Since the start of the operation, reportedly more than 1,128 rockets have been fired at Israel, with 37 landing in populated areas. Forty-two rockets were fired at Israel on Monday. The Iron Dome [missile defense] system has intercepted 324 rockets, including 19 on Monday,” he said. “Three Israelis have been killed since the operation began and hundreds have been wounded.”
The rally also showcased the solidarity between the U.S. and Israel — its closest ally in the Middle East — with Rep. Susan Davis attending, informing demonstrators that both U.S. congressional houses unanimously passed resolutions supporting Israel’s right to defend itself.
“We will not destine our children to a life of fear or terror,” she said, adding that U.S. military aid to Israel, which helped fund the Iron Dome missile-defense system, may have saved lives in Israel’s southern region.
On the other hand, Palestinian supporters say that U.S. taxpayer money is, in fact, supporting an Israeli attack on innocent civilians in Gaza.
“Your taxes and my taxes are paying for Israel’s weaponry, so even when California couldn’t pay its employees and was issuing IOUs, legislators were voting to provide Israel with $30 billion in military aid for the next 10 years,” said Zahi Damuni, co-founder of the Palestine Right to Return Coalition. “So while we have San Diegans living on the streets — unemployed and homeless — we are sending money abroad to strengthen Israel against a defenseless population.”
Damuni said the public’s opinion is predisposed to accept the Israeli perspective because the Palestinians’ views are rarely taken into account.
“There is a heavy emphasis on the Israeli side in all the media. It’s very blatant. Hardly ever do they come talk to us and ask us what we think,” he said. “We won’t be satisfied until every American gets to hear our message. It’s a big undertaking in the U.S. because of the heavy emphasis on the other side, so this is a major challenge for us.”
One particular message Damuni hopes to illustrate is the plight of Palestinian refugees and Palestine’s view that Israel broke the cease-fire on Nov. 8 when the Israel Defense Force killed a 12-year-old Palestinian boy playing soccer during a gunfire exchange at the Gaza border.
“Gaza has been under siege for more than six years. The people there are suffering under severe economic conditions,” he said. “The Gaza Strip is the most densely populated place in the world and people are being massacred and killed. Israel broke the cease-fire on the 8th of November. It started by the killing of a child.”
Following the killing, a militant resistance group in Gaza took out an Israeli military Jeep that crossed into Gaza, whereupon Israel launched air strikes, he said.
“People don’t usually say, ‘Okay, you’re dropping bombs on me, thank you.’ They react. The resistance in the Gaza Strip fired these homemade rockets as far as they could as a means of retaliation,” he said. “In contrast, Israel has been dropping bombs — and hasn’t finished yet — on people from F-15s in populated neighborhoods and claiming to the world that these were surgical and precise strikes, but those strikes have so far killed 117 Palestinians — of those, 32 kids.”
In the short term, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition is calling for the cessation of the killing of unarmed civilians.
“They have to stop the attack on Gaza,” said Damuni. “The second [request] is that you have to lift the siege of Gaza and move toward having real independence and ending the occupation. You cannot keep people more than six years under siege and expect people not to revolt and take up arms and try to free themselves. This is natural throughout the history of mankind.”
While both sides at the rally called for peace, the violence-ridden region continues to suffer under a barrage of smoke as diplomacy by parties around the globe attempt to quell hostility in the ever-turbulent region.
“We’re very interested in peace based on justice — not just based on international law — but based on the applicable universal rights,” said Damuni.
Sonduck, too, issued a message of peace.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to all those who have suffered through the conflict and to our extended family in our sister city, Sha’ar HaNegev,” he said on behalf of the Jewish Federation of San Diego. “We fervently pray for all of them, for their safety, for the safety of all Israelis and for the safety of Palestinian civilians.”