Hundreds of Israel supporters converge at S.F. rally

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Before last Friday, Ady Mor-Biran had never been to a rally in her life. But having returned from Israel the day before, she needed to take action in support of her homeland.

Her younger brother is in the army, she said, and while she was visiting there, she spoke to him daily. Stationed in a tank in the West Bank town of Kalkilya, he relayed to her how his unit entered a Palestinian school.

On the walls of a second-grade classroom, he told her, were pictures of those who had carried out suicide bombings. The children had written them letters, which also covered the walls.

"My brother doesn't cry, but he was crying," said Mor-Biran, who came to Cupertino to work in a software company five months ago. "This convinced me to get involved."

Mor-Biran was one of hundreds of Bay Area Israel supporters who flocked to San Francisco, standing outside the San Francisco consul general of Israel's office on Montgomery Street Friday afternoon. The hastily organized Jewish community rally was called to counteract a pro-Palestinian demonstration that same day.

The Israel supporters began assembling at 12:45 and waited around an hour before the pro-Palestinian crowd came up Montgomery, from City Hall.

Once they arrived, it became a melee of dueling slogans, as each side made their voices heard.

"Hey Hey! Ho Ho! —— has got to go!"

The Israeli side said "Arafat"; the Palestinian said "the Occupation."

On the Jewish side, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was called a terrorist, while on the Palestinian side, Ariel Sharon was branded a terrorist and a war criminal.

The block of Montgomery between California and Sacramento streets was awash in blue and white on the consulate side, and red, white, green and black on the other.

Daphna Noily said that although she wanted to show solidarity with Israel, she felt ambivalent about attending.

"When we have our solidarity demonstration, I want to be able to have it without them heckling us," said Noily, who is regional director of American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. "Everyone should be able to demonstrate without hecklers."

The rallies managed to coexist, with a minimum amount of interaction between the two sides, perhaps ensured by the large police presence, some on horseback. One pro-Palestinian demonstrator was arrested.

Some reported that pro-Palestinian demonstrators shook their fingers at them, or spit at them. A few protestors from both sides did try crossing the street to talk to the other side. Yitzhak Santis reported hearing several disturbing things over the course of the afternoon.

Some pro-Palestinian demonstrators held signs denouncing "Jewish power," he said. One bicyclist rode by the Israel supporters several times, yelling obscenities and "Kill the Jews," and one Arabic-speaking Israeli reported that the pro-Palestinian side was chanting in Arabic, "With our blood, we will redeem you, Jerusalem."

"The level of anger was very high, and coming out with overt anti-Semitism," said Santis, the Middle East affairs director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council. "People need to know what's going on."

Nevertheless, he expressed surprise at how many Jews came at the last minute to support Israel. "In less than 24 hours, we got around 500 people," he said.

Not all the Jews in the streets were pro-Israel. A smattering of them stood with noticeably Jewish signs among the Palestinian supporters.

Jessica Tunis of Berkeley, a member of A Jewish Voice for Peace, said it was her Jewish values that propelled her to show solidarity with the Palestinians.

"As a Jew, I was taught about the oppression that Jews have suffered throughout history and it was instilled in me that I should fight against oppression when I see it," she said. "As the Torah says over and over: 'When you go into the land of Israel, do not oppress the stranger.'"

But Tunis was clearly in the minority, as most Jews wore their blue and white proudly and stood with signs such as: "Ariel Sharon, we are with you," and "Pro-Israel, Pro Peace." Louis Heckmann of Santa Cruz carried a sign denouncing Arafat as a terrorist.

"I'm tired of Arafat not being called what he is," he said.

One set of graphic signs had the names of sites of suicide bombings — with red paint splattered across them to look like blood. Judith Perl, an Israeli living in Los Altos held the Dolphinarium sign, saying that her son was across the street from the Tel Aviv disco when a suicide bomber detonated himself there, killing 21 young people, most of them Russian immigrant teens.

Perl expressed worry about her son, who is attending medical school in Jerusalem, while her friend Naomi Klughaupt interrupted to ask whether her daughter was with her. "I have someone for her to meet," Klughaupt admitted, causing both women to giggle.

Father and son, Len Rossen of Moraga and Steve Rossen of Berkeley, stood together, with the elder Rossen saying they both felt strongly that "Israel needs as much support as we can provide."

Mark Schickman, a former president of the S.F.-based Israel Center, reported seeing 50,000 people supporting Israel, and then, at next count, 80,000. Admitting he was joking, he told a reporter, "I know there would be at least a hundred more if it weren't opening day for the Giants today."

When the crowd began chanting "two-four-six-eight, teach your children not to hate," Schickman confided, "I made that up."

Raymond Low, an Asian-American holding an Israeli flag, said he had come as a Christian to show support for Israel's right to exist.

"The Palestinians have the right to live there too, but there is never a justification for suicide bombings and violence," he said.

Chaim Pil, 14, the son of San Francisco Rabbi Bentzion Pil, wandered through the Jewish side, trying to get protestors to take a moment to lay tefillin. If enough people did it, it "would bring Moshiach," he said, using the Hebrew word for the Messiah, "and there would be an end to war. Everyone would be united."

Carol Roseman and a friend wore yellow Magen Davids pinned on their lapels, with the words "Never again."

"I'm afraid of another Holocaust," said the San Francisco resident. "Appeasement didn't satisfy Hitler and it hasn't satisfied Arafat."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."