While the world has been bombarded with pictures and videos of the violence from the Middle East since Saturday, hundreds of residents gathered to protest the conflict from both perspectives outside Santa Clarita City Hall on Tuesday.
A pair of rallies at City Hall over the recent violence in the Middle East brought a brief bout of conflict to a city parking lot, but no serious injuries were reported and no charges were pressed.
More than 200 residents stood outside of City Hall in Valencia prior to Tuesday’s City Council meeting to show their support for Israel and the victims of rocket and ground attacks by Hamas, which have already left more than 1,000 dead, according to Israeli media reports. President Joe Biden reported the death toll of Americans is now suspected to be at least 14.
About 50 men, women and children also stood across the street playing music, dancing and chanting slogans in support of Palestine while, in front of City Hall, speeches were made in support of Israel.
“These rallies are bringing people together from around the country, around the community, every synagogue is here today,” Rabbi Mark Blazer said Tuesday outside of City Hall. “We put this together with Congregation Beth Shalom and Chabad … and we have so many people from the community who are here as well to show their support.”
One brief skirmish erupted when a pro-Israel demonstrator was pepper-sprayed in the City Hall parking lot by a pro-Palestine supporter. The woman who was pepper-sprayed, who declined to share her name, said she was trying to intervene and prevent a confrontation with a pro-Palestine supporter from becoming violent.
A witness on the pro-Palestine side said the woman who brandished the pepper spray felt threatened while she was trying to park amid the pro-Israel crowd and said the air cap on her tire was missing as though someone might have been trying to take the air out.
The woman who was pepper-sprayed declined to press charges, so no one was taken into custody, according to sheriff’s deputies on the scene. The woman who brandished the pepper spray waved the Palestinian flag and led pro-Palestine chants for about two hours after the incident.
Dialogue on both sides expressed the deep, decades-old divide that revolves around a fundamental disagreement on who should be able to settle and where in the Middle East.
The language and passion on both sides was apparent in conversation with attendees, many who still had many familial ties to the region.
Margot Webb, a 96-year-old Holocaust survivor, said she felt like she was living through the second Holocaust.
“I feel this isn’t real, this can’t be going on,” she said to the pro-Israel crowd. “I told my friend I feel like I’m in a fog. This is a nightmare. It can’t be happening.”
Santa Clarita Mayor Jason Gibbs said he was there to share his love, support and prayers for the people of Israel.
“This has not been an easy few days,” Gibbs said. “Quite frankly, it’s been very heart-wrenching to watch what is happening. And our purpose in being with you here today is not just because we have a council meeting, but it’s to share that we are thinking about you, about your families and your loved ones. … Our simple hope is for prayer and for peace and for understanding and moving forward as a community.”
Echoing the sentiments of the organizers of the pro-Israel rally, longtime Santa Clarita resident Shula Levitch didn’t view the conflict as a nationalist one. She framed it as good versus evil.
“This is not a war against the Palestinians,” said Levitch, who added she has lots of cousins and family in Israel. “It’s a war against an internationally recognized terrorist organization, Hamas. If you support human rights, you should be for (Israel in) this war.”
Omar Issa, one of the organizers of the pro-Palestine demonstration, framed the conflict a completely different way and also cited a complaint shared by some of the attendees of the other side: that the mainstream media’s portrayals of the events have been flawed.
He considered the conflict an occupied people being attacked by an aggressor backed by one of the world’s largest countries.
Ahmed Mustaf, a pro-Palestine supporter, said both religions believed in the same God and he recognized there was common ground, but he also said his issue was with the Israeli government, not Israelis or the Jewish people.
Don Goldberg, a Santa Clarita resident who’s also Jewish, said he felt an obligation to be there Tuesday in support of Israel.
“I was a volunteer in Israel, I’m Jewish, so I have a commitment to my religion, and past that, it’s the atrocities,” Goldberg said outside City Hall. “I just can’t believe that I’m reliving another Holocaust. I had relatives killed in the Holocaust. So it strikes home.”
Rabbi Choni Marozov of Chabad of SCV said in order for the conflict to stop, there need to be certain conditions that just aren’t there yet.
“You can only have peace if there are two sides willing to have peace,” Marozov said, adding that Israel has offered peace but the Palestinian charter calls for an end to Israel. “If Hamas lays down their weapons, they’ll have peace tomorrow, but you can’t have peace with a neighbor who, in their charter, they demand the destruction of your people.”