An officer with the Department of Homeland Security opened fire on Palestine solidarity activists as they drove away from a pro-Israel rally in front of the Federal Building in Westwood in Los Angeles on Sunday. The activists have also complained that they were attacked by Israel supporters.
The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah was attacked by Los Angeles police in the same area while filming a pro-Israel rally last week.
After being shot at, the men were detained by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and then smeared by various media outlets as violent members of Hamas.
The first to report on the incident was the Jewish Journal, which unquestioningly parroted claims by the rally’s organizers that “three or four men wielding Palestinian flags arrived carrying long wooden sticks and allegedly attacked the pro-Israel demonstrators.”
As “evidence,” the website posted grainy footage, allegedly from the rally, claiming it showed pro-Israel demonstrators being attacked. But it’s unclear what is happening in the video aside from people shouting at cars. Nevertheless, reporters from other outlets can be seen in the comments section on YouTube requesting permission to use the footage.
The Jewish Journal added that the rally, which was a demonstration of solidarity with Israel’s ongoing slaughter of over 170 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, was organized by pro-Israel organizations like StandWithUs, a rightwing Zionist group that works closely with the Israeli government to suppress Palestine solidarity efforts in the United States, often through smear campaigns.
Another rally organizer was rightwing Islamophobe and “philanthropist” Adam Milstein, who was recently exposed for donating money to student government candidates at the University of California in exchange for their loyalty to Israel and a commitment to fight the increasingly popular campaign to divest student funds from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
Anti-Arab attitudes were not limited to the organizers, as demonstrated by rally attendee Rabbi Yonah, who after leading the crowd in prayers, took to Twitter to complain about the “virulent anti-Israel Arab population” of “hoodlums” in Orange County:
Soon after the Jewish Journal’s report, CBS Los Angeles published its own version of events, saying, “Witnesses said four men — believed to be members of Hamas — waved pro-Palestinian flags and started to attack the pro-Israel demonstrators with sticks.”
After outrage erupted on Twitter over CBS LA’s inclusion of unsourced, racially-charged accusations that these men were “members of Hamas,” the reference was edited out. It now reads, “Witnesses said four men in a truck waved pro-Palestinian flags and started to attack the pro-Israel demonstrators with sticks.” Here is a screenshot of the original:
CBS LA’s video report is no better. The network aired a slightly altered version of the grainy cell phone footage, placing a woman’s scream at the top and muting the rest. Then the on-air reporter, Bobby Kaple, explains, based entirely on the testimony of an unnamed off-duty LAPD officer, that “a group of pro-Israeli demonstrators were holding a peaceful rally when several men in a truck waving Palestinian flags stopped in the middle of Wilshire Boulevard and then started swinging their flagsticks at the pro-Israeli protesters, hitting people.”
Knocked to the ground
The difference between a “flag” and a “flagstick” in this case remains unclear, since the Palestinian flags being waved were by default connected to sticks.
What is apparent is that Palestine solidarity activists waved Palestinian flags at Israel supporters who interpreted the gesture as a threat of violence.
CBS LA did manage to speak with a witness from the Palestinian side it was demonizing. A man identified by the network as Cameron Knutson, who said he was in the truck with the activists before they were fired on, told Kaple that he saw his flag on the ground being stepped on. “I’m not here to fight,” said Knutson, whose interview was cut to just a few seconds and devoid of further details about his version of the interaction. “I just need my flag and I ran to take it.”
Other media outlets identified this same man as Hany Rafai. Rafai denied accusations that his friends hit pro-Israel demonstrators and he told ABC Los Angeles that “he jumped out to retrieve a Palestinian flag that a demonstrator ripped from his friend’s hands and knocked to the ground.”
Later in the evening, a more complete picture of the day’s events emerged from NBC Los Angeles reporter Gadi Schwartz, who tweeted details as he gathered information from the scene. According to Schwartz, the Palestine solidarity activists may have been attacked by pro-Israel demonstrators before being shot at by the DHS and then detained by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Schwartz also noted that six hours after the incident, police had yet to speak with a man (presumably Rafai) who had been in the truck with the activists before it was shot at:
NBC Los Angeles’ official report is less informative than Schwartz’s tweets, referring to the encounter between the demonstrators as a “scuffle” and reporting that several men had been detained by police after an officer-involved shooting that’s under investigation.
But at least there were no fearmongering references to Hamas or racist tropes about primitive, violent Arabs waving sticks, all of which distracted from the far more important issue at hand: a DHS officer opened fire on Palestine solidarity activists for waving flags. That’s the scandal here.