LOS ANGELES, July 23 (JTA) — Waving Israeli flags and elongated blue-and-white balloons, a crowd of 7,000 demonstrators rallied at a major artery here to demonstrate their solidarity with Israel.
Among the speakers at Sunday’s event, which drew California Gov. Gray Davis and L.A. Mayor James Hahn, were two young Israelis who lost classmates in the June 1 suicide bombing by a Palestinian terrorist outside a Tel Aviv disco.
Referring to the two speakers, John Fishel, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said, “In a time like this, it is imperative that they do not feel alone.”
One of the two, 17-year old Olga Bakharakh, student council president at the Shevach Moffet School in Tel Aviv, delivered perhaps the most moving remarks at the rally, which was held to show support for Israel during ten months of violence with the Palestinians.
Seven of Bakharakh’s schoolmates, all Russian-born immigrants, were killed and 11 wounded in the disco bombing.
She eulogized her fellow students and the 14 others killed in the attack.
“We do not wish for revenge. We wish for life and hope,” Bakharakh said. “We wish to grow and evolve, to learn and to have fun, to serve and to work. We wish to live a full life.”
Davis told the crowd, “In time of tragedy and triumph, California has always stood with Israel,” adding that “you can’t have a cease-fire when one side ceases and the other side fires.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres addressed the crowd via phone from Jerusalem, affirming that “Israel is willing to pay a high price for peace,” but “we will not surrender.”
Peres’s talk was marred by poor transmission and a small but vociferous group from the Jewish Defense League who chanted “Peres must go.”
The L.A. Jewish federation sponsored the rally, together with 60 organizations representing a cross-section of the Jewish community. Particularly noticeable was the presence of Russian immigrant organizations.
Occasional heckling from Jewish militants and Palestinians and their sympathizers disturbed but did not disrupt the rally.
After the event, the two sides confronted each other, with some 50 Arabs and their supporters facing about 100 Israelis and American Jews, separated by a heavy police cordon. The sides shouted obscenities at each other in Arabic, Hebrew and English.
Other participants ended the event with impromptu hora dances and the chant, “Am Yisrael Chai” — The People of Israel Live.