Jewish demonstrators and their allies shut down the southbound 110 freeway in downtown Los Angeles today, calling for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.
IfNotNow — an organization of American Jews that who describe themselves as working to end U.S. support for Israel’s apartheid system — organized the action. The protesters were met by an irate and violent response from several motorists who were blocked in traffic by the action.
Over the course of the hour-long protest, the number of California Highway Patrol officers steadily grew to a couple dozen. They eventually took out zip ties and detained 75 people one by one, including two legal observers present on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild.
The California Highway Patrol officers also told members of the media they would be arrested if they remained on the highway, though reporters were later told they could observe from the side of the highway.
To date, since October 7th, the death toll in the war in Gaza stands at 18,600 Palestinians killed in Gaza and the West Bank, and 1,147 people killed in Israel, according to the Gaza Health Ministry and Israeli officials respectively. Yesterday, the United Nations General Assembly demonstratively voted to pass a resolution calling for a humanitarian pause in the conflict, as well as the release of all hostages. The United States voted against the resolution.
At one point, protesters set up a large menorah on the highway, and ceremonially “lit” candles to celebrate the seventh night of Hanukkah — the Jewish festival of light.
“It’s a time where we honor the Jewish tradition of bringing light into the darkest corners of the world. We hope that our action today brought light into a very, very dark chapter in our history,” said Adam Hirsch, a volunteer organizer with IfNotNow who was arrested at the action. Hirsch said he is a descendant of Holocaust refugees, and a longtime member of Los Angeles’ Jewish community.
“We hope that it helps light up the fire of justice, righteousness, and moral courage of ordinary people across the country to stand up to their government and tell it that we can no longer support a war like this,” Hirsch said.
Shortly after the action began, protesters sat down on the highway, locked arms and sang “Ceasefire now… Not in our name.” They also chanted, “Down, down with occupation. Up, up with liberation.”
Some motorists left their cars to confront the protesters, with one throwing a traffic cone at the menorah and pushing one of the organizers, another grabbing a protesters by the sweater, and one person slamming a protester to the street. California Highway Patrol officers intervened to stop the altercation.
One motorcyclist drove through the protest line, forcing some protesters to jump out of the way to avoid being hit. Another revved his engine at the protesters, and then reversed his motorcycle and revved it again so the exhaust was aimed in their direction.
None of the motorists were arrested by California Highway Patrol.
“We understand that this type of mass disruption and civil disobedience action has ramifications and consequences on peoples’ lives and affects their commuters,”’ said Hirsch.
“But the dire nature of the crisis that Palestinians are facing right now demands that we take as disruptive action as possible.”
Protesters were released after being taken to a downtown LA Los Angeles Police Department detention center, where they were cited for nonviolent protest for misdemeanor unlawful assembly. The charges will be presented to the Los Angeles City Attorney, who will decide whether or not to file them.
Jacob Woocher, who was also arrested at the action, said that he attended — risking arrest — to protest the American government using his tax dollars to fund a genocide.
“As a Jew, seeing the violence that Israel is unleashing on the people of Gaza is very disturbing.” Woocher said.
“I think it’s very important for Jewish people — especially Jewish citizens of the United States — to take some sort of action to demonstrate our opposition to what Israel is doing. Which is — in my opinion — committing a genocide against the Palestinians, while being fully funded and supported diplomatically by the US government.”