More than 1,000 supporters of the state of Israel gathered at the office of the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles today to show solidarity a week after a deadly encounter between Israeli commandos and an aid flotilla that defied a naval blockade of Gaza.
Police estimated the crowd at 1,200, while organizers said 3,000 supporters showed up for the rally on Wilshire Boulevard in front of the Consulate, just east of Beverly Hills.
Draped in Israeli flags, young teenage girls danced in tight huddles along the streets while others waved large blue and white flags to show their support of Israel. A man blew into a shofar horn, a traditional instrument used in religious ceremonies. Others sounded off modern bull horns over the cheering crowd.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger attended the rally and spoke by phone to Noam Shalit, father of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held for four years by the Palestinian group Hamas in Gaza.
Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said the incident in the Mediterranean Sea should be put in perspective.
"From some of the media you get the impression that the entire Arab-Israeli conflict is about a flotilla,'' he said.
The peaceful crowd, largely devoid of any counter-protesters, expressed solidarity with the state of Israel.
'God. . . made a promise to Israel. He has promised them a portion of land that is even bigger than what we occupy today," RuthAnne Tarletz said.
Tarletz, a 63-year-old woman from Pasadena, said it is very important that people investigate both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and not "blindly accept what is said."
Ilyse Loven, of Carlsbad, also said the media has unfairly characterized Israel as the instigators in the incident. She said that the intentions of the aid organization should be questioned.
"Israel does what Israel has to do and we get put down by the world," Loven said.
Academy Award-winning actor Jon Voight and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., a favorite of the Tea Party, were also at the rally, along with Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner, Republican Senate hopeful Chuck DeVore, and Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks.
Judea Pearl, father of journalist Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and murdered by militants in Pakistan in 2002, also spoke at the rally.
Consul General Jacob Dayan said the rally was meant to show support for the Jewish state.
"We have gathered here today from all over. Democrats, Republicans, Jews, Christians, Latinos, Armenians, from the Russian community tot he French community to the Iranian community ... to say to Israel that we support you. We are behind you. We are proud of your wonderful and brave soldiers.''
"Wake up nations of the free world. The IHH is a terrorist organization," Dayan said of the pro-Palestinian group from Turkey. "To the defendants of the terrorists we say: This time Israel will not be a scapegoat."
Supporters of the Palestinians sent a flotilla with humanitarian aid to Gaza, which was intercepted Monday by Israel Defense Forces enforcing a naval blockade to stop militants in Gaza from getting missiles from Iran and other armaments.
When commandos boarded one of the ships, the Mavi Marmara, they were attacked by some of the protesters and opened fire, killing nine people, sparking outrage around the world and straining relations between Israel and Turkey.
Many of the rally attendees expressed certainty that the pro-Palestinian ships that were intercepted by naval command were not merely carrying supplies for humanitarian aid.
"It was a set up. It was a propaganda," Avi Tirosh, a 58-year-old resident of Playa del Rey said of last week's incident. "They were ready to have a confrontation," the former Israeli army officer said of the activists on board the Mavi Marmara.
Other Christian groups also attended to support the rally, carrying signs that said "Christians Support Israel."
"Even though we are friends, we don't have to agree with everything that happened," said 26-year-old Tandre Williams, a representative from the church, Tabernaculo Biblico Bautisto Amigos de Israel.
"But we feel that the people that are trying to come over are trying to bring attention to what's happening betwen Israel and the Gaza strip," he said. The Los Angeles resident believed that the pro-Palestinian flotilla was meant to provoke attention.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in Canada, canceled a visit with President Barack Obama and headed back to Israel to deal with the crisis.
Saturday it was reported that another freighter trying to run the blockade was again boarded by Israeli commandos and taken to Israel, but no one was injured.
Israel issued a statement expressing regret for the loss of life in the earlier incident, but blaming the violence on the organizers of the flotilla.
"Israel regrets all loss of human life and injuries which came as result of the unfortunate events aboard the vessel Mavi Marmara on Monday, May 31,'' the statement read.
"The responsibility for the consequences of this politically motivated publicity stunt aimed at capturing the attention of the international media, rests on the organizers of the flotilla, which included elements with links to Hamas -- a murderous terrorist organization which smuggles arms aimed at killing Israeli citizens,'' the statement continued.
KPCC wire services contributed to this report.