As Fresno leaders raised the Israeli flag on Thursday morning to recognize the victims of the Hamas attacks, the speakers struggled to be heard over protesters’ chants about the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza.
“For those people who are yelling, if you want to take a moment to listen … you will hear that many, many, many of us in the Jewish community, while we care deeply about our own safety, we also care a great deal about the Palestinian community.” — Rabbi Rick Winer, Temple Beth Israel
About 40 people showed up in support of the Israeli flag-raising, which also drew a dozen protesters.
Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer, councilmembers Garry Bredefeld, Miguel Arias, Mike Karbassi, and Annalisa Perea went to Eaton Plaza for the ceremony along with Rabbi Rick Winer of Temple Beth Israel, Rabbi Levy Zirkind, and Cornerstone Church Pastor Jim Franklin.
“Today we have the opportunity to stand in solidarity with a community that is oftentimes persecuted and certainly to denounce what has happened this past Saturday in Israel,” Dyer said.
Councilmember Garry Bredefeld said he and other councilmembers came out to show support for Israel. The war, which began with a surprise attack by Hamas, has claimed 1,300 Israeli lives, including 247 soldiers, according to Israel’s military. The Associated Press reported Thursday a total of 2,700 lives lost by both sides.
“Like so many people I painfully grieve over the senseless and horrific loss of life of so many innocent people,” Bredefeld said.
Protesters Want Recognition for Palestinian Struggle
As religious and civic leaders spoke, the protesters asked why Palestinian deaths weren’t also being recognized. Chants of “free Palestine” competed against what the officials were saying about Israel’s human losses.
One protester, Layla — who did not want to give her last name — said she came out because the people of Gaza “have no voice.”
“Especially being under siege for 16 years by land, air, and water, and sea,” Layla said. “I’m just here to represent my people since Fresno County decided to raise the flag of only one group of people and not my group of people, the Palestinians, who are always dying.”
In 2006, after people in Gaza voted Hamas into power, both Israel and Egypt enhanced the barrier around the 140-square-mile Gaza strip. Going in and out often requires permits. Most power and water is limited to what’s provided by the Israeli government.
Layla said she has friends in Gaza that she considers family. They told her they tried to find shelter at a United Nations hospital before it was bombed.
“They’re in horrific, dire conditions right now,” Layla said.
“I’m just here to represent my people since Fresno County decided to raise the flag of only one group of people and not my group of people.”
— Layla, protester at flag raising ceremony
Dyer said they raised the flag to condemn the attack initiated by Hamas, a terrorist group that violently controls Gaza. Hamas has vowed to annihilate Israel.
Unemployment rates in Gaza exceed 46%, according to the news site Al Jazeera.
“The fact that we raised the Jewish flag is a result of the state of Israel being attacked by terrorists,” Dyer said. “That’s what that was about.”
Members of Peace Fresno also came to protest Dyer raising the Israeli flag.
“We oppose violence from both sides,” said Dan Yaseen of Peace Fresno.
Yaseen there are more victims of violence caused by Israelis.
“Israelis in Palestine, in Gaza, they’re the oppressors,” Yaseen said.
Fresno PD Adds Patrols at ‘Sensitive Locations’
Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama tweeted that his department was aware of heightened tensions in the community created by the war. He added that police have not identified any “credible threats in our community.” However, Fresno PD is beefing up patrols at “sensitive locations.”
“The safety of our community is and will continue to be the highest priority of the Fresno Police Department. We are aware of statements made calling for action overseas relating to the Middle East conflict. We have NOT identified any credible threats specifically in our… pic.twitter.com/dJvMfMTN9o
— Chief Paco Balderrama (@BalderramaPaco) October 12, 2023
Supporters and Protestors Engage — Not Always Kindly
Members of the Jewish community and others supporting Israel engaged with protestors during the ceremony.
“The hatred is deep and you can sense some of that hatred right here today with people who are standing here supporting what occurred on Saturday and the killing of innocent Israelis and the beheading of Israeli babies. If that is what you stand for, then you do not stand for the United States of America.” — Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer
Speakers at the podium also tried to engage with protesters. Dyer spoke of violence against Jews.
“The hatred is deep and you can sense some of that hatred right here today with people who are standing here supporting what occurred on Saturday and the killing of innocent Israelis and the beheading of Israeli babies,” Dyer said. “If that is what you stand for, then you do not stand for the United States of America.”
Layla called Hamas a “resistance group.” She said those under a brutal military occupation have the right to fight back.
“Palestinians don’t have an army, don’t have an air force, and they don’t have a navy. All they have is resistance fighters,” she said.
Winer said he condemned all acts of terrorism.
“For those people who are yelling, if you want to take a moment to listen … you will hear that many, many, many of us in the Jewish community, while we care deeply about our own safety, we also care a great deal about the Palestinian community,” Winer said.