Pro-Palestinian groups clash with pro-Israel groups in Boca Raton
Nearly 50 Palestinian rights advocates from coalition organizations across South Florida protested in front of the offices of Real-Time Laboratories in Boca Raton, a U.S. subsidiary of Elbit Systems of America, part of Israel's largest weapons manufacturer.
Chanting "Ceasefire now” and “from the river to the sea,” they were met by more than two dozen Israeli counter protesters, chanting "USA” and making profane statements toward the other protestors.
Officials with Elbit Systems of America, who "employs thousands of Americans" responded to WLRN about Thursday's protests, in part, "while we support the rights of protesters to peacefully express their views, we take the safety and well-being of our employees extremely seriously and we will continue to work closely with local officials to ensure safety for all."
In addition to a ceasefire, the activists are calling for Palestinian statehood status for the estimated 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza and an end to the alleged use of controversial white phosphorus bombs by the Israeli military on densely populated areas in Gaza. The allegations were first reported by Human Rights Watch.
The solidarity protest is part of a nationwide “November 9 Global Shutdown for Palestine” called for by grassroots organizations, including the Palestinian Youth Movement.
Israel, according to White House officials on Thursday, has agreed to put in place four-hour daily humanitarian pauses in its assault on Hamas in northern Gaza. President Joe Biden has pressed Israelis for a multi-day stoppage in the fighting in a bid to release hostages held by the militant group.
Biden had asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to institute the daily pauses during a Monday call and said he had also asked the Israelis for a pause of at least three days to allow for negotiations over the release of some hostages held by Hamas.
The Israel-Hamas war, now in its second month, was triggered by the Oct. 7 Hamas attack into southern Israel.
The number of Palestinians killed in the war has risen to 10,818, including more than 4,400 children, the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza said. In the occupied West Bank, more than 160 Palestinians have been killed in the violence and Israeli raids.
More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed, most of them in the Hamas attack, and 239 hostages were taken from Israel into Gaza by the militant group.
Palm Beach County investment
The protest in Boca Raton comes more than a week after Joseph Abruzzo, Palm Beach County’s Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller, invested in Israeli bonds in a financial show of support for Israel.
After the county’s initial $25 million foreign investment — shortly after the Oct. 7 attack — Abruzzo, who manages the county government's $4 billion investment portfolio, announced an additional purchase of $135 million in bonds from Israel. The state of Florida is the largest investor in Israeli bonds.
“We’re buying two-year bonds, which will approximately earn about $20 million over those two year periods,” said Abruzzo, who called a safe investment “for our greatest ally.”
Dave Aronberg, the state attorney for Palm Beach County, said “this fight against Hamas is everyone’s fight.”
“Palm Beach County is leading the way by investing in Israel," he added. “It's a win for Democracy, the only Democracy in the Middle East, a win for humanity, and a win for taxpayers.”
Elbit Systems of America, or Elbit America, is an American company headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas — it has been in business for 30 years, according to a spokesperson. Elbit America is owned by Elbit Systems Ltd, which is located in Haifa, Israel. Elbit America purchased Real-Time Laboratories in 2011.
"Real-Time Laboratories has supported various defense companies and the U.S. Department of Defense since the 1970s," the statement read. "Real-Time Laboratories primarily supplies custom hydraulic and electro-mechanical solutions and is located in Boca Raton, Fla."
In solidarity with Palestinians
Dozens of South Florida groups participated in the non-violent protest, from Solidarity at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton and Students for Justice in Palestine at Florida International University in Miami to Dream Defenders and Food Not Bombs Fort Lauderdale.
Tiffany Burks, an organizer with the Black Futures Alliance, in a statement, explained why her group was backing Palestinians.
“As a Black person it is important to stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine. People oppressed anywhere in the world is an issue that is important to the movement for Black liberation,” Burks said. “A Free Palestine is a Free Congo, a Free Sudan, a Free Haiti, a Free Tigray and a Free Black America. Elbit Systems will cease to exist in our lifetimes if we take consistent action.”
Burks was arrested at the start of the protest for placing a a sign on the Real-Time Laboratories.
Jeff Weinberger, who advocates for the homeless in South Florida, was among the lead organizers for the pro-Palestinian rights protestors.
“We're protesting an Israeli arms manufacturer because they're a merchant of death and genocide and apartheid,” he told WLRN. “I think that one thing people need to understand about what's going on in the Middle East is that this conflict did not begin on Oct. 7.”
“This is in the DNA of Zionism.”
He said Palestinians need to have self-determination and statehood and “do not support nor condemn the action of Hamas.”
“We recognize that what Hamas did was a desperate act borne out of deep, deep oppression, living in what's been called the largest concentrated open air concentration camp on the planet.”
Kfir “Leo” Baranes, an Israel supporter and leader of “Sons of David,” said his organization actively counter protests Palestinian demonstrations.
“We're showing up and we’re showing support to Israel,” he said.
Baranes believes the pro-Palestinian rights cause is un-American because they “never carry the American flag” and that the personal security of Jewish people in the U.S. has eroded since the start of the Israeli-Hamas conflict.
“We go in because we saw that a lot of Jewish people throughout Florida were scared to go to certain places,” he said. “They're scared now to put the yarmulke on their heads. They’re feeling like they are under siege. And this is supposed to be the opposite.”
What Palestinian rights advocates want
Doaa Saber, a Palestinian-American who was born and raised in Qatar, said her family was expelled in 1948 from Jaffa, in the southern part of Israel.
She said many people pro-Palestinian rights advocates are not protesting businesses, but rather to raise awareness about the history of the conflict.
“I'm protesting because it's not related to any organization as much as related to me personally and to all Palestinians, people who lost their rights,” said Saber, and that she doesn’t support Hamas but wants people to understand how the conflict intensified.
“You can't live in your own land. It's about the true story behind it. Why did this happen? What made them do this?" Saber said. "And what's the purpose? It's not the purpose to kill people. It's not the purpose to bomb everybody.”
She said the debate surrounding a two-state solution has not materialized and the political fallout has not brought peace between the two groups.
“The purpose is we need [Palestinian territories] back," Saber said. "We gave you 75 years of agreements. We gave you 75 years of discussions, the conversations and come up with solutions and let's do peaceful two-states on all this stuff. It didn't work.”
The Palestinian territories, which include the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip, have been under Israeli occupation since 1967.
Demonstrators on Friday in Boca Raton said the Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank continue to stoke division.
In their joint statement, pro Palestinian advocates called for an end to the "settler-colonization of the West Bank" and the “the generations-long imposition of apartheid” in the Palestinian territories.
U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Michigan, a Palestinian-American, is among those in Congress pushing for a ceasefire. She condemned the “white phosphorus bombs that melt flesh to the bone.”
Tlaib, the only Palestinian-American member of Congress, was censured Tuesday by her House colleagues, in a 234-188 vote, including 22 Democrats, for posting a video of protesters chanting the political slogan "from the river to the sea," which is a largely interpreted as antisemiticby Jewish groups.
The refrain "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” is a political slogan typically viewed as a Palestinian rallying cry for liberation. It's seen as a dog whistle, co-opted by militants who want to eliminate the State of Israel.
'A crisis of humanity'
Earlier this week, during a press conference in New York, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called the intensifying Israeli-Hamas conflict a “crisis of humanity.”
He criticized Israeli defense forces for bombing “civilians, hospitals, refugee camps, mosques, churchs, and UN facilities, including shelters.” He also slammed “Hamas for using civilians as human shields and continuing to launch rockets indiscriminately toward Israel.”
Guterres told reporters the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is “becoming a graveyard for children."
“The unfolding catastrophe makes the need for a humanitarian ceasefire more urgent with every passing hour," he said.
Israel’s envoy to the UN, Gilad Erdan, rebuked the UN chief's statements on X, formerly Twitter, saying Guterres lost his “moral compass.”
“Any UN representative who makes the false immoral comparison between a brutal terrorist organization that commits war crimes and a law-abiding democracy proves that he suffers from moral rot,” Erdan wrote.