Around 50 pro-Israel demonstrators marched on West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz this past Friday in a call to free hostages held by Hamas and show support for Israel’s ongoing military campaign in Gaza. The protest was held the same day that Israel and Hamas agreed to a hostage and prisoner swap that returned 24 hostages to Israel for 39 Palestinian prisoners.
According to the BBC, among the returned hostages were the Israelis Margalit Mozes, 78, who was abducted from her home in Kibbutz Nir Oz and Doron Katz Asher, 34, who was abducted along with her two daughters Raz, 4, and Aviv, 2. Ten Thai nationals were also released.
Demonstrators gathered on the lawn at 2pm at Lighthouse Point as they waved Israeli and U.S. flags. Some carried posters with the names and photos of hostages taken by Hamas militants during the attack on Israeli settlements near the Gaza border on Oct. 7.
An estimated 1,400 people were killed by Hamas that day, according to the Israeli government, in what it called the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. In response, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) unleashed an unprecedented bombing campaign against the Gaza strip that has killed more than 14,000 people, according to Gazan officials, as reported by the New York Times. Ten thousand of the deaths have been women and children.
Now, almost two months into the conflict, a four-day ceasefire has been agreed to by Hamas and Israel in order to swap prisoners and hostages and for humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. Demonstrators on Friday were there to demand all hostages held by Hamas be returned immediately.
In the wake of pro-Palestinian protests erupting across the nation and internationally, pro-Israeli groups are concerned with what they characterize as antisemitic chants, such as “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” According to the Anti-Defamation League, the chant is an antisemitic slogan calling for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews.
Earlier this month, Michigan Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib was censured in Congress for using the slogan. Tlaib is Palestinian-American and has shown support for the people of Gaza.
On this sunny day after Thanksgiving, West Cliff teemed with tourists as craft market booths dotted the parking lots. Demonstrators departed the lawn area and proceeded towards the surfer statue in a peaceful march that looped back around towards Natural Bridges. A few passing cars honked in solidarity.
When asked what his thoughts were on the march, an onlooker did not have a strong opinion either way.
“It’s a free country,” he said.
An earlier version of this article contained quotes from pro-Israel demonstrators that community members on both sides of the issue, including one of the individuals who was quoted, have asked to be removed.