Scheduled Talk Draws Crowd to Local Theater

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Chants, slogans and banners accompanied vibrant protests outside the Berkeley Community Theatre last night, forcing former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel his planned talk.

At 6 p.m., two hours before Netanyahu was scheduled to speak, small crowds of protesters gathered in front of the theater on the corner of Milvia and Kittredge streets, which were blocked off for the event. The crowd quickly grew to the size of several hundred people within less than an hour.

During the last few months of violence in the Middle East more than 200 people have died, the overwhelming majority of them Palestinian.

People of all backgrounds, ages, and ethnicities came out in Berkeley to protest the oppression of the Palestinian people allegedly perpetrated by Israeli leaders like Netanyahu.

"As a Jewish person, I feel like it's important to say something," said Carla Schick, an Oakland resident. "By breaking international law, Israel should be brought forth before an international tribunal for murder of the Palestinians."

Many other protesters echoed Schick's contempt for Israel and Netanyahu and also protested the United States' long-standing support of Israel.

"Those bullets that are being fired at the Palestinians are 'Made in the USA,'" said Ron Holladay, a San Francisco resident. "As long as the United States pours billions into Israel, it serves as a proxy force to protect the oil of the Middle East."

Many anti-Israeli groups attended the massive protest, some carrying bullhorns and leading people in chants.

"Netanyahu you will see -Palestine will be free!" chanted a group of protesters.

People carried candles, flashlights and posters through the cold Berkeley evening to protest the coming of Netanyahu. Protesters had varying views that led them to the streets, some even comparing the Israeli government to Nazism and apartheid.

"In terms of tactics, the Israeli Defense Force is comparable to the Nazi regime," said a man who identified himself as "Venom" and wore a cap reading "Intifada," which is the Palestinian resistance movement.

Of the community members waiting to be let in, some supported Netanyahu, some did not and others came to learn. But many of the hundreds of people waiting in line were frustrated that the protesters prevented them from hearing Netanyahu.

"I don't support either side - I'm trying to be educated," said UC Berkeley alumna Diana Treter. "I don't think they're wrong in protesting, but they should not prevent us from hearing him. But I would also like to hear the protesters' side without being called a fascist."

Approximately 25 people were let in one by one at first, escorted through a police barricade by event staff. As people were led through, unified chants of "Shame! Shame!" could be heard loudly.

Upon the announcement that Netanyahu would not speak, cheers erupted from the crowd of protesters, and some ran through the crowds.

"As a Palestinian, it is my duty to speak out against this," said Ishmael Ayesh, an Oakland resident who wore a Palestinian flag around his neck. "Netanyahu may have peaceful words, but there is no action. He is not welcome here."


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