Pilgrims take a stand, again, call for Gaza cease-fire

Pilgrim Place resident Karen Chapman Lenz was one of 22 demonstrators calling for a cease-fire in Gaza Wednesday at Indian Hill Boulevard and Arrow Highway. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

By Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

Peace demonstrators, many from Claremont retirement community Pilgrim Place, have long been a Friday afternoon fixture at the corner of Indian Hill Boulevard and Arrow Highway, with supporters honking their horns as they pass through the intersection. Soon after the war between Israel and Hamas began on October 7, the group added an additional cause: a call for a cease-fire in Gaza.

Held from 4 to 4:30 p.m. Wednesdays, the new demonstrations have been sponsored by the Friends of Sabeel North America’s Claremont chapter, a nonprofit Christian ecumenical organization which seeks “justice and peace in the Holy Land through education, advocacy, and nonviolent action,” according to its website.

David Lull, a Pilgrim Place resident, said the protestors are calling for a cease-fire to halt the mass killings of Palestinians, to deliver humanitarian aid to those in the Gaza Strip, and to put pressure on elected officials.

“It was primarily a humanitarian effort on our part,” Lull said, adding that while the recent exchange of Israeli and Palestinian hostages has included a temporary pause in fighting, protestors will not be ceasing their efforts anytime soon.

“We are pleased that there is a pause allowing for the release of hostages and the release of Palestinians who are being held in Israeli prisons without due process,” Lull said. “[But] this is definitely not a job done. I would not say mission accomplished. I would say it’s a move in the right direction.”

Pilgrim Place residents protesting at Indian Hill Boulevard and Arrow Highway on Wednesday. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue fighting once the hostage exchanges are complete. Lull is fearful this will bring still more civilian casualties and further scarcity of food, shelter, and water for Gazans.

“Personally, I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel since Netanyahu’s government shows no sign of a political solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians,” he said. “The issues between them just require political solution rather than military.”

Pilgrim Place resident and activist Bob Smith echoed Lull’s sentiment. “It is important I think, in my opinion, to understand our cause is related to the past, that should be understood,” Smith said. “The October seventh massacres did not just appear out of nothing. There have been decades of oppression in Palestine.”

Pilgrim and activist Lynn Rhodes said the point of the Wednesday demonstrations is to emphasize a cease-fire , not to take any sides. Rhodes, who has been following the Palestine-Israel conflict since the 1960s, said “the whole situation” is what prompted residents to demonstrate, adding Netanyahu’s government is “creating genocide” and forcing Gaza into an apartheid state.

“I couldn’t tolerate that without doing something,” Rhodes said. “And as I believe in nonviolence … At least I can put up a sign. A cease-fire is the only humane option at this point for us. To be silent is not a stance I can take. Our voice needs to be heard, objecting to what my government is doing.”

Asked if there’s anything at stake for them personally, four of the six activists the Courier spoke with said yes: their tax dollars.

“Our tax dollars are paying for the weapons that the Israeli government is using,” Lull said. “Because of my tax dollars being used in this way, I’m at least implicitly complicit in what the Israeli army is doing.”

Smith and Teresa Wilson, another Pilgrim, said demonstrations may influence the thinking of locals and, again, put pressure on elected officials to support a cease-fire.

Chuck Rassieur, with for Friends of Sabeel North America’s Claremont chapter and regular attendee of the Pilgrim’s Friday protests, explained how despite physically being thousands of miles away from Gaza, the graphic images are available to him on a daily basis.

Pilgrim Place residents (L-R) Julie Steinbach and Teresa Wilson were among the 22 demonstrators at Indian Hill Boulevard and Arrow Highway on Wednesday. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

“It’s not very far away from me when I turn on my television,” he said. “We’re in favor of a cease-fire. We want there to be peace and we want people to stop being killed.”

With friends and connections in both the Middle East and Claremont, this issue hits home for many. Lora Jo Foo, a Pilgrim Place resident, labor organizer and former attorney specializing in labor law, said Claremont’s demonstrations were necessary because the U.S. has huge influence in the Middle East.

“It’s not like this is happening halfway around the world and it’s none of our business; it is our business,” Foo said. “Our tax money is funding genocide. I think in terms of us as seniors, we need to play our part also. Like I said for the last 30 years all of us have been paying taxes that have gone to … the Israelis and enabled them to do what they’ve been doing and what they do now. We are responsible.”

Their signs encourage commuters to honk in support of the cause, and many do. Others ignore them, and a few show their disdain with a middle finger. Still, the Wednesday protestors we spoke for this story agreed they’ve had more honks than rude gestures.

“Public opinion is divided,” Lull said. “The obvious thing is that this whole matter is a reflection of the political divisions in U.S. politics.”

Foo said residents plan to be out demonstrating for the foreseeable future.

“Until there is a permanent cease-fire , we have to be out there,” she said.

1 Comment


    I have been humbled and proud of how the Pilgrims have represented our community from the first time I noticed them on Arrow Highway warning against the impending invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. Then, as now, it was the latest in a long line of reprehensible action by factions of our government in our name. There was no media, no representation, no support for this group of senior citizens quietly assembling against injustice in a the only manner they knew how. I am shamed by my lack of action.

    As bad as the death and destruction unleashed by Israel is, what should be more alarming is the inability of news reporting to be balanced. News station after news station plays the same propaganda line, calling what is happening a “war”; no context to the imprisonment of a population on what remains of their own land; Israeli control of production, energy, food; the dehumanization of an entire populace. The examples are far too many to list here. Whether you are a Republican, Democrat, or somewhere in between, you should be extremely concerned by this attack on democracy and freedom of speech. Our tax dollars are being spent in our name in the support of Apartheid and the willful genocidal policies of the Israeli state. It is time to end this support.

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