On the bloodiest day of conflict yet in this summer of hostilities in the Gaza strip, thousands gathered Tuesday night for a community rally in support of Israel at the Samueli Jewish Campus in Irvine.
The rally was one of hundreds at Jewish centers around Southern California and the country in recent weeks.
Israel is facing rocket attacks and tunnel raids by Hamas and other Palestinian factions in the region. Hamas is fighting to force open a blockade of Gaza that prevents residents from traveling, importing goods and earning enough to feed their families.
For the record: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Miriam Alpern as a spokeswoman for CAIR-LA. She in fact is the chief Marketing & Communications Officer at the Israeli American Council (IAC).
According to news accounts, at least 56 Israeli soldiers and three civilians and more than 1,300 Palestinians in Gaza, mostly civilians, have died in the monthlong fighting.
The disproportionate number of casualties between the two sides, with media images highlighting women and children killed in Gaza, is a primary reason supporters say they are rallying for Israel.
"We believe any country that was in the same position as Israel would feel it has the right to defend itself," said Rick Matros, Orange County chairman of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee, who attended the rally. "A lot of opinion doesn't seem to be going that way simply because of the civilian casualties. It's horrible, obviously, to see terrible things happen to civilians."
Hamas leaders have in turn blamed Israel for indiscriminately shelling targets known to harbor children.
The Anaheim-based Council on American-Islamic Relations of Greater Los Angeles, or CAIR-L.A., has called for dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israeli Consul General David Siegel oversees relations in the Southwestern U.S. and was the keynote speaker at the rally in Irvine. His message to the audience of about 2,000 firmly placed the responsibility for all casualties — on both sides — "squarely on Hamas, who started this fight and refuses to end it."
Sources at the rally said at least 14 men and women from Orange County serve among the thousands in the
Israeli Defense Forces. One of them is 20-year-old Zev Friedman, a graduate of the Tarbut V'Torah Community Day School on the Samueli campus.
"It's really nice to see the support of the community," said Zev's mother, Donna Friedman, during the rally.
Donna Friedman recently visited her son on a northern Israel military base where he's still in combat training.
"We just came back. It opened my eyes," she said. "I told him I'm happy he's there, even though he's not happy. He wants to be fighting. That's why he joined the IDF."
"It really makes it part of the local community," pointed out Siegel in recognizing the U.S. citizens serving in Israel.
The consul general became emotional when recounting the loss of 24-year old Israeli Defense Forces Sgt. Max Steinberg, a Los Angeles native who was killed in Gaza on July 20.
"To see this outpouring of thousands of people is a very moving experience."
[For the record, 9:12 a.m. July 31: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the rally occurred Wednesday night. The rally was Tuesday night.]