Protesters block traffic near LAX to demand Gaza Strip cease-fire

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 15, 2023 - Members of CeaseFireLA stop a car from driving while marching to demand that Israel and the United States enact a permanent and lasting ceasefire in Gaza near LAX in Los Angeles on December 15, 2023. They eventually helped the car make a U-Turn and avoid the protesters. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Protesters walk in traffic near LAX on Friday evening for a protest demanding a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Protesters demanding a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip blocked traffic near Los Angeles International Airport on Friday night, continuing demonstrations that earlier this week saw the 110 Freeway shut down during peak commute time.

Around 4:30 p.m., about 200 demonstrators gathered at South Sepulveda Boulevard and 92nd Street, just north of the airport entrance, and began to march toward the airport. They chanted, “Let Gaza live,” and carried a 30-foot banner bearing those three words.

Two police cars followed as traffic began to back up.

Protesters push for a cease-fire in Gaza on Friday near LAX.
Protesters push for a cease-fire in Gaza on Friday near LAX. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The group marched on the Sky Way over Sepulveda, shutting down all lanes of the bridge that feeds into the airport. Some motorists tried to turn around but were blocked by police. Others crept past demonstrators, trying to make their way into the airport. A couple dozen officers lined up along Sepulveda to steer protesters around the thoroughfare.

By 6 p.m., the protest had looped back to Sepulveda, where demonstrators occupied the intersection at 92nd Street, provoking anger and honking among blocked motorists.

“I’m out of my f— mind right now. I need to get to the hospital,” said one man who did not give his name before being waved forward by an officer.

Attendee Oliver Solares, a 25-year-old graduate student, said he understood why protests such as this one that impeded traffic flow were angering drivers across L.A. But he said the problem was insignificant compared with the horrors people were experiencing in the Gaza Strip.

“That anger is marginal to what’s happening to people across the world,” he said. “They’re being bombed, killed. Being mad at traffic for two hours is marginal. It comes from a place of privilege.”

Jenae Lien, 35, brought her 3-year-old son to the protest so he could participate in the action, confident that it would be safe.

“You first have to be angry to bring about change. People have different ways of expressing that anger, but I think at the end of the day we all just want a safe place to live and a good environment for our kids,” she said, motioning to her son listening to the chants in a stroller.

Earlier Friday, as the protesters gathered, about a dozen wore yellow safety vests and were acting in the role of safety marshals to aid in “deescalation in case other people intervene” or police become aggressive, said Harp Mann, a spokesperson for the activists.

Read more: Shutting a freeway in traffic-clogged L.A. gets attention. But is it effective activism?

A young man shouted into a megaphone: “Shut everything down that’s funding genocide! We have to say stop. Let Gaza live!”

Joseph Soof, 49, held a Palestinian flag as he marched with dozens of demonstrators calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.

Soof said he has family in the West Bank and is concerned for them, and this was his way of trying to help raise awareness about the violence and hardship his family and other Palestinians are facing.

“We want an end to this violence and aggression,” he said.

Friday's disruption came two days after dozens of protesters sat across the southbound 110 Freeway, blocking traffic during morning rush hour. Angered drivers were seen exiting their vehicles and skirmishing with the demonstrators at Wednesday's action, a scene still fresh in protesters' minds Friday.

“Safety is absolutely the No. 1 priority for this action,” said Camilo Rafaèl Caridad Pineda, an organizer of the LAX protest. “There is definitely a lot of lessons that we’ve been learning from these demonstrations that have been taking place all over Los Angeles.”

More than two months have passed since Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing over 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostage, Israel says. The ongoing conflict has killed more 18,700 Palestinians trapped in Gaza in airstrikes and ground attacks by Israeli forces, according to Gaza health authorities. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced from their homes.

Maria Penntock joined Friday's protest after taking three hours to arrive at the airplane-spotting park outside LAX.

Police work to corral a group protesting outside LAX on Friday.
Police work to corral a group protesting outside LAX on Friday. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

“I took three different buses,” she said as she applied makeup. Around her neck was a Palestinian flag.

Penntock said she hoped the demonstration would have a ripple effect that would cause Americans to pay attention to what has been happening in Gaza and demand a cease-fire.

“My heart is broken for the Palestinian people,” she said.

In major cities across the country, demonstrators calling for a cease-fire have taken to the streets and grown more disruptive. As President Biden and other world leaders were in the Bay Area for an economic summit last month, protesters blocked traffic on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge for hours. A group called Jewish Voice for Peace shut down the Manhattan Bridge on Thanksgiving weekend, and on Thursday, that group and allies shut down major roads and bridges in Philadelphia and Washington.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.