Outside the seemingly innocuous Boca strip mall, which stands next to a gym and bathroom supply store, more than 100 people joined the November 9 event to protest the company, which is owned by Israeli defense contractor Elbit Systems, Israel's primary private weapons supplier. Groups participating in the protest included Students for Justice in Palestine at FIU, Black Futures Alliance, and Food Not Bombs Fort Lauderdale.
"We need to start directly targeting the material supporters of apartheid and genocide," Jeff Weinberger, a longtime Broward-based activist and homeless advocate, tells New Times. "And that includes, obviously, weapons manufacturers."
In the roughly four weeks since Hamas terrorists mounted a wide-sweeping attack in Israel, leaving more than 1,400 people dead and taking approximately 200 hostages, the Israeli military has subjected Gazans to daily airstrikes in their densely populated territory, killing more than 10,000 Palestinians, most of whom were women and children, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
Israel agreed yesterday to pause military operations in parts of northern Gaza for four-hour periods each day, but President Joe Biden reiterated that there is currently "no possibility" of a ceasefire.
As the Palestinian civilian death toll continues to rise, and amid backlash over the United States' pledge to send more arms to Israel, protests like the Boca Raton rally have ramped up across the nation.
Videos posted online show dozens of protesters in Boca Raton standing on one side of the road chanting the rallying cry, "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free," a phrase which Palestinians view as a call for independence and liberty but pro-Israel groups see as an incitement to eliminate the State of Israel. More than a dozen pro-Israel demonstrators stood across the street holding Israeli flags and signs that said, "Stand With Israel," at one point shouting: "USA, USA, USA!"
We are here with South Florida DSA chapters and coalition partners today peacefully protesting Elbit systems is the largest weapons supplier to Israel and they operate in our backyard. pic.twitter.com/TmQVuv2GnT— 𝐀𝐅𝐒𝐂 𝐅𝐋𝐎𝐑𝐈𝐃𝐀 (@AFSCFL) November 9, 2023
A counter-protester was reportedly heard calling for Nakba, the Arabic word referencing the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes during and after the 1948 Palestine war.
Tifanny Burks, an organizer with the group Black Futures Alliance (previously known as Black Lives Matter Alliance Broward), says she sees the plight of the Palestinian people as part of a common thread of oppression that she feels compelled to speak out against.
"As a Black person, it is important to stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine. People oppressed anywhere in the world is an issue that is important to the movement for Black liberation," Burks says in a statement. "A Free Palestine is a Free Congo, a Free Sudan, a Free Haiti, a Free Tigray and a Free Black America."
A leader of the pro-Israel counter-protesting group told local media that his group shows up to local protests to stand up for the Florida Jewish community's right to support Israel openly.
"They're scared now to put the yarmulke on their heads. They're feeling like they are under siege. And this is supposed to be the opposite," Kfir 'Leo' Baranes told WLRN.
Elbit Systems, which describes itself as an "international high technology company" primarily focused on defense and homeland security, has long been the target of pro-Palestinian activists. According to the Intercept, the company has been a major developer of drone technology for the Israeli military, as well as "weapons systems, munitions, and surveillance tools." In 2018, it became Israel's largest private weapons manufacturer after it acquired the state-owned Israeli Military Industries.
Elbit Systems America, a subsidiary of the Israel-based defense company, manages dozens of facilities across America. In addition to locations in Texas, Alabama, Virginia, and New Hampshire, Elbit operates Florida facilities in Boca Raton and De Leon Springs.
Real-Time Laboratories in Boca Raton primarily supplies "custom hydraulic and electro-mechanical solutions," an Elbit America spokesperson tells New Times.
"Elbit America employs thousands of Americans who are dedicated to the mission of creating innovative solutions that protect and save lives," the company wrote in a statement. "While we support the rights of protesters to express their views peacefully, we take the safety and well-being of our employees extremely seriously, and we will continue to work closely with local officials to ensure safety for all."
At the Boca Raton protest, tensions flared between the dueling pro-Israel and pro-Palestine attendees, with several fights nearly breaking out, protesters chucking objects at each other, and one man with a facial covering reportedly telling pro-Israel protesters he would fight in Gaza if it meant he would be able to kill them.
"Stay on your side! Stay on your side!" voices cried out when a man with an Israeli flag crossed the road to the area where pro-Palestine protesters were standing.
After police arrived with crowd-control weapons, the groups began to disperse before sundown.
🚨: Chaos erupted after the masked man from earlier tried to fight a pro-Israel protester. Cops moved in and had to push people back. Both sides spat at each other. Another anti-Israel protester was handcuffed, don’t know what for. pic.twitter.com/rSFCmLOatx— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) November 9, 2023
According to a recent Quinnipiac University Poll, nearly two-thirds of voters surveyed said they approve of the U.S. sending weapons and military equipment to Israel. But among voters aged 18 to 34, more than half disapproved.
In response to Israel's recent siege of Gaza, protests have played out at Elbit sites across the country in recent weeks. On October 26, the group Palestine Action reported that more than 100 people had blocked the entrance to an Elbit-owned facility in Kent, England. On October 30, protesters broke through barricades and blocked the entrance to an Elbit facility in Cambridge, Massachusetts; nine people were arrested after police say demonstrators began to throw projectiles at the building and police officers.
Weinberger says he counted three people who were arrested at the Boca Raton event. Video shows one pro-Israel counter-protester yelling "fuck you" at a woman sitting on the ground, detained by police. New Times wasn't immediately able to confirm who was arrested or what, if any, charges were filed.
Weinberger insists the protest was just the beginning of the local campaign to get Elbit Systems out of town.
"Our main demand, ultimately, is that they leave," he asserts. "We don't want them in our community."