Authorities on Monday were trying to sort out a tense clash between pro-Palestinian forces and supporters of Israel during a rally in Westwood that prompted a federal agent to fire his weapon.
The Federal Protective Service agent has been placed on administrative leave while authorities investigate the shooting, which occurred after a truck full of men allegedly assaulted pro-Israel demonstrators.
The clash occurred Sunday outside the federal building in the 11000 block of Wilshire Boulevard, where opposing factions of protesters sang, yelled and waved signs espousing their viewpoint on the conflict in the Gaza Strip. Officials estimated that the crowd swelled to about 1,800 people.
“It was a pretty chaotic thing,” Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Dave Valentine said.
Around 5:20 p.m., sheriff’s officials said four men drove down Wilshire in a truck with a Palestinian flag when a pro-Israel protester grabbed the flag and stepped on it. The men then got out of the truck and confronted the group, using the wooden sticks holding their flags to strike demonstrators, Valentine said.
One person was hit in the arm, but no one was hospitalized.
The unidentified federal officer discharged his weapon as the suspects fled in their vehicle, said agency spokeswoman Jacqueline C. Yost. It was not immediately clear why he fired. Sheriff's officials have confiscated the agent's weapon as part of their investigation, and the Federal Protective Service is also conducting a separate use-of-force review.
Los Angeles police quickly caught up to the vehicle and arrested the men, identified as Mostadafa Gamaleldin Hafez, Hassan Mustapha Kreidieh, Mohammed Said Elkhatib and Fadi Ali Obeidallah. They were booked on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and released Monday morning after each posting $30,000 bail.
Speaking with reporters outside of the West Hollywood sheriff’s station, Elkhatib said that they were “falsely arrested.” He called the altercation a “minor incident.”
“We did not assault nobody,” Elkhatib said. “You guys have surveillance and cameras and that will tell us the truth. As an American citizen living in the United States of America, I felt like all my rights were taken away. I was treated like a second-class citizen.”
Witness Judy Friedman said the men in the truck were agitating the crowd with taunts before the confrontation turned physical.
“They were looking for a fight,” she said.
A video on YouTube shows what appears to be the last moments of the confrontation in which pro-Israel demonstrators and the men from the truck shouted at each other before the men got into the truck and drove off. Sheriff’s deputies say that’s when an agent fired a single shot, which struck no one.
Miriam Alpern, a spokeswoman for the Israeli-American Council, which co-organized the rally, characterized it as “very peaceful” and called the fight an “isolated” incident. She said similar rallies have recently taken place across the globe as tensions rise in the Gaza Strip. There, at least 175 people, mostly civilians, have been killed by rocket fire.
Elkhatib, who said he was from Orange County, said he and the others arrested were pro-Palestinian, but he declined to detail his political viewpoints, saying “there was no passion” and “we don't take sides.”
“It's been a long day,” he said as a friend shuffled him away into a Black Range Rover. “We're just going to get some rest.”