Demonstrators on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict passionately expressed their feelings Thursday night during gatherings in Boston and Newton that were fueled by the deepening Mideast crisis.
After days of missiles, bombs, and shellings back and forth, the Israeli military launched a ground offensive into the Gaza Strip on Thursday. As the situation escalated, so, too, did concerns in Massachusetts.
In Boston, more than 150 people of varying ethnicities and faiths marched in front of the Boston Public Library, chanting in solidarity with Gaza and the West Bank as cars and pedestrians passed along Dartmouth Street. They waved flags, held “Free Gaza” posters, and wore shirts and soccer jerseys displaying the Palestinian colors.
“It feels very helpless,” said Abdullah Kazi. “It’s like a cycle that keeps on going and the Palestinians are suffocating.”
The chants heard around Copley Square condemned the actions of the Israeli military. Protesters called Israel an occupying force and an apartheid state as they chanted: “Hey, Israel, what do you say, how many kids have you killed today?”
“Not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Israel’s crimes.”
With their arms draped against a long Palestinian flag, the protesters formed a sea of peace signs as the names of 232 victims were read aloud. Some demonstrators wiped tears as they heard the names of four Palestinian children killed on a Gaza beach Wednesday. “Ahed Bakr, 10, Zakaria Bakr, 10, Mohammed Bakr, 11, Ismail Bakr, 9.”
On the day Israeli tanks invaded Gaza, many were afraid that the violence, and the death toll, would only escalate.
“I hope people aren’t going to stand by and watch if the Gaza Strip is reoccupied,” said Clare Maxwell, 23, of Cambridge, who recently returned from a trip to the West Bank. “It’s really sad and heartbreaking what happened yesterday but this is also a continuation of what’s been going on for the last three decades.”
Some Jewish demonstrators attending the rally said Israeli actions were not consistent with the tenets of their faith.
“The equation of Jewishness and protection of everything Israel does is really harmful to everyone,” said Asher Bruskin, 28, a member of the grass-roots organization, Jewish Voice for Peace. “Jews, Palestinians, everyone. I think it perpetuates the violence.”
The protesters engaged in a brief shouting match with pro-Israel demonstrators who gathered on the library steps, displaying an Israeli flag and pro-Zionist posters. Daniel Mael, a Brandeis University student, said those gathered at Copley Square were “proterrorism,” rather than pro-Palestine or peace.
“They’re trying to rally justification and support for terrorism against innocent people in Israel,” Mael said.
Later in the evening, in Newton, a long line of people wrapped around the side of Congregation Mishkan Tefila, waiting to show their support for Israel.
Inside the temple, over 700 supporters were handed stickers, Israeli and American flags, as well as #STANDWITHISRAEL posters. The gathering was hosted by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies and the Jewish Community Relations Council
“Tonight we’re coming together to stand with all the victims of terrorism in Israel and in Gaza who are truly suffering and living in a terrible situation created by a terrorist organization Hamas that has rained down violence on Israel and held the Palestinian people of Gaza hostage,” said Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.
“It’s very hard sitting here in the comfort of Boston to judge what others would do,” said Burton, who noted that he travels to Israel about twice a year. “And I know it’s incredibly painful to see innocent people dying, including children. It’s incredibly painful, and I find myself asking, what would I do? . . . I don’t have a better answer.”
Barry Shrage, president and chief executive of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, arrived back in Massachusetts Thursday morning from Israel.
“They’ve launched 1,100 rockets indiscriminately at Israelis cities and towns with no attempt to reach military objectives. That’s not what it’s about,” Shrage said. “It’s about destroying the civilian population of Israel.
Shrage went on to say that the more than 200 people killed in the conflict was a tragedy, but the military was aiming at military targets and not trying to kill innocent people.
Mayor Setti Warren of Newton also spoke to the crowd, saying that the relationships between America, Newton, and Israel would continue to grow and that the support for the country was there.
Edan Ruzinousky, 28, who now lives in Boston, attended the gathering and said he served in the Israeli military for 18 months. He said the conflict was horrible, but Israel cannot sit by and watch as rockets continue to hit the country’s cities and towns.
“Nobody likes war, but what do you do?” he said. “You can’t sit there and take it.”