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Surge in Israeli-Palestinian violence prompts concern, calls for peace from New England

More than 150 people held a rally Wednesday at Park Street Station.
More than 150 people held a rally Wednesday at Park Street Station.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

At dueling rallies in Boston, and in homes across the region, many called Wednesday for a peaceful end to deadly violence in Israel and the Gaza Strip, where the Israeli military and Palestinian militants have been engaged in airstrikes and rocket fire amid escalating tensions.

Hundreds have been injured and scores killed since the violence erupted last weekend between the Israeli army and Islamic militants, including Hamas. At issue is the decades-long dispute over land that both sides claim in East Jerusalem. Most of the recent violence started in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Protesters displayed their support during a pro-Israel rally at Copley Square.
Protesters displayed their support during a pro-Israel rally at Copley Square. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

On Wednesday evening, close to 100 people gathered in Copley Square under the setting sun to stand in solidarity with Israel and its people, waving Israeli flags and singing “Hatikvah,” the national anthem, followed by the “Star-Spangled Banner.’' Some carried signs that read, “I stand with Israel” and “United Against Terror.”

Aia Polansky, 35, said her parents’ home in Ashkelon was bombed two nights ago. Another rocket hit the home Wednesday, she added.

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“Ashkelon is my hometown. Those stairs [where] I grew up laughing and having the best time of my life are completely gone,” said Polansky, a member of the Israeli-American Council.

Polansky said her father, who works as an emergency responder, told her people are getting injured in large numbers. Her sister’s four children have been sleeping in shelters for four days, she said with a shaking voice.

“We live in a beautiful country called America, and we can do a lot for Israel,” she told the crowd, calling on them to spread awareness of the situation on social media.

Rachael Wurtman, 59, of Boston, has dual citizenship in the US and Israel and has many friends and relatives there.

In recent days she has been deeply worried about her 28-year-old daughter, who lives in central Tel Aviv. On Wednesday, as rockets were falling on the city, Wurtman couldn’t reach her for hours and listened anxiously to Israeli radio, where she could hear air-raid sirens in the background.

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“I lived in Israel for 10 years. … I lived there during the Gulf War, and I know what happens. I know that when there’s a siren, you have to get to a shelter immediately,” she said.

“My friends and family are very, very scared for their lives. I don’t think Americans have any clue what it’s like. You go to work, you ride the bus, you don’t know if you’re going to make it back alive.”

At a rally on Boston Common, demonstrators chanted, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” and held signs with messages such as “Jews Against Apartheid” and “Another Jew for Justice from Boston to Palestine.”

“Violent ethnic cleansing is happening this week in Jerusalem, in the West Bank and in Gaza,” rally organizer Addie Ansell told the crowd that at one point grew to more than 100. The fighting, Ansell said, is the result of the decades-long occupation and “cannot be isolated.”

Nahma Nadich, deputy director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, said the current violence trails a more than 70-year history of conflict.

“We live in a world where everybody wants the simplest version of every story, with a good guy, a bad guy, and a very clear narrative. This is not one of those stories,” she said. “And people who love and feel connected to Israel connect in different ways and have different perspectives about what they see unfolding.”

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She added later that there is one “bad guy,” the militant organization Hamas, which Nadich called “a terrorist group” and accused of targeting civilians.

The local Jewish community feels “tremendous heartbreak about Palestinian suffering” during the conflict, she said. “No children should be in harm’s way. No parent should be terrified for their children’s survival, Israeli or Palestinian.”

Leila Farsakh, who chairs the political science department at the University of Massachusetts Boston and studies the Arab-Israeli conflict, said recent events are a continuation of the “Nakba,” the Arabic word for “catastrophe” that is used to describe the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians for the creation of Israel in 1948.

“We thought this was in the past, but actually we see it continuously as Palestinians are being expelled from their homes in East Jerusalem and attacked in their place of prayer during the month of Ramadan, which is a particularly holy month,” Farsakh, an associate professor, said in an interview. “Now, with the attack on Gaza, it’s escalated to a situation that’s very alarming.”

Elsa Auerbach, a longtime activist with Jewish Voice for Peace and the daughter of Holocaust survivors, called the situation in Gaza a “huge humanitarian crisis.” Auerbach said she had been frustrated to see the violence described “as ‘a conflict’ or ‘clashes,’ because it’s such a completely uneven power relationship between Israel and the Palestinians.”

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“The people of Gaza are basically living in a prison. It doesn’t have a roof, but they can’t come or go,” Auerbach said. “They’re basically entirely entrapped and subject to incessant bombing.”

Mo Alghool, who owns Cafe Yafa in Natick, came to the United States from Palestine in 1990. He said in an interview that the international community should be doing more to help end the conflict.

“If I come and take your house and kick you out, you and your kids, and tell you, ‘This is my house,’ how would you expect to accept this?” Alghool, 54, said in a phone interview. “That’s exactly what is going on there for over 70 years now. … You cannot take my house and give it to somebody else.”

At the Copley Square rally, Rabbi Marc Baker, president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, told the crowd that the city is united.

“We’ll stand together as one people with one heart, just like we’ll do at Mount Sinai in a few days. Just like we’ve done throughout our history,” he said.

Nathalya Mamane, 47, said she came to the rally to push for peace. She called Hamas’s attacks on Israeli cities “completely unprovoked” and said they are fighting for the wrong thing.

Mamane is especially worried for relatives in the region. “And all of these people have family over there,” she added, gesturing to the group.

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“My cousin is 20. He’s in the army, and now, they’re about to start a war. We don’t know what’s going to happen to him,” she said. “This is ridiculous.”

Correction: Due to reporting errors, an earlier version of this story misspelled Rabbi Marc Baker’s name and misquoted him about Mount Sinai. The Globe regrets the errors.



Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.