A retired Brandeis University professor whose family members were killed in Israel on Saturday condemned the attack by Hamas, underscoring the grief and rage that rocked the Boston area in the aftermath of the attacks.
Supporters of both Israel and the Palestinian people held rallies on Monday — with dozens of counterprotesters present as well — highlighting the mounting frustration on each side with a decades-long conflict and its ever-growing human toll.
“This is not the classic war of soldiers at the front, unconnected from civilians at the rear,” the retired professor, Ilan Troen, said in a statement provided to the Globe. “We and our loved ones have cell phones. ... We heard the shots and shouts, and were present for the tragedy and relief in real time.”
On Boston Common Monday afternoon, the fury of local Israeli residents and their supporters was palpable, as more than 1,000 demonstrators flooded the park outside the State House with flags, signs, and posters lifted high. The crowd applauded Governor Maura Healey as she declared her “unwavering” support of Israel, while Senator Edward J. Markey was fiercely booed when he called for “a de-escalation of the current violence.”
“I believe in peace,” Markey said, continuing remarks that were at one point drowned out for nearly a minute by the disapproving crowd. “And it is my deepest hope that we can draw upon one of the greatest Hebrew traditions — tikkun olam — to do the work of repairing the world to work for peace, even amidst war.”
Troen’s daughter and son-in-law, Deborah and Shlomi Martias, were killed Saturday when Hamas, a Palestinian militant group, stormed the border into Israel in a surprise attack that has killed hundreds of Israeli soldiers and civilians. The professor’s teenage grandson, Rotem, was shot in the abdomen, but survived by hiding himself under his parents’ dead bodies and, later, under a blanket in a laundry basket, according to Troen. When Rotem was rescued, he was covered in the ashes of his burned home, a tactic Troen said Hamas used to force survivors out of the house so they can be executed.
“This is a well-rehearsed act of unbridled violence, not the consequence of an individual’s momentary madness,” said Troen, who lives in Israel and helped found the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis. “Gaza under Hamas mobilized its citizens and trained them in the techniques of warfare to murder innocent civilians from infants to the elderly and did so, as in a pogrom, because of their victim’s faith and identity.”
Israel swiftly declared war in response to the attacks, increasing airstrikes on Gaza and sealing it off from food, fuel, and other supplies. In the war’s third day, the combined death toll has already reportedly risen to nearly 1,400.
Outside Cambridge City Hall, Palestinian supporters waved flags and hoisted signs saying “Decolonize Palestine Now,” as cheers of “Free, free Palestine!” rang out across the green. At the “Long Live Palestinian Resistance” rally organized by Boston University Students for Justice in Palestine, speakers and demonstrators pointed to the long history of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, and said the attack was Palestinians’ way of saying “enough is enough.”
“We’ve been killed for many years, and the world has been quiet. We need justice, and for people to realize what’s been going on,” said Abdullah Mohamed, a Cambridge resident who joined with his family to protest Israeli military occupation of Gaza, which has resulted in the death and displacement of tens of thousands of Palestinians, as well as numerous deadly acts of retaliation on both sides.
“We condemn any killing of any civilian, but we need a basic human right that anyone can ask for: to live peacefully on a piece of land that belongs to us, and they have taken it,” he said.
Displaying a “Jews for Palestinian rights” pin on her jacket, Jill Charney waved a banner at the front of the crowd that read, “Boston Jews Say Free Palestine.” Charney said she came into the city from Newton for the demonstration because “the fact that Jews push their apartheid policies in my name is abhorrent, and the fact that my US tax dollars help fund these policies is particularly upsetting.”
Like other Palestinian supporters, Charney stressed that “nobody wants violence, but when freedoms are denied, humans will fight at any cost” to regain them.
“Palestinians have been squashed, their houses demolished, their water contaminated, and their movements monitored,” she said. “There’s a context for what’s going on that goes back 75 years, and when people are oppressed, they will fight for justice, no matter what.”
Across the street, separated by a line of police, supporters of Israel wearing blue and white shouted “Terrorists!” and “Coward!” Their cries reflected the sentiment of Monday’s earlier gathering in Boston, which in addition to residents from across the state also drew a significant contingent of local politicians who expressed their shared sympathy with Israel and anguish over the bloodshed.
Representative Jake Auchincloss, a Newton Democrat, drummed up cheers, woots, and whistles on the Common with a call to action, in counterpoint to Markey’s pleas for de-escalation.
“Now is not the time for equivocation,” Auchincloss said. “Hamas is an internationally recognized terrorist organization that is executing and raping civilians. Israel is a liberal democracy with the right and responsibility to defend itself and it says, ‘De-escalation is not possible when they are taking hostages.’”
Senator Elizabeth Warren said she was there to grieve but also there to shoulder a commitment to Israel’s “safety and security” as a member of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee.
“I am here today to say, unequivocally, there is no justification for terrorism ever. I am here because my heart is with the innocent civilians suffering from this violence. My heart is with those who lost their lives too early, with those who have lost loved one,” Warren said. Standing in solidarity, she added, “does not mean standing still.”
“Standing in solidarity means action,” Warren said. “When our allies face threats from those who would destroy them, we need a military command that is at full strength.”
Politicians and rabbis, community and student leaders, 20 in all, took turns at the microphone during the Boston Common rally dubbed “Gathering in Solidarity With Israel Under Fire.” They sought to emphasize the personal scope of the incursion, detailing accounts of children, friends, cousins, and other loved ones close to the violence.
Some in the crowd had personal reasons to grieve, as well.
Melanie Lieberman, a 27-year old occupational therapist from Natick, said her friend Hersch Goldberg-Polin has been missing since early Sunday, when a massacre by Hamas at a music festival left 260 dead in southern Israel. Lieberman said she met Goldberg-Polin, 23, when Lieberman was working as a tour guide in Israel in 2017.
“He’s just such an engaged, genuine, smart, fun, friendly, smiley, mischievous person,” Lieberman said, her voice cracking as her eyes welled with tears. “I’m just hoping he gets home safely.”
Meanwhile in Cambridge, activists, community organizers, and students stressed the importance of speaking out in support of Palestinians here in the United States, particularly on Indigenous People’s Day.
“On this Indigenous People’s Day ... this [is about] taking land back, and that’s true for all people who have been impacted by settler-colonialism, from here to Palestine,” said Mahtowin Munro, of the United American Indians of New England, to widespread cheers.
Laila Musleh, a Boston University student who shouted chants with a Palestinian flag draped around her shoulders, said she felt joining the community in grief and anger was a critical act of “support and activism, and the most I could do” from afar.
“I am Palestinian and I’m watching my country from afar as people are being killed,” she said. “ Because I cannot be on the ground with them, this is how I show up for my people.”
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