Speaking at a protest against Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, Nidal Al-Azraq of Lexington struck a defiant yet hopeful tone.
“The occupation has failed to destroy us,” Al-Azraq, a 40-year-old Palestinian who grew up in a refugee camp, told the crowd gathered Tuesday inside the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in downtown Boston.
The rally, which was held to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the mass displacement of Palestinians following the founding of Israel, took on added meaning as violence broke out on the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces killed more than 60 Palestinians and injured more than 1,000 during clashes along the Gaza border that were fueled by a decade-long blockade and the relocation Monday of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.
The Israeli government and the Trump administration blamed the violence on the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, and said it was using the embassy issue to foment attacks against Israel. Human rights groups accused Israel of using excessive force, and Israel and the United States came under harsh criticism from numerous countries.
In the Boston area, the violence stirred reflection and debate on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide.
Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, deplored the loss of life and called for concrete steps to ease long-simmering tensions.
“The question should not be, ‘What should the US or the Europeans or other outsiders be doing to foster peace?’ he said. “It is, ‘What can be done to help Israelis and Palestinians come together to hear and to see and to recognize each other’s belonging in a shared homeland?’ ”
Others questioned the wisdom of the embassy move, a fulfillment of a campaign promise by President Trump on the belief that Jerusalem should be recognized as Israel’s capital.
“This should be a moment of celebration for all of us who feel deeply connected to Jerusalem and its importance to the Jewish people,” said Janette Hillis-Jaffe, New England regional director of J Street, a liberal Jewish advocacy group. “But the manner and timing of this move were designed to advance the agenda of right-wing political leaders in the US and Israel, rather than help the Palestinians and Israelis move closer to solving their conflict.”
The deadly violence in Gaza “is a clear example of the disastrous consequences of President Trump and [lsraeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu’s policies for the prospects for peace in the region,” she said.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, however, denounced the Palestinian protests as a pretext to attack Israel. “As part of a conscious strategy to challenge Israel’s sovereignty, Hamas staged “peaceful protests” this past weekend to mask attempts to infiltrate Israel,” the group, based in Washington, D.C., said in a statement. “Hiding behind innocent children and civilians, the terror group fired at Israel and attempted to breach the Gaza-Israel border. Hamas continues to make clear its primary goal is not a better life for the people of Gaza, but the destruction of Israel.”
At Tuesday’s Boston rally, Nasir Almasri, a 25-year-old Palestinian-American, said the US was complicit in Isral’s “targeting of civilians who are marching at the border in Gaza.” He wanted to see US lawmakers push for aid to be allowed into Gaza and for the situation there to be recognized as a humanitarian crisis.
“Shame on the US, and shame on Israel,” he said.
Salim Tamari, a Palestinian scholar who is teaching Middle East history for a semester at Harvard University, said the violence in Gaza was caused by Israel’s intransigence.
Israel “thinks it can get away with murder when peaceful protest is being exercised,” he said after the event.
Tamari was just 2 when his family was forced from their home in Jaffa in 1948.
“We are no closer to peace now than we were 20 years ago,” he said.Material from wire services was included in this report. Danny McDonald can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.