An ad hoc group of alternative voices for peace gathered Thursday night at the Squirrel Hill JCC to express their anguish about the war in Gaza.
Hours later, the Gazan home of Dr. Izzedin Abuleish, who spoke to the attendees of the JCC program by phone hook-up, was hit by artillery fire. Three of his daughters and other relatives were killed.
Also, a 7-year-old boy struck in the head by shrapnel in Beersheba on Friday remained in critical condition
These tragic events culminated with Israel agreeing to a unilateral cease-fire in Gaza, which began at 2 a.m. Sunday. Hamas said it would continue fighting.
Of the 125 people in attendance, all were pro Israel and pro peace. But they differed in their opinions about how peace should be achieved. Most were peace activists, but some were solidly behind recent Israeli military operations.
“There are people in our community who have alternate views of the war in Gaza and want a forum to discuss it and express how they are feeling,” said Nancy Bernstein. “They want to listen to some people in Israel who might not support it.”
Israelis Ido and Ofira Rnol moved to Pittsburgh six years ago. He is a student at Carnegie Mellon University, she at the University of Pittsburgh. In Israel, he served as a captain in the Israeli air force for 10 years.
“We were always pro-peace,” he said. “Our Aha moment came when we moved here.
“We saw the occupation in Iraq from the American point of view and then we saw Israel from afar. We saw how much the American people don’t see what’s really going on in Israel. They don’t see that the military cannot force democracy on peoples’ lives. We said to ourselves — what the Americans did in Iraq is exactly what Israel did in Lebanon in 1982.”
Eilen Yacknin, an attorney for Neighborhood Legal Services said, “I’ve been really disturbed and in anguish about what’s happening in Israel with the Gaza war. I feel compelled to raise my voice in protest to what I believe is aggressive conduct on the part of Israel, against the Gazans. I’d like people to know that there are many other Jewish voices besides the voices of the Jews who accept whatever Israel does without looking at it through critical lenses.
“It’s alright to be Jewish and to say that you support Israel’s right to exist and defend itself and still accept that there are times to say that Israel is acting in an unjust, improper way.
Maymon Pe’er, Community Shaliah at the United Jewish Federation, presented what he called “the position of the vast majority of Israeli citizens. I think that the Israelis’ here tonight (with opinions different than the majority) represent maybe 10 percent of the Israeli population.
“Israel has the right and the obligation to provide security to it’s citizens in south Israel,” Pe’er continued. “Those citizens have been suffering for eight years from missiles that have come from Gaza. Life in this area has become impossible.”
There was no disagreement in the room that the objective is a lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. Through the internet, a panel peace activists in Israel, Gaza, and the United States presented their alternative solutions.
An American-born software engineer, who lives in Sderot said, “The last six weeks have been extremely difficult regarding the rockets falling in Sderot. But the 2 weeks since the war broke out have been much more intensive. The whole south of Israel is now under threat. Just 10 minutes ago — I heard bombings in Gaza – sometimes we aren’t certain if it’s a rocket falling on our side or an Israeli bomb exploding inside Gaza.
“We had 4 ½ months of cease fire which was achieved by dialogue and I think both sides did not hold their side.”
Omer Goldman, a Shministi, an Israeli conscientious objector, told a personal story of being jailed and silenced in Israel for refusing to serve in the IDF and objecting to military conflict. “The authorities took my friend’s political T-shirts. It’s not Democracy. It’s fascism,” she said. Her story can be viewed on the Internet at december18th.org
Dr. Naftali Kaminski, an Israeli physician and associate professor of medicine, pathology, human genetics and computational biology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, quoted Hillel in Hebrew. The rough translation of the verse — “If you don’t want to be attacked, then don’t target civilians.”
Israel’s announcement came a day after Israel and the United States signed a memorandum of understanding in which the United States and its NATO and regional allies pledged to will Israel in efforts to prevent weapons smuggling by terrorists into Gaza.
The memorandum of understanding, signed Friday in Washington by Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, and Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. secretary of state, enhances security cooperation.
Shortly after Olmert finished his announcement, a rocket from Gaza landed in Beersheba, one of more than 20 rocket and mortar attacks on the area Sunday. A rocket fired into Ashdod Saturday night caused power outages in the city. Earlier a rocket struck a synagogue in Tifrah, near Ofakim. The rocket hit during a break in Shabbat services and the synagogue was empty.
Earlier on Saturday, nine soldiers were wounded during two separate incidents in Gaza. One of the incidents in which four soldiers were wounded is being investigated as a friendly-fire incident.
Hamas said Saturday night following the Israel cease-fire announcement that it would continue to fight as long as Israeli troops remain in Gaza. “If the Israeli military continues its existence in the Gaza Strip, that is a wide door for the resistance against the occupation forces,” Hamas representative in Lebanon Osama Hamada said on al-Jazeera television, according to Reuters.
(JTA contributed to this story. Dev Meyers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)