SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — Supporters of Israel and Palestine gathered in cities across the United States on Sunday as the world watched in shock and horror as a conflict in the Middle East killed hundreds and injured thousands.
Counter-demonstrators clashed near the United Nations complex in New York City after a large group of Palestinian supporters gathered in Times Square. Meanwhile, Palestinian Americans protested outside Israeli embassies in Atlanta and Chicago. The incursion sent shockwaves through many Jewish communities and organizations – drawing widespread condemnation – and coincided with celebrations of Simchat Torah, a major Jewish holiday.
In San Francisco, the Jewish community gathers at Congregation Sherid Israel, one of the oldest synagogues in the United States. Some students from Israel’s Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, 25 miles from Gaza, were visiting San Francisco for a week as part of a delegation from the Hillel organization.
They are eager to return home and do what they can to help. Yuval Appleboim, 26, told USA TODAY that his family lives less than 20 miles from Gaza.
“My sister and my nephews are in a bunker right now. Sometimes they get power cuts. My uncle had rocket land two houses away,” Appleboim said. “Being so far away from your friends is so hard at this time. I have a friend who took her 9-year-old daughter to a stock exchange.”
Appleboim, a reservist in the Israeli army, said his unit had been called into action and wanted to return as soon as possible to help.
“I’m pro-Palestinian, many Israelis want a better future with the Palestinian people, they want the people,” Appleboim added. “But this is a tragedy: the terrorist organization that attacks Israel not only kills thousands of Israelis, but also causes the death of many Palestinians. They don’t care about their own lives.”
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‘It’s Time Not to Be Alone’
Yael Shafrir, 28, shared the same sentiments during the meeting in San Francisco. Although attending Sunday’s meeting was difficult, Shafrir said the community felt the support of the world.
“(Coming to the temple today) was difficult, but for us it’s a moment to be alone, and we feel like the community around the world is embracing us and supporting us,” Shafrir said. “We really need that.”
Shafrir noted the complexity of the conflict, identifying people caught in the crosshairs.
“We don’t want to fight against the Palestinians. Our intention is not to harm anyone, anyone living in the Gaza Strip,” Shafrir said. “At the end of the day they are fighting a terrorist organization, not people. The army is working hard to ensure that innocent people are not harmed.
Palestinians ‘capable of fighting back’
Hatem Abudayyeh, co-founder and national president of the US Palestinian Community Network (USPCN), said his organization was concerned about the death toll and injuries but noted that people were “inspired by a unified Palestinian resistance.”
USPCN, according to Abudaye, is a community-based organization that helps strengthen the grassroots in Palestinian and Arab communities across the United States. Abudayyeh said in an email to USA TODAY that there is a “rich” history of resistance among Palestinians and that the attacks are not surprising.
“Our people are still capable of fighting and protecting their homes and land, which makes us want to organize even harder to support them from the ‘belly of the beast,'” Abudayye said.
Abudayyeh, based in Chicago, coordinated the USPCN with all its chapters and added resources to organize their communities. He said thousands of people gathered on Sunday to demonstrate outside Israeli embassies, including 2,000 in Chicago and 1,000 in San Francisco.
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‘Liberation is in danger’
In front of the San Francisco Israeli Consulate on Sunday afternoon, pro-Israel demonstrators and Palestinian supporters chanted slogans, waved flags and signs, and shouted at each other, flanked by a line of police officers wearing helmets and carrying batons.
While one group chanted “freedom, freedom, free Palestine,” another responded with “shame, shame” the day after the massacre by Hamas on Israeli soil.
Rami Abdelkarim, a 23-year-old American-born Palestinian with extended family in the homeland, denounced what he called Israeli occupation and said the Hamas offensive was an extension of decades of resistance, fueled by an increase in Israeli settlements.
Asked if he was worried about Israeli retaliation, Abdel Karim, an organizer of the Palestinian youth movement, said: “Of course. Israel is the largest recipient of US military funding.”
Yassin Ayish, a 29-year-old Bay Area resident draped in a Palestinian flag, said he attended the rally to advocate for an end to the occupation and for Palestinians to have the same human rights as Israelis. Born in California, he visited relatives in the West Bank in 2019, when there were no major problems, but the city where his family lives is under military occupation of Jenin, where there are checkpoints and access to water and electricity is difficult. Some areas.
“The people there don’t have real medical facilities, they don’t have what they need in terms of food, the children don’t have any education because of apartheid,” Ayesh said. “They have every right, just like every human being.”
Aish has not claimed any casualties, but accounts of the attack need context.
“We must first look at what happened before the attack. It is a history of 45 years of mistreatment of people. … That’s what led to the attacks and the protests.”
Lack of faith
Shai Elnekau, 49, an Israeli-Australian who attended Sunday’s temple rally, worried for loved ones. Elnekave said it’s a small country and most people know someone who has been affected.
“I think they have crossed a line from which it will be very difficult to go back. This is just the beginning, now there is going to be a huge wave of Israeli counterattack and retaliation, and there is a war.
“I would like us to find some kind of agreement that would resolve this — with American intervention, with global intervention. I would. But unfortunately, I’m not optimistic because there are extremists on both sides, it’s important to note that.”
Contributed by: Associated Press