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When it comes to the Gaza Strip, Cincinnati residents have a lot to say about peace and conflict

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Posted at 9:00 AM, Aug 30, 2014
and last updated 2017-04-12 08:32:09-04

In the 50 days since hostilities broke out in the Gaza Strip, rallies supporting both Israel and Palestine have taken place throughout the nation--and Cincinnati is no exception. Most people agree, peace is paramount.

The first week of August, Palestinian supporters gathered in and around Fountain Square, chanting phrases such as “O-H-I-O! The occupation has got to go” and “Free, Free Palestine.”

“Zionism is different than Judaism, what everyone is opposing here is Zionism,” said Ryan Green.

Ashley Green and Ryan Green at the Fountain Square rally. (Photo by N. Daoud)

“I think it's an attack. It's been an attack for so many years, I mean they took our land like so many years ago and they are just continuing to overpower Palestinians,” said Noal Maghathe, about the Israeli government. “I just think that's awful and they shouldn't be doing that.”

Others were motivated to come out for different reasons.

“I'm here not because I'm Palestinian. I'm human and they're human too. And what's happening is the worst thing that I've ever heard of in my entire life to know people that go through this,” said Kelsey Sunderhaus. “So I take a stand and fight for it and hopefully we can make a difference.”

“The goal should be for people to live in harmony, raise their children in peace, and pursue a better life,” Samya Johnson, of Call of Love Ministries. “We believe that only God who is the source of true love that can work in our hearts so that we can love our neighbor (who we might consider an enemy) just as we love ourselves. We cannot love our neighbor, if we cannot forgive them for what they have done to us.”

After 50 days of bitter fighting: 

  • more than 2,100 Palestinians had been killed, including hundreds of civilians
  • 71 people on the Israeli side, including six civilians were killed

On Aug. 29, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas blamed Hamas for extending fighting with Israel in the Gaza Strip, casting doubt on the future of the Palestinian unity government that the Islamic militant group backs, while Israel's premier said the end of the war could mark resumption of peace talks with Abbas.

Benjamin Netanyahu stressed that it is still early to tell "if the new reality" would allow a political process to resume but said he is examining the possibility. Associated Press

One participant at the Fountain Square rally said she has family in Gaza and discovered that her cousins, who were trying to escape, were bombed and killed on July 20.

“It's definitely a genocide,” Rolla Asad said. “It's pretty unfair because the media is talking about Hamas and whatnot, but really compared to what the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are doing, that's nothing. The Israelis are bombing nonstop.”

The view from the other side of the conflict is very different.

“It was very disturbing for us in the Jewish community to hear that those chants were being said at a rally that was supposedly a peace rally, because that by no means is a call for peace,” said Sarah Weiss, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Cincinnati.

Several Egyptian mediated cease-fire attempts during the conflict have failed. Hamas eventually accepted almost the same truce offered at the beginning.

"It was possible for us to avoid all of that, 2,000 martyrs, 10,000 injured, 50,000 houses (destroyed)," Abbas told Palestine TV in remarks broadcast Friday. He said Hamas had insisted on discussing demands first before ending the war, which only served to prolong the violence needlessly.

The war began after three Israeli teens were killed in the West Bank by Hamas operatives in June, prompting Israel to arrest hundreds of Hamas members there. Rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli cities then escalated and Israel launched a massive air and later ground campaign in retaliation. Fighting lasted almost two months. Associated Press

“I certainly hope for peace for everyone in that region and support gathering and praying and hoping for Palestinians and for Israelis as well,” Weiss said.

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Bob Turansky, who lived through Vietnam and the Six-Day War, worked on a kibbutz when he was 17 and remembers a time when he encountered a mother with a tattoo on her arm from a concentration camp.

“She had lost seven brothers and sisters, her parents, her grandparents, her aunts, and her uncles. The Holocaust," Turansky said. "We, of all people, ought to know: You do not do this. It doesn't matter Jews or Muslims, does it? That's why I'm here and there are Jews all across the country who are appalled, absolutely appalled, and they need to speak out and they have.”

Turanksy's feelings are not unique among Jews.

“As someone put it in a book titled, The Non-Jewish Jew, it is the struggle for justice and equality for all people. I'm not religious,” said Turansky. “That's the Jewish message I wish to convey for all people.”

MORE:About "The Non-Jewish Jew," by Isaac  Deutscher (1958)

But there are Jews and others who believe that Israel has the right to defend itself.

“Hamas is a terrorist organization that is not serving the Palestinian people, that is not building roads and schools, and info structure as what's seeing in this conflict,” Weiss said. “They're using material instead to build terror tunnels to infiltrate Israel.”

Other say Hamas is protecting the people of Gaza.

“I don't think Hamas is a terrorist group,” Asad said. “Gaza has no defense at all, and if they are shooting a small bomb compared to like thousands of bombs, I mean who's the terrorist here?”

Aside from the passionate feelings on both sides of the conflict, there is a shared hope.

“Certainly I think and the majority of us in the American Jewish community as well as--by the way--Israelis and Palestinians themselves, hope for a two-state solution and that long term two-state solution is not going to come through violence,” Weiss said. “It's going to come through negotiation and leaders being willing to sit down and negotiate the real challenges and the real barriers that individuals are facing in that region. I certainly hope in our lifetime to see a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel.”

On Aug. 26, the two sides agreed to an open-ended truce. The cease-fire brought an immediate end to the fighting but left key issues unresolved. Hamas immediately declared victory, even though it has very little to show for the war.

While Israel agreed to loosen a long-standing blockade to allow humanitarian aid and reconstruction materials into Gaza, many of the border restrictions will remain in place. Hamas, meanwhile, rejected Israel's demands that it disarm.

These deeper matters are to be addressed in indirect talks in Egypt next month. Associated Press