The Jewish center here became the focal point for conflicting local views concerning the Mideast.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- In two of the largest local demonstrations concerning world affairs in recent memory, some 500 people gathered inside the Jewish Community Center in a pro-Israel solidarity rally, while at least 100 pickets marched outside to condemn Israeli policies.
With newly appointed Police Chief Robert Bush at the scene, 12 city police officers and seven Mahoning County deputy sheriffs separated the opposing groups and helped pedestrians safely cross Gypsy Lane during the simultaneous events Thursday evening. No disorderly incidents were reported.
With a brisk wind blowing from the west, the pickets outside -- many of them of Palestinian descent and some carrying Palestinian flags -- were confined to a cordoned-off area at the edge of the street in front of the Jewish Community Center. A large Israeli flag was displayed on the front of the building, and the front lawn was filled with pro-Israel signs.
"The Palestinian people are under a brutal, illegal, 35-year military occupation. They have the right to resist," said Ray Nakley of Youngstown, who led the pickets marching outside. Nakley is chairman of the Coalition for Peace in the Middle East and a spokesman for the Arab Community Center of Youngstown.
"We are here to support the Palestinian people who are getting massacred over there," said Maher Ramahi of Boardman, a Palestinian-American who owns a grocery store in Farrell, Pa.
His cousin, Raed Tawel, was killed by Israeli gunfire while taking out his trash four weeks ago in Nablus. "They automatically kill any civilian -- anybody who comes out of the house. When you're under occupation, you cannot do anything. You have no rights at all," he said. "Terrorism is state terrorism, which is Israel's state terrorism."
Ramahi said Israel should withdraw from occupied territories as urged by President Bush and return to the boundaries it had before the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
"We are engaged in a war against terrorism, not against the Palestinian people. We offered to end the occupation, and that proposal was rejected by the Palestinian leadership," said Consul Rachel Feinmesser of the Israeli Consulate in Philadelphia, the featured speaker inside the building. Through negotiations, a Palestinian state could have been established, but "they rejected that notion," she said.
"After 19 months or so, with hundreds of casualties from Palestinian terrorism, we understood that the Palestinian leadership is engaged in terrorist activity and is financing terrorist organizations," she said.
Grateful for support
"American support for Israel is crucial. Israel is the only democracy in that region. America clearly has interests in that region,'' she said. The consul thanked Americans for supporting Israel and said one way Americans can help Israel's morale and economy is by visiting Israel as tourists.
Inside, the "We Stand with Israel'' rally included the launching of a fund-raising campaign. The money raised will pay for such things as services for elderly people, bulletproof vests for those who need them, bulletproof school buses, and "any need in Israel as a result of this ongoing terror," said Bonnie Deutsch Burdman, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.