By Sean Barron
The route approximated the length of Gaza, an organizer said.
YOUNGSTOWN — When it comes to showing solidarity toward those who are suffering or have lost their lives during the Israeli military offensive in Gaza, Najah Ahmed and Fadwa Aburahma were more than willing to go the extra mile.
Or 14 miles, to be more precise.
“I hope we will encourage someone to do something about the killing and bombing,” Ahmed said, referring to one reason she decided to take part in Sunday’s Death March, in which participants walked about 14 miles from downtown Youngstown to Warren.
Ahmed, of Youngstown, who has relatives in the West Bank, said seeing disturbing images on the news, such as medical personnel being unable to reach injured people near demolished homes, prompted her to join the walk.
Much of the media is biased in favor of Israel, and Hamas is trying to defend land that was stolen from the Palestinians, said Aburahma, of Youngstown. Many people in Gaza are without food, electricity and other essential needs, she continued.
“I love the Palestinians; they’re my family,” Aburahma added.
The march was set up to call attention to and honor the several hundred lives lost in eight days of Israeli air and ground strikes in Gaza, and to protest what marchers say is unjustified Israeli aggression against Palestinians and others living in the narrow region.
On Sunday, ground troops in tanks surrounded Gaza City as part of a new offensive. At least 31 civilians were killed in the latest onslaught, according to Gaza officials.
Overcast skies seemed to reflect the mood of the dozen people who gathered at the Thomas D. Lambros Federal Building and Courthouse, 125 Market St., and walked along U.S. Route 422 to Warren. Several teenagers and older people joined the march en route before it ended roughly five hours later at the Warren office of U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, 197 W. Market St.
Along the way, several marchers carried American and Palestinian flags as well as signs that read “Pray for Gaza.” Others tied roughly 500 black ribbons to trees and utility poles; the ribbons represented the approximate number of those killed in Gaza.
One of the people handling the ribbons was Janan Jadallah-Niser of Howland, who lived for a while in the West Bank.
For her, the march was about neither taking sides in the conflict nor advocating on behalf of any religion. Instead, it’s important to “stand up for humanity,” and recognize that most of those killed so far are citizens, not extremists, she continued, adding that Hamas was elected as the government of Gaza in 2007.
“Governments on both sides are killing innocent people,” said Jadallah-Niser, who also has family in the West Bank. “I don’t support war, but I have an understanding of these people’s struggles.”
Nevertheless, Israel is to blame for turning Gaza “into a massive crime scene,” said the Rev. Werner Lange, a peace activist and one of the march’s organizers.
“This is a moral outrage and a crime against humanity,” the Rev. Mr. Lange said. “We can’t take this.”
Nevertheless, Hamas broke a six-month truce with Israel by firing about 80 rockets and mortar into Israel last month, knowing that Israel would retaliate, as would any country being attacked, said Bruce Lev, a member of the Jewish Community Relations Council.
“Someone in the Hamas government knew by not extending the truce and by increasing the use of mortars and rockets ... they would [eventually] get a response” and endanger the lives of many Palestinians, he said.
Lev called Hamas “a terrorist organization,” saying it continues to refuse to recognize the state of Israel.
Lev added that he deeply sympathizes with Palestinian children and other innocent victims, and supports the marchers’ right to express their opinions.
Sunday’s Valley protest began at the courthouse to symbolize what Mr. Lange said is the misuse of U.S. dollars to support Israel. It stopped at Ryan’s office because the 17th District Democrat needs to be more vocal about Israeli aggression, he added.
Even though Israeli officials have said the operation is intended to quell mortar fire and military rockets that are able to reach farther into Israel, that doesn’t justify the “mass slaughter” of defenseless Palestinians, he said. In addition, he added, other innocent people are starving and cut off from the outside world.
Mr. Lange said the 14-mile route for the march was chosen because that’s the approximate length of Gaza.
The region also is about 3 miles wide, making it one of the most densely populated places in the world. With that many people living in such a condensed area, it’s impossible to bomb selected sites without also causing numerous unintended casualties, he explained.
Mr. Lange called the walk “very exhilarating,” saying many motorists honked in support of the marchers’ efforts.
“People know instinctively that [the bombings in Gaza] is wrong and shouldn’t have happened,” he said.
Participants also left about 500 ribbons next to Ryan’s office to send a message that they want him to speak out “against the slaughter,” Mr. Lange added.