A coalition of local Arab-American and peace-activist groups conducted a Friday afternoon vigil in downtown Youngstown in response to the latest violence in the Middle East.
The event in downtown Youngstown was billed as a “vigil in solidarity with the besieged Palestinian people of Gaza.”
A local Arab spokesman disagreed about who started this latest exchange of rockets.
“Three days ago, Israel attacked a densely populated area of Gaza City, killing innocent people and a leader of Hamas. As retaliation, Hamas lobbed some homemade rockets into Israel. Israel claims it has the right to defend itself, but it is the one who started the current cycle of violence,” said Jabar Elwanni, president of the Arab American Community Center in Liberty.
The answer is peace for everybody in the Middle East and justice for Palestinians who have been living under Israeli occupation on the West Bank since 1967, he said. “Palestinians need to be able to determine their own future in their own country.”
But a spokeswoman for a local Jewish organization said Israel has been acting in self-defense.
“Just since the beginning of this year, more than 800 separate rockets have been launched into Israel from Gaza,” said Bonnie Deutsch Burdman, director of community relations and government affairs for the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation.
“Nobody wants war. Israelis don’t want war, and certainly the American Jewish community wants peace for Israel,” she added.
However, she accused Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza of “flagrantly committing double war crimes.”
The terrorists use Gaza’s civilians as “human shields” and imperil them by placing rocket launchers in civilian Gaza neighborhoods and then intentionally fire the rockets at civilian targets in Israel, she explained.
“If there were not rockets fired from Gaza by the terrorists, then this crisis would not be happening at all,” noted Sam Kooperman, the federation’s executive vice president.
Elwanni talked about the United States’ role in the Middle East.
“We ask the United States to be more fair and more consistent in its support of self-determination for Palestinians. Time and time the United States has supported a two-state solution, but it never gets done. Israel is trying to drag the U.S. into a war with Iran as it did with Iraq,” he said.
Al Adi, owner of Downtown Circle and Middle East Deli, thinks this war may signal a shift of power in the Middle East.
Israel has had the upper hand, and the Gaza people had nothing, he said. This is the first time rockets have been fired into Jerusalem, he added.
It has to stop, Adi said, before it spreads and gets out of hand. The Palestinian issue is at the heart of the problem in the Middle East, he added.
“I think it’s crazy,” said a young Palestinian woman, Lyana Mansour, who came to the U.S. four months ago from Ramallah in the West Bank. “It’s like living in a big prison camp. You live in fear of war and political instability. You need permission to go from city to city. You can’t make plans for the future. You can’t have a normal life. That’s why I left.”
Ramallah is about six miles north of Jerusalem and is considered the de facto administrative capital of the Palestinian National Authority.
Carrying a Palestinian flag, Mansour, 25, said that even though Ramallah was not in the war zone, her family was terrorized by the Israeli military.
She said Israeli soldiers surrounded their home, locked the family in one room, and set up guns in the kitchen and fired into another building owned by her father, killing two Hamas members living there.
“They had lived there five years without trouble. They were political, not militant. I still have nightmares about it,” Mansour said.