Youngstown Arab-American community protests U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem
By Jordyn Grzelewski
On the wall of the Arab American Community Center of Greater Youngstown hangs a picture of Jerusalem, flanked by American and Palestinian flags.
It was the significance of that city and the move of the U.S. embassy there Monday that drew members of the local Arab-American community to protest.
“Today, we came here for a peaceful protest to call for a peaceful solution to what’s going on in Palestine at this time, particularly in Gaza,” said Mousa Kassis, noting Israel’s killing of more than 50 Palestinians and injuring more than 1,200 Monday.
The protest drew approximately 30 people, who gathered around a table at the community center on Belgrade Avenue. The event also commemorated the 70th anniversary of what Palestinians call the “Nakba,” the exodus of more than 700,000 Arabs from Israel.
Kassis explained that at that time Palestinians were displaced, some to neighboring Arab countries and others within Israel and occupied Palestine.
“Thousands of the remaining original refugees along with millions of their descendants still live as refugees within Israel, occupied Palestine or other countries throughout the Middle East,” he said. “This ongoing humanitarian crisis is one of the most critical issues to be resolved if peace is every to come to the region.”
Also, the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation noted the anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel 70 years ago. Bonnie Deutsch Burdman, director of community relations/government affairs for the federation, expressed support for the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem is both the historic capital of the Jewish people – the place to which Jews around the world for the past 3,000 years through today have turned their thoughts, yearning and prayers – as well as the modern capital of the state of Israel,” she said. “Israel, like any other nation, has the right to choose its capital.”
She also expressed sadness about the deaths in Gaza and hope for a peaceful resolution.
“The ongoing struggle for a democratic state living in peace, side by side with a Palestinian nation, has not yet come to fruition,” she said. “It is our hope that today’s activities in Israel do not prevent leaders from being able to resolve their differences and bring peace to the region.”
Members of the Arab-American community expressed that hope as well.
“When you lose hope, you lose everything. So hope is always there,” said Sami Bahour of Youngstown, who immigrated here from Palestine in 1957.
Bahour said he wished people in Israel and Palestine could understand the way many Americans live with and among people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, and religions.
Bahour said he lives peacefully here as a Muslim, with his wife, a member of the Maronite Church, and alongside members of other religions.
“We live very happy,” he said.
Kassis, who came here from Palestine in 1977, said he believes Monday’s events put at risk a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
“Trump’s moving the embassy was premature. It will lead to a one-state solution more than a two-state solution,” he said. “One-state solution means democratic – one man, one vote. But it’s in the hands of Israelis. Can they accept that?”
He added: “We’re just hopeful for peace and the stop of excessive use of force by the Israeli government.”