By Camille Russell
Beginning on July 8, Israel initiated massive airstrikes on Gaza that brought protestors to the corner of Shaw and Blackstone avenues twice in the week of July 13. Peace Fresno held a demonstration on July 13 to condemn the airstrikes that had killed and injured hundreds of Palestinians in the first four days of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge. Almost half of those killed were women and children. Hundreds of Palestinian homes in Gaza had been destroyed by Israeli airstrikes.
Teresa Castillo, president of Peace Fresno, said, “This attack cannot be justified! It is a criminal slaughter. Israel controls all goods and people entering and exiting Gaza by land, sea and air. Gaza suffers from poverty, unemployment, overcrowding and restricted water supply. While Israel’s Prime Minister portrays his country as the victim, the truth is that Israel has the fourth most powerful military in the world; it receives $8.5 million a day from the U.S.! Palestine gets zero dollars in military support from the U.S.
“As U.S. citizens, we have a responsibility to condemn these attacks on the people in Gaza. An arms embargo is the only action which will make Israel stop. We must demand that our elected representative[s] end all military aid to Israel immediately and educate others in this community.”
On July 18, about 250 people came out for Stop the Massacre in Gaza, a protest and rally that was organized on Facebook by three young Palestinian Americans and was supported by people with ties to Palestine, Muslims and others in the peace and justice community, including members of Peace Fresno and the Fresno Brown Berets. A majority of the demonstrators were young adults and families with children. The energy was high.
Organizer Ayah Ayesh said, “I know the hardships that people face there every day. It’s my home. Children are dying! Israel needs to stop targeting civilians and children. I’m here to say no to the killing and to bring this issue to the people of Fresno.”
“We have nothing against the Jews!” said organizer Mohammed Ayesh. “They are our cousins and neighbors. It’s the government of Israel that is doing this. I was back home last summer for four weeks. I drove [from my village which is in the West Bank] every day to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Muslims, Jews and Christians are living amongst each other and respecting each other.”
Another person in attendance said, “On Friday [July 18], I saw the Fresno community stand up and take action against Israeli brutality. I saw people from different backgrounds stand up and be a voice for the voiceless. Over 250 people came out to say enough is enough. The U.S. needs to stop supporting Israel, a terrorist state.”
That same day, there was more bad news from Gaza. Israel’s military began a ground invasion. Just two days later, on July 20, the most deadly attack to date took place in Shujaiya, a neighborhood of Gaza City, where Israeli forces battled with Hamas militants.
By July 21, Gaza’s list of the dead crossed 550 and was climbing, according to figures from the health ministry in Gaza. The United Nations says the vast majority are civilians; many are children. Israel’s casualty toll was much lower. Confirmation that 13 soldiers were killed in the fight caused grief in Israel where everyone serves in the army. No end is in sight!
News stories in the United States overwhelmingly report current events from Israel’s point of view by giving voice to its leaders and allowing them to portray the Palestinians as terrorists and a threat to the people of Israel. The Palestinian side of the story is rarely told by Palestinians or their leaders. As a result, most American people are uninformed and believe what Israel’s leaders say.
The conflict between the government of Israel and indigenous people within its borders is a wound that hasn’t healed in more than 60 years and is festering again. The conflict has its roots in the Balfour Declaration at the end of World War I to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine. That decision was imposed on the region by Britain and France; it started the migration of Jews from Europe and other countries to Palestine.
After the end of World War II, the modern state of Israel was created with full support from the United States, Britain and France, further increasing the migration of Jews. The people (Palestinians) living on the land that became Israel suffered; hundreds of thousands were forced to leave their ancestral land. It’s not surprising that they resisted and continue to resist.
Thanks to the Internet, the reporting by Dennis Bernstein of Flashpoints and others on KPFA (broadcast locally on KFCF 88.1 FM), and to organizations working for peace and justice, there is much information available that reflects the Palestinian perspective in real time and historically. With videos, books and some opportunities to hear from people familiar with Israel/Palestine, people can educate themselves.
Camille Russell is a Peace Fresno board member, a member of the Community Alliance board and a retired elementary teacher. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.