Despite the crowd’s cries for peace, the pro-Israel rally in Copley Square Wednesday night was anything but peaceful.
Around 1,500 protesters gathered in support of Israel’s attack on Gaza, while about 50 pro-Palestine advocates counter-protested. Boston Police Department officers were forced to separate the two groups at the end of the rally as tension escalated.
‘Activists share the sidewalk with racists,’ Dexter Van Zile, Christian Outreach director and member of the Executive Committee for Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East said in a speech. ‘Hamas’ clearly stated goal is to destruct the Jewish state. We must fight for the sanctity of our citizens.”
When the speeches ended, the pro-Israel protesters, sporting red hats to symbolize the sirens that sound in response to Hamas-sanctioned rocket attacks, confronted the counter-protest group. The pro-Palestinian side chanted, ‘Hamas wants human rights, Israel wants violence,’ while the pro-Israeli group countered with, ‘Israel wants peace, Hamas wants genocide.’
‘There will be peace in the Middle East when Hamas decides they love their children more than they hate Jews,’ protestor Miriam Kosowsky said, repeating a quote she said is frequently cited with regard to the civilian deaths in Gaza. ‘Israel must respond. We left Gaza, and Hamas has continuously targeted our civilians. Why do they hide their rockets behind schools?’
Boston University College of Geberal Studies sophomore Adam Korn said the time he spent in Israel, Jordan and Lebanon opened his eyes to the dangers Israelis encounter every day.
‘It’s scariest when the sirens go off,’ Korn, liaison to the American Israel Political Affairs Committee, said. ‘You have so little time.’
Since Dec. 27, Hamas has fired 729 rockets at Israel, according to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The death toll has reached over 1,000 Palestinian casualties and 13 Israeli casualties, according to the latest Associated Press information at press time.
‘One seventh of Israel’s population is in danger of attacks every day,’ Korn said. ‘It’s a tragedy whenever civilians have to die, but Israel should have the right to protect itself.’
Other attendees echoed Korn’s sentiments. Jill Yanofsky, a Syracuse University alumna, returned from her Birthright trip to Israel a few days ago, and said she thinks Israel ‘simply wants peace.’
‘My heart is with Israel,’ she said. ‘Hamas has to stop, and U.S. government support is necessary.’
Heiam Al-Sawalhi, a Palestinian with family members in Gaza, said she thinks the attacks on Gaza need to stop as well.
‘I’m surprised this is allowed to go on,’ she said. ‘It is war against humanity, against women and children. It’s just the 18th [19th] day and over 1,000 have died.’
Israeli officials need to take into consideration what the attacks are doing to the children’s psyches, Alsawalhi said.
‘Ask yourself, ‘what will happen to the young who survive the attacks?” she said. ‘Will they grow up normal, or will they be fanatical? There can be no hope for peace when this goes on.’
Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston’s Board of Governance member Ben Siegel delivered a speech recommending that everyone involved talk to family, friends and even counter-protesters about Israel.
‘Tell them that people have 15 seconds to hide,’ he said. ‘Tell them that Qassam rockets are targeting civilians every day. Tell them Israel has had enough with Hamas playing Russian roulette with Israeli lives.’
While a military conflict would undoubtedly leave Israel the victor, Israel is less than victorious in the war of public opinion, Siegal said.
‘We are losing the war of the media and information every day,’ he said. ‘We need to get our message out.’
The Jewish Community Relations Council hosted a rally in support of Israel in Chestnut Hill on Jan. 8. According to the Boston Globe, 20 Palestine supporters demonstrated at the Park Plaza Israeli Consulate the same day, which led to four arrests.