At LOVE Park, advocates for Israel, Palestine face off

Posted: July 25, 2014

W EARING A white shirt that said, "End terrorism, support Israel," Rachel Rosenberg, 24, of Spring Garden, said she wanted to educate people that Hamas is a terrorist group responsible for most of the civilian deaths in Gaza.

Across the street, Alex Ibrahim, 26, a Palestinian Muslim who lives in North Philadelphia, said he wanted the bombings to stop - especially from Israelis, who he said are targeting civilians and children.

At a rally featuring speakers ranging from local religious leaders to politicians, several hundred pro-Israel supporters gathered in LOVE Park yesterday to show solidarity for the country and its right to defend itself. Across 15th Street, a vastly outnumbered group of pro-Palestine activists converged near the Municipal Services Building, with signs that said "Free Palestine" and "1-2-3-4, occupation no more."

"Do not forget this day, and stand with Israel every day," Naomi Adler, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, told a cheering pro-Israel crowd in LOVE Park as the rally began.

The federation organized the main rally, which was co-sponsored by more than 80 other organizations including Philadelphia-area and South Jersey synagogues and other Jewish groups. Supporters started gathering about 4 p.m., and the crowd began to thin out after 6 p.m. when the speakers wrapped up.

Fighting broke out July 8 in Gaza, and yesterday Israeli troops battled Hamas militants as Secretary of State John Kerry reported progress in efforts to broker a truce in a war that as of yesterday had killed more than 680 Palestinians and 31 Israelis.

Israel has insisted it must substantially curb the military capabilities of the Islamic militant group Hamas - a position that appears to have gained support within the U.S. administration - while Hamas has demanded the lifting of a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade on the impoverished coastal territory it has ruled since 2007.

Kerry flew into Tel Aviv to help broker a cease-fire despite a Federal Aviation Administration ban following a Hamas rocket that hit near the airport the day before.

In Jerusalem, Kerry said negotiations toward a cease-fire were making some progress. He met for a second time this week with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Also in Jerusalem, 30,000 people attended the funeral of Max Steinberg, 24, of Southern California. Steinberg, serving in the Israeli military, was killed in an attack on an armored personnel carrier on Sunday.

Israel says it launched the Gaza operation to halt Hamas rocket fire into Israel - more than 2,100 have been fired since the conflict erupted - and to destroy a network of cross-border tunnels, some of which have been used to stage attacks.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights warned both sides against targeting civilians and said war crimes may have been committed.

In Philly, the rhetoric from both sides at the rallies was intense, but most appeared to express their views peacefully. Philadelphia police reported one arrest for assault.

On the pro-Israel side gathered in LOVE Park, some waved giant Israeli flags and wore the country's colors: blue and white. Signs said: "America's 9/11 = Israel's 24/7" and "What if terrorists targeted your city with rockets . . . all year long?"

"Even though we're far away, thousands of miles, our hearts are there," said Lisa Stein, 44, a Merion homemaker who with her son Steven was among 200 members of Lower Merion Synagogue at LOVE Park. "And if we could fight with them, we would."

Wearing a solid-blue shirt and a Star of David necklace, Carolyn Weinstein said she had come to the rally to show that support for Israel is "alive and real," when the country is often portrayed in the media as a "demon." Weinstein, 23, a barista who lives in West Philadelphia, noted that the rally was happening in "such a public place."

"I think it's really important that people see that this isn't an underground cause," Weinstein said. "This is very much real. And hundreds, if not thousands, of people support this."

Meanwhile, on the pro-Palestinian side of the street, supporters waved giant Palestinian flags and wore black to mourn those killed in the fighting. Some held signs that said: "We stand with Gaza" and "End Israeli Apartheid."

"The people of Gaza have nothing compared to what Israel has," said Inara Siyam, 22, a Palestinian living in Northeast Philadelphia. "They keep calling it a war. This is not a war. This is a massacre."

At one point, 10 children stood in white shirts spotted with fake blood and held pillows made to look like wrapped bodies. Around their necks, several wore signs that read: "Stop killing children in Gaza." Many supporters seemed to be in their late teens or early 20s, and several were not Palestinian.

That was the case for Paul Prescod, 23, of North Philadelphia, who's Jewish.

He said he could not understand how people could support Israel given the disproportionate casualty rates in the fighting and what he called the targeting of civilian places in Gaza.

"I don't think being Jewish is an excuse for like, 'Oh, you have to support Israel,' " said Prescod, a graduate student in education at Temple University. "Abuse of human rights is abuse of human rights, no matter what."

- The Associated Press

contributed to this report


On Twitter: @dylan_segelbaum

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