Dueling protests mark conflict in Mideast

These young protesters from Northeast Philly recently graduated high school and decided to show their support for Israel on Wednesday, July 23, 2014. C.F. Sanchez / Staff Photographer
These young protesters from Northeast Philly recently graduated high school and decided to show their support for Israel on Wednesday, July 23, 2014. C.F. Sanchez / Staff Photographer
Posted: July 25, 2014

Standing in the roiling thick of Wednesday's pro-Israel rally in Center City, Nancy Manno held a sign she thought said it all.

Hand-drawn, it depicted a missile about to strike the Liberty Bell.

"Most Americans don't put themselves in the shoes of most Israelis," said the Linwood, N.J., resident. "There's not one American who would tolerate the [Hamas] missiles that Israel has had to endure."

Another poster said it writ small: "More hummus, less Hamas."

Two weeks into the latest surge of Palestinian missile fire on Israel, and Israel's bombardment and military invasion of the Gaza Strip, more than 650 Palestinians and almost three dozen Israelis are dead.

Infrastructure is a casualty, too. Gaza utilities and apartment buildings have been smashed, along with the tunnels used to infiltrate Israel. A missile strike near Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport caused U.S. carriers to cancel flights to the country for now. The State Department has advised against nonessential travel to Israel.

Angry, saddened, and resolved, an estimated one thousand demonstrators flooded John F. Kennedy Plaza on Wednesday, pledging to "Stand by Israel." The event was organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia with the cooperation of Israel's consulate in Philadelphia and dozens of local Jewish groups.

"It's very upsetting," Naomi Adler, the federation's chief executive officer, said in an interview. "It's not about how many people are dead. It's about the fact that Israel is getting shot at every day. If it wasn't for the Iron Dome [missile defense system], you would be seeing very different casualty numbers."

The rally, she said, was designed "to show different people and groups . . . voting with their feet . . . solidly behind Israel." Speakers included elected officials, clergy, and a foreign policy professor.

"Israel, since its inception, has faced an existential threat to survival by people who want to destroy it. Often that gets lost in all of this," said State Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery), awaiting his turn at the lectern. "No country would tolerate this. Only Israel is asked to tolerate it. And that's just wrong."

Across 15th Street outside the Municipal Services Building, at least 250 pro-Palestinian demonstrators held signs too: "Stop the massacre in Gaza," read one. Another said, "Blame occupation, not Palestine."

Taleb Zaqzoug, an organizer of the pro-Palestinian rally, said demonstrators wanted to "show our indignation at what Israel is doing in Gaza."

Twenty-six miles long and seven miles wide at its widest, the Gaza Strip is home to 1.8 million Palestinians.

Zaqzoug is originally from Hebron, in the West Bank, and came to the United States 10 years ago. He now lives in Northeast Philadelphia and sells furniture.

The Israeli air strikes, he said, "punish all Palestinians, not just Hamas."

As emotions flared, police cleared everyone out of LOVE Park. One man was arrested for simple assault, police said. The crowds dispersed without further incident.


mmatza@phillynews.com

215-854-2541 @MichaelMatza1

Inquirer staff writer Robert Moran contributed to this article.

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