Jewish, Palestinian advocates in Milwaukee worry about safety of friends and family as deadly conflict rages on
Milwaukeeans of Jewish and Palestinian heritage are spending their days in turmoil as they watch violence raging in the Middle East, in many cases endangering family and friends.
Both groups speak of the situation with deep emotion and, at times, strong rhetoric. The one bit of common ground: concern for people caught in the worst violence in the area since 2014.
The latest round of fighting began after weeks of rising tension over the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families from east Jerusalem by Jewish settlers. It culminated with clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a flashpoint site sacred to Jews and Muslims.
After controversial Israeli police tactics at the compound, the Palestinian group Hamas began firing rockets from the Gaza Strip. That triggered Israeli retaliation, with the intention of weakening Hamas, which Israelis and the U.S. consider a terrorist organization.
In 10 days of fighting, Israel has launched hundreds of airstrikes that it says have targeted the infrastructure of Hamas. At the same time, Hamas and other militant groups embedded in residential areas have fired more than 3,700 rockets at Israeli cities, with hundreds falling short and most of the rest intercepted or landing in open areas.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Wednesday to press ahead with its offensive in Gaza, pushing back against calls from the United States to wind down the operation.
Miryam Rosenzweig, president of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, said that while she and others with progressive ideals are "feeling challenged to describe and defend Israel," they are focused on standing in solidarity with the Israeli people.
She said the federation is continuing to work to educate the community about the situation abroad.
"It is about understanding that this is complicated, that we all have feelings, but the idea that Israel has a right to exist is not something that we feel complicated about," Rosenzweig said.
'It's really close to home'
For those with Palestinian heritage, two rallies in Milwaukee over the last week attempted to draw attention to the long-running struggle over land and resources with Israel. Hundreds of supporters attended, many carrying signs that read "End the occupation" and chanting "Free Palestine."
"We all won’t stay silent while innocent people are being murdered," Ismail said.
Halah Ahmad, who attended a protest Tuesday on Lincoln Memorial Drive and is an analyst for the Palestinian think tank Al-Shabaka, said her friends have lost multiple family members in the violence.
At least 227 Palestinians have been killed, including 64 children and 38 women, with 1,620 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not break the numbers down into fighters and civilians. Hamas and Islamic Jihad say at least 20 of their fighters have been killed, while Israel says the number is at least 130. Some 58,000 Palestinians have fled their homes.
"It's really close to home for a lot of people," Ahmad said. "Even though we're all the way across the ocean, we're feeling it, we're feeling the stress and anxiety in our lives, because we're a part of the diaspora."