Protesters call for NJ senators to speak out on violence in Gaza

Around noon Wednesday, The Associated Press reported that Egyptian mediators have negotiated a cease-fire between the Palestinians in Gaza and the Israeli government.

Ironically, that came at the same time as a pro-Palestinian protest in Newark. Gateway One houses Sens. Menendez and Booker’s state offices. On the street below, about two dozen demonstrators called on both senators to condemn Israel’s recent behavior toward Gaza.

“We’re calling on them to speak out. When atrocities happen anywhere in the United States, or anywhere around the world, they’re quick to speak out. But they’ve been absolutely silent about these terrible things going on that Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross have all said are serious human rights concerns,” said Stephen Shalom from Jewish Voice for Peace.

A mixture of Jewish and Muslim groups took part in Wednesday’s protest.

“We speak especially as Jews. We feel this is being done in our name, it’s not for us. It is not in our name. We don’t agree with it, we condemn it, and we want our senators to speak out, too,” said Bella August from Jewish Voice for Peace.

Israel and its supporters blame the Palestinians for inciting violence over the past three to four weeks. It’s the worst warring between the two sides since 2014. One hundred ten Palestinians have been killed, but no Israelis.

Wednesday’s protesters say it all goes back to the Israeli takeover of the Palestinians’ lands.

“The people of Gaza are responding to the years of atrocities that have been committed against them. These were peaceful demonstrations that were going on. And I believe the whole world has now waken up to see that they were innocent people who were massacred simply because of being demonstrators,” said Abdul Mubarak-Rowe, a member of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in New Jersey.

Sens. Menendez and Booker’s staffers said they met with some of the demonstrators, and that the senators are open to dialogue.

Mark Levenson is an ardent Israel supporter. He blames the Palestinians.

“These are not people holding flowers and holding signs. They were burning tires. They were flying kites that they put on fire that burned Israeli fields. They were shooting with guns, grenades. Their goal was to breach Israel’s border, to kill Israelis, to kidnap Israelis, to destroy infrastructure, to cause as much havoc as is humanly possible,” said Levenson, the former president for the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations.

Israel, he said, was just defending itself.

“The U.S. would do the same, Canada would do the same, any country would do the same. You have to protect your border,” said Levenson.

A small protest on a Newark street corner over a situation half a world away can seem totally insignificant, but we are all citizens of the world, and sometimes some of us just feel the need to speak out.

And now, a Gaza-Israel ceasefire has been announced, and hope for a lasting peace can return.