S Fla Israelis, Muslims watch conflict in Middle East escalate
Israel Consul General Chaim Shacham: 'We decided enough is enough'
Published On: Nov 15 2012 05:48:47 PM EST
Updated On: Nov 16 2012 12:49:14 PM EST
As hundreds of rockets are launched in the Middle East by Hamas and Israel, the heaviest violence in the area in four years is sparking concern in South Florida.
"There were several Israelis hurt," said Shacham. "The threat comes from Hamas. When they no longer threaten, we won't take action to defend ourselves."
Israel reported three people were killed, and Palestinians reported 19 deaths. Hamas gave conflicting information as to how many of them were Hamas militants.The airstrikes between the two continued into Friday morning. A visit from Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil had prompted a three-hour truce, but it was broken. Kandil said Egypt will do all it can to make sure a truce is reached.
"I'm very worrisome," said Wilfredo Ruiz with the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "A lot of people have families there."
At least 300 rockets from Gaza have been fired into Israel since "Operation Pillar of Defense" began Wednesday, the Israeli military said. Israel's Iron Dome defense system has intercepted 130, the Israel Defense Forces said. The al-Qassam Brigade, Hamas' military arm, said on its Twitter feed that it had shot 527 projectiles at Israel in that time.
"Why it comes again? Because the conditions...have not changed," said Ruiz. "The avenue they see is the extremist and violent avenue."
"We decided enough is enough. Every county has not just the right, but the responsibility to defend its citizens," said Shacham.
Ruiz said South Florida's Muslim community is praying for a peaceful solution.
"With strong diplomacy, international diplomacy, it is possible," said Ruiz. "It's not true that Muslims and Jews cannot live together in peace, side by side."
According to reports, Israel is preparing for peace by considering a plan to deploy 30,000 troops on the ground.
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Violence in Gaza and Israel escalates despite calls for peace
The death toll has risen to 23 Palestinians as Israeli military continues attacks on the Gaza Strip. Among the dead are at least 6 children and a pregnant woman. Peace activists sympathetic to both sides want officials to find a non-violent end to the conflict.
Rockets fired from Gaza targeted the city of Jerusalem Friday for the first time. The increased offensive by Hamas may pave the way for Israeli forces to unleash a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military has already called up 16,000 reservists. Ori Nir, an Israeli-American spokesperson for Americans for Peace Now said the Israeli state has the right to protect itself.
“The question is, how do you do it and how do you make it sustainable? How do you make both Israel’s deterrence and Israel’s ability to live in some type of arrangement – I’m not talking about long-term peace at the moment, but at least in some kind of security arrangement with its neighbors in Gaza over the long run. If you’re trying to base your relationship with your neighbors only on military power and only on military deterrence, we’ve seen in the past – we’ve seen for many, many years now, much more than a decade – that it’s not sustainable.”
Instead, Nir said the two sides need to work toward a peaceful resolution to their conflicts.
“If Palestinians, particularly Hamas in Gaza, want to better their lots what they ought to do is to engage in diplomatic negotiations with Israel in order to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once and for all from its roots in a comprehensive manner that will address all outstanding issues between Israelis and Palestinians.”
According to Nir, that’s not happening. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have limited access to basic necessities like water and electricity. Tampa Bay area peace activist Bettejo Indelicato has traveled to Palestine on humanitarian missions. She hasn’t been to Gaza, but said people living in the coastal strip don’t even have access to decent medical care.
“The medical facilities in the West Bank are adequate, in Gaza they are not because they can’t get supplies in. Which, to think about what’s happening right now it’s horrifying that the people are coming to the hospital injured and they literally don‘t even have bandages.”
During an interview on WMNF’s Radioactivity this morning, David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee called Hamas a terrorist group and likened the situation in Gaza and parts of Israel to Nazi Germany.
“This is not an issue of asking whether Nazi Germany during the Second World War has enough food or electricity or water, this has to do with being clear about who the aggressor is. Hamas is a jihadist group, belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, is being armed with weapons from Sudan and Iran, it has the goal of annihilating the state of Israel. Again, Israel left Gaza seven years ago, gave people the first chance in their history ever, ever to govern themselves. They opted for Hamas. Hamas is on the U.S. terror list. Again, let’s be clear who we’re talking about and Hamas seeks not to build Gaza, but rather to destroy Israel.”
But Haim Shaham, consul-general of Israel to Florida and Puerto Rico had more sympathy for the plight of Palestinian civilians.
“They are being hijacked and their lives are being made extremely difficult because the Hamas has taken over control of that area. They have very little control over their own destiny and they’re in this car they can’t get out of and it’s being driven off a cliff.”
And activist Indelicato claims the rocket attacks on Israel aren’t acts of terror by Hamas, but rather a necessary response by leadership in a territory bereft of food and water.
“They are trying to defend their population which we say that Israel has the right to defend themselves, so why is the Gazans not allowed to defend themselves when, in fact, Gaza really poses no threat to Israel.”
Leaders on both sides of the conflict responded to the situation Friday. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a press conference Friday that his armed forces are taking action to protect Israeli citizens.
“Rather than build a better future for the residents of Gaza, the Hamas leadership backed by Iran, turned Gaza into a terror stronghold. They fired thousands of rockets at our cities, at our towns, at our civilians, at our children….no government would tolerate a situation where nearly a fifth of its people live under a constant barrage of rockets and missile fire and Israel will not tolerate the situation.”
But Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas equated the attacks on the Gaza Strip to the Jewish state’s continued oppression of Palestinian people. Abbas’s statement during a press conference Friday was translated by Al Jazeera English.
“There is no doubt that this aggression in addition to occupation in the West Bank are all the same old headlines that Israel is turning a blind eye to our rights and our endeavor to have our independent state established. We hope that Israel will understand that security cannot be achieved without peace. If there exists peace, there is security and stability. Without security no one can enjoy peace and without peace no one can enjoy security.
U.N. Chief Ban Ki-Moon has urged Hamas to stop their attacks and Israel to show maximum restraint. But according to Haim Shaham, consul-general of Israel to Florida and Puerto Rico, Israel will only stop bombing Palestine when Palestine stops bombing Israel.
“This is really a no brainer, OK. It’s very simple what Israel wants. Israel wants to protect the lives of its civilians and they are being endangered by a constant flow of rockets that are being fired by Hamas from Gaza into our cities. The rockets stop when the operation stops. The rockets continue, the operation continues and we just have to turn the volume up until the Hamas listens.”
Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil visited Gaza Friday in solidarity with Palestinians. Egypt negotiated a temporary cease fire for his visit, but it didn’t last long. Both sides claimed the other violated the terms of that agreement. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn issued a statement Friday saying, “My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Ashdod and for everyone’s safety.” Tampa and Ashdod, Israel are Sister Cities and Buckhorn visited Israel last year. Peace activists in Tampa are holding a candlelight vigil in solidarity with Palestinians Friday evening at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park from 4:30 p.m. until 6 p.m.