Pro-Israeli Protesters in Atlanta Give Their Side of the Story (UPDATE 1)
With additional reporting by Matthew Charles Cardinale
(APN) ATLANTA — Over a thousand pro-Israeli protesters held a demonstration on Wednesday, July 23, 2014, at the Selig Center at 1440 Spring Street. The Selig Center is an event space, museum, and office space for the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.
This rally was called, “Atlanta Stands with Israel,” and was sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta along with many other sponsors. Similar rallies were held across the country on the same day.
Many pro-Palestinian rallies have been held in Atlanta and other U.S. cities due to the recent conflict in the Gaza Strip. APN has covered those rallies and gotten the side of the pro-Palestianian protesters as well as Jewish peace activists:
Pro-Palestinian activists have claimed that Israelis have been using the conflict as a pretext to a land grab, pointing to maps showing how the Israelis have expanded their settlements by taking over Palestinian land over the course of several decades.
APN ventured to get both sides of the story, and to get each side to respond to the points made by the other.
Speakers in support of the pro-Israeli rally include Attorney General Sam Olens; Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia, State Sen. Jason Carter (D-Decatur); Mayor of Atlanta Kasim Reed; and former CEO of DeKalb County Liane Levetan.
“Over the course of the last nine years, ever since Israel withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip in 2005, more than 13,000 rockets and mortars have been indiscriminately fired at Israel’s towns and cities… at the moment 75% of Israelis – 6 million Jews, Christians, Muslims, and many others are being forced into bomb shelters,” the Jewish Federation said in a Fact Sheet distributed to supporters.
“The ground operation could’ve been averted had Hamas agreed to the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire. Since Monday, July 7 Hamas has indiscriminately fired more than 2,000 rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israeli territory targeting cities as far north as Tel Aviv,” the Federation said.
“Hamas rejected this proposal and intensified its attack on Israeli civilians launching about 50 rockets while Israel abided to the truce. Israel is doing everything possible to minimize civilian casualties including notifying civilians by leaflets, phone calls, and text messages to vacate targeted areas. Hamas meanwhile instructs its citizens to ignore these calls or sometimes prevents them from leaving,” the Jewish Federation stated.
“It is important to remember that the only long-term solution to this conflict is a negotiated two state solution that will allow Israel to live side-by-side in peace and security alongside an independent nation state of Palestine. Both peoples deserve peace and normality, but neither of these will be possible until Hamas halts its attacks,” the Jewish Federation said.
During the rally, Opher Aviran, Consul General of Israel, spoke saying, “Israel is heartbroken over the deaths of innocent Palestinians. Unlike Hamas, if an Israeli citizen hurts another, he is punished. When Hamas kills an Israeli, they are celebrated.”
“Here’s the difference between us. We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles. They continue to place their weapons in hospitals and schools,” Aviran said.
“It is unfortunate that Israel has been criticized because not enough of our citizens have died. It is only because of the miracle of the Iron Dome that so few have died. Had the rocket they shot yesterday hit ground, hundreds and hundreds of Jews would’ve been killed. Israel should not be condemned for the lack of Jews that have died. As you know we have been there and done that and not on our clock will the Jewish people be killed,” Aviran said.
“Less than ten years ago, Israel left Gaza and dismantled four smaller settlements in the West Bank as a clear signal of Israel’s desire to leave the West Bank as well and thus achieve an amicable two-state solution. After the Israelis left Gaza, the Palestinians demolished the greenhouses and then they elected Hamas that has turned Gaza into a massive military base, which sends thousands of rockets to Israel,” Aviran said.
During the rally, one speaker asserted that in the Bible, God had promised Israel to the Jewish people.
APN asked Rabbi Peter Berg of “The Temple” what he believes Hamas wants in return for peace.
Berg stated “Hamas does not want peace, they are dedicated to the destruction of Jews everywhere and that is stated in their Charter. In the early 2000, as a gesture for peace, Gaza was given to the Palestinians as a first step towards a peaceful solution. “
A recent news report in the Guardian newspaper of the United Kingdom states that Israel has been using controversial “flechette shells,” which spray out thousands of tiny and potentially lethal metal darts, in its military operation in Gaza.
B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, told the Guardian they believed the weapons were a violation of humanitarian law, which requires that weapons avoid to the extent possible injury to people not involved in fighting, that is, civilians.
When asked about the weapons used against innocent Palestinian citizens Berg said, “I am not sure what weapons are used, but Israel has never knowingly targeted their citizens directly. Hamas attacks Israel civilians ongoing. There have been many unfortunate casualties, but the targets have been Hamas structures.”
When APN asked Berg if the attack on Gaza by the Israelis was an excuse to grab more land, he said, “We do not want their land, we want Hamas to stop sending bombs to Israel and randomly targeting civilians. There are no Jews currently in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas. Jews do live in the West Bank, but the West Bank is not ruled by Hamas and has it own Palestinian leadership.”
“The State of Israel had all Israeli citizens leave their homes so that the Palestinians could live in Gaza. Money was given to make this happen, but instead of building schools and spending money on improving the life of the citizens the Palestinians elected Hamas into power and they use all their money towards the destruction of Israel. Many, many Palestinians do not agree with Hamas, but as long as Hamas is in power there is little chance for lasting peace,” Berg said.
Following the pro-Israeli rally and interview with Berg, APN went back to a spokeswoman for the pro-Palestinian rallies, to get her response.
Ilise Cohen, M.A., an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Smith College School for Social Work, who spoke with Atlanta Progressive News in her capacity as a chapter coordinator for Jewish Voice for Peace, responded to Berg as follows:
“Israeli government unilaterally withdrew in 2005 but that was not a settlement agreement nor did they give the Palestinians their freedom and their own state. Although they withdrew their troops and settlements, they are not free. Israel has control of borders and the water,” Cohen told APN.
“Israel has invaded Gaza in retaliation to their desire for a unity government that would allow the Palestinians to speak as one voice,” Cohen said.
“Although it’s not just a land grab if the Palestinians left Gaza or were all killed, Israel would be in control of Gaza, which is why some pro-Palestinians consider what they are doing to be genocide,” Cohen said.
Cohen also responded to Berg’s statement that every effort is made to warn the Gaza Palestinians of forthcoming attacks, and that the Israeli military targets the Hamas terrorists.
“There is nowhere for the Gazans to go, no sirens, no bomb shelters… You are looking at one of the most concentrated places on earth. There are 1.8 million people, so whatever kind of weapons that the Israeli army is using is going to mostly harm civilians. Whatever the Israeli military is doing now is not working because they are indiscriminately killing civilians,” Cohen said.
APN asked Cohen if she felt that firing over 13,000 rockets randomly targeting Israeli citizens, who are also Arabs and Christians, is justified, she replied, “I am not an advocate of any rockets being fired anywhere,” and that “the situation is awful for everyone involved…”
Cohen was also asked if she had read the Hamas Covenant or Charter and if she knew that it talks about their goal of total destruction of the Jewish people.
“I have read what I can of the charter. I don’t read Arabic I’m not literate in Arabic. I could only read the translations. It’s more complicated than what you could read from the charter. If they had their freedom and were able to establish a unity government, they may have an opportunity to change their attitude. Although many Palestinians want peace, they also want to enjoy the freedoms we all enjoy and they feel that at least Hamas is fighting for them,” Cohen said.
Cohen was asked what, if anything, do you see as a solution to peace?
Cohen responded stating “If Israel went back to the 1967 borders and gave Palestine their own state there could be the possibility of peace in the region.”
Cohen was asked what she would want the U.S. to do if Hamas was firing rockets in her neighborhood. “I do not want to answer the question out of context, but I would be horrified if rockets were being fired around me, although I understand the Palestinian mentality of wanting someone to fight for them,” she replied.
APN located a copy of the Hamas Covenant, located in the Yale Law School Library, Avalon Project of Law, History, and Diplomacy. The Hamas Covenant was created August 18, 1988.
The document is titled “The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas).”
Article Two states, “The Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) is one of the wings of Moslem Brotherhood in Palestine. Moslem Brotherhood Movement is a universal organization which constitutes the largest Islamic movement in modern times. “
According to the Hamas Covenant Article 13 explains that there is no peaceful solution stating
“Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance movement…”
The Hamas Covenant states the exact mission of Hamas, in regards to the Jews and the State of Israel: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it’ (The Martyr, Imam Hassan al-Banna, of blessed memory).”
In Article Seven, the Hamas Covenant continues, explaining: “the Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to the realisation of Allah’s promise, no matter how long that should take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: ‘The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”
While the Hamas Covenant may be an extreme view not representing the sentiments many, if not most, Palestianian people and their advocates, it appears that there are extremists after all.
Numerous news reports describe pro-Israeli rallies being held by extreme right-wing activists called the Jewish Defense League, where, among other things, the protesters have been shouting “Death to Muslims.”
Generally, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as it has manifested in dueling rallies across Metro Atlanta, seems to be characterized by lack of information on both sides; lack of dialogue between the sides; and extremists pushing conflict when most stakeholders want peace.
As this story goes to press, there is a cease fire in Gaza, although it is not clear how long it will last.
CLARIFICATION/UPDATE 1: A previous version of this article identified Ilise Cohen as an adjunct professor at Smith College. While it is factually correct that Cohen is an adjunct professor at Smith College, Cohen spoke with APN in her capacity as the chapter coordinator for Jewish Voice for Peace. The article has been updated to reflect as such.