BOSTON – After nearly two weeks of fighting, Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire on Thursday. It began early Friday morning in Israel, and so far it has held.
The short war – where Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired over 4,000 rockets and missiles from Gaza toward Israel – was felt in Greater Boston as American Jews and Israelis held rallies and gathered in solidarity to support Israel.
Israel has fought several mini-wars in Gaza since Hamas seized control of the autonomous strip from the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 2007, but the latest conflict can be traced to a spate of recent events in Jerusalem. They include the PA’s cancellation of planned elections in the West Bank; protests over a court case involving the proposed eviction of some families in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah; rioting on the Temple Mount where Palestinians and Israeli police were injured; Israel’s decision to remove Palestinians from the Old City’s Damascus Gate during Ramadan.
On May 10, Hamas fired a barrage of rockets into Israel. Israel responded by bombing Gaza. Over the last 10 days, Israel has smashed Hamas’s top military assets – destroying nearly 100 miles of underground tunnels that were used by the terror groups; killing top commanders and weapons experts; destroying most of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s rocket production centers. Over that time, nearly 4,000 rockets have been launched from Gaza toward Israel, where 12 have died, thousands have been injured and millions have spent their nights in bomb shelters. In Gaza, 219 Palestinians – many of them soldiers – have died since the war began, and thousands have been injured.
In addition to the rockets, Israeli Arabs in the mixed Jewish and Muslim cities of Lod, Jaffa, Acre and Haifa rioted last week. In Lod, 10 synagogues were burned by Arab mobs, more than 100 Jewish cars were torched, several Jews were attacked, and a Jewish Israeli died after being beaten. In Jaffa, an Israeli soldier was viscously beaten by an Arab mob. There were also riots in Haifa and in Acre.
In Israel, former Swampscott residents Stefan Boroda, Joni Aliza, and their three children have weathered the war in Givat Shmuel, near Tel Aviv. “This marks a new stage in our life here. Frequently when there’s a security situation, I can tell my family and friends that we’re nowhere near it. But this is the first time I’ve had to call my parents to tell them yes, we’ve had sirens, we hear the rocket interceptions, shrapnel has landed around the corner from us. But everything is fine, we’re spending our nights together in the safe room, we’re still all very safe,” said Boroda.
“Our apartment has a bomb shelter room. We have all been having a big sleepover in it the past two nights,” said Joni Aliza. “None of us are leaving the house really during the day.
In-person school has of course been canceled. There is a siren before the bombs come, so we have time to enter the room.”
In Efrat, outside of Jerusalem, Frank Loewenberg pondered the conflict. He is 95, grew up in Brookline, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and is a retired professor of Social Work at Bar Ilan University.
“We’re concerned, there’s tension,” he said. “It’s different from the wars we know from America because then it was a clearly defined enemy.”
Elana Rozenfeld, who formerly served as cantor of Swampscott’s Shirat Hayam, made Aliyah with her family last July and lives in Northern Israel. While it has been mostly quiet in the north, Rozenfeld said she is just as concerned about internal Arab-Israeli violence. “What has scared us more than missiles, has been the riots, demonstrations, and threats of violence between Arabs and Jews throughout the country,” she said. “In the north, there are typically good relations between Arabs and Jews. Israeli Arabs and Bedouins in the north, by and large, are integrated into Israeli culture. They are bankers, doctors, nurses, CEOs and every other job one can imagine. They have Jewish friends, they start friendly conversations in the supermarkets, and I have come to love these interactions.”
Meanwhile, in Boston, opposing rallies were held downtown in support of Israelis and Palestinians. Also, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Boston denounced Israel and suggested that the U.S. should consider conditioning aid to Israel. “We cannot stand idly and complicitly by and allow the occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people,” she said.
Last Thursday, over 100 gathered and waved Israeli and American flags, and other signs supporting Israel at a pro-Israel rally in Copley Square. “What we can do is raise our voices, we can let our brothers and sisters in Israel know that we see them, and we stand with them, we support them, we support their right to defend themselves and we can make sure that we can get the story out and help our friends and family around us that don’t understand the situation and understand it better,” Rabbi Marc Baker, president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies told the crowd.
“I’m here to support Israel and its people as they are under attack from terrorists in Gaza who shoot missiles indiscriminately at civilians,” said Marty Schneer, executive director of the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore.
In an interview, Ambassador Meron Reuben, the Consul General of Israel to New England, accused Hamas of committing multiple war crimes. “The terrorist groups are unfortunately taking part in double war crimes – the war crime of hitting indiscriminate populations and at the same time hiding behind their own civil population,” he said.
Yoni Michanie, who is in a doctorate student at Northeastern, grew up in Israel and was a soldier stationed near Gaza in 2015. “Israeli soldiers are facing a situation that no other military is forced to deal with because they not only have to protect Israeli citizens but their utmost priority is to defend innocent Palestinian lives that are being held hostage under the tyrannical grip of Hamas,” he said.
“Israel has a right to defend itself and her citizens. My family and friends have spent the last several nights in bomb shelters. It’s unacceptable, and my heart breaks that I am not there with them at the moment. But part of being here is showing that living situation is intolerable and inhumane, and that the world should condemn it.”