Inland Empire communities weigh in on Gaza

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The Israeli military’s bombardment of Gaza has been continuous since the deadly Oct. 7 incursion by Hamas “freedom fighters.”

CNS | Contributed

The destruction in Gaza amid hostilities between Israel and Hamas shows how Palestinians are treated as “less than human” and the Jewish State engages in “unfathomable carelessness” to achieve its goals, two Inland Empire residents from Palestine said, while a Riverside rabbi equated condemnations of Israel with “antisemitism,” and a member of a Corona synagogue viewed Hamas’ actions as forcing Israel to react. The Israeli military’s bombardment of Gaza has been continuous since the deadly Oct. 7 incursion in southern Israel by groups of armed militants identifying as Hamas “freedom fighters,” which the Israeli government said resulted in more than 1,000 fatalities on kibbutzim and at a music festival.

Figures published by multiple outlets reporting from the Middle East estimate more than 11,000 Gazans have been killed in the ensuing Israeli military missile and air strikes, including more than 4,600 children — numbers based on figures provided regularly by the Hamas-run health ministry. Israeli and U.S. officials have expressed doubts about the figures, but ministry officials insist they are based on fatalities verified by medical professionals. “They are indiscriminately bombing people’s homes,” Moamer Shurrab, a pharmaceutical company employee and member of the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley, told City News Service. “It’s hard to imagine the scale of this massacre.

It’s especially horrific to see the scores of children who are killed. What did those little children do to Israel? Stop thinking of them as less than human. How can you call this self-defense?” Shurrab, who is from Gaza and immigrated to the United States to attend college in the 1990s, has immediate and extended family residing throughout the Strip. He said his brother’s apartment was adjacent to the Islamic University, which has been targeted by the Israeli military, causing his brother to flee for his life. “What people don’t realize is Gaza is a very small place, only 365 square kilometers,” he said. “With these attacks, there is no safe place in Gaza.

There are 2.3 million people living there. It’s so dense. Where are people going to flee? Are they going to jump in the sea?” Along with the Islamic University, the war has led to the damage or destruction of al-Azhar University, the Indonesian Hospital, Al Nasr Children’s Hospital, al-Ahli Arab Hospital, mosques, Gaza’s oldest Greek Orthodox church, refugee camps and at least one school operated by the United Nations Relief & Works Agency, according to published reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists said that 42 reporters — 37 Palestinians, four Israelis and one Lebanese — had been confirmed killed in the conflict. “I certainly believe Israel has the right to defend itself, and unfortunately I believe Hamas is hiding in civilian areas,” Rabbi Suzanne Singer, former head of Temple Beth El in Riverside and now a rabbinical teacher in Temecula, told CNS. “It’s very difficult to avoid these casualties. Hamas is luring Israel into Gaza so there are civilian casualties.

Can the government do something different? I don’t know.” She worried that a ceasefire might enable Hamas to “rearm and go on the attack.” Singer said she was not surprised by the massive demonstrations in Dallas, London, Jakarta, Paris, New York City and other places denouncing Israel and expressing solidarity with the Palestinians. “They ignore all the human rights violations committed around the world,” she said. “There’s only a major outcry when Israel does something. Being critical of Israel’s right to exist is antisemitism.” Cal State San Bernardino Professor Ahlam Muhtaseb, a Palestinian and Islamic Center of Temecula Valley member, said Israel’s side of the issue is over-represented in mainstream media, where Palestinians are too often portrayed as “extremists, violent terrorists.” “Israelis cite antisemitism and how they were treated by the Nazis,” Muhtaseb said. “But news reports `invisibilize’ Palestinians, dehumanize them. When there were 500 people massacred by the Israeli military in the bombing of al-Shifa Hospital, you saw 30 seconds of people shouting and screaming. We don’t know their names, ages, hobbies or dreams.

There are always details about Israeli victims and their families.” The professor said the pro-Palestinian demonstrations have been inspirational but doubted they would prompt a pullback by Israel. “Gaza is a small stretch of land. The unfathomable carelessness with which the Israelis are dropping bombs, with the United States’ support, makes this a genocide,” she said. “Israel has the fourth largest army in the world, and they have been given cart blanche to do whatever they want. We see hundreds of dead babies. Half of Gaza’s population is under 18.

We see the dead ones, but how many thousands are buried under the rubble, trying to stay alive?” Bruce Rouman, a longtime member of a Corona synagogue, said he felt “sorry for what’s happening to the people of Gaza,” but he could not denounce Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 deadly attacks “because there needs to be a Jewish homeland.” “This was totally unprovoked,” he said. “I don’t think they (Hamas) really desire the land. Their goal is to eliminate the Jewish population. You can’t just stand by and be battered. They are also launching missiles on Israel, and people are dying.” Rouman said he lacked confidence in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Singer said his administration is “problematic,” acknowledging she has witnessed Israeli settlers illegally seizing Palestinians’ land in the West Bank. But she said Israel is routinely painted in the worst light, despite “human rights violations in Muslim countries.” The rabbi said the criticism of Israel, with some demonstrators calling for “death to all Jews,” was “terrifying.”

Shurrab said the devastation in Gaza follows decades of the Strip being under Israel’s boot, “like an open-air concentration camp.” “Israel controls everything — electricity, water, travel, even fishing,” he said. “Have you ever heard of the oppressor defending itself from the oppressed? It’s mind-boggling. The Palestinian people are occupied. I know. I was there. I lived it.”

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