Tampa peace activists honor lost lives in Israeli attack on Gaza

11/17/12 Janelle Irwin
WMNF Drive-Time News Monday


The death toll in Gaza has reached more than 20 after three days of continued violence. A group of peace activists held a candlelight vigil Friday in solidarity with Palestinians struggling through the conflict with Israel at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in downtown Tampa.

Israel began firing missiles into the Gaza Strip Wednesday and Hamas immediately retaliated with rocket fire. Israel, the U.S.’s biggest ally in the region, has launched strikes from the air and from the sea in heavily populated civilian areas as Hamas leaders remain hidden. Neveen El-Nawawy is the daughter of a Palestinian refugee.

“It’s devastating to Gaza, it’s people and Palestinians who are refugeed outside because we feel very limited. We cannot reach there, we cannot enter there and it’s going to be unlivable by 2050.”

The vigil was a way for the group to pay respects to those who have lost their lives, but also to raise awareness of the escalating violence. The group of about a dozen activists joked as they made signs calling for Palestinian freedom that most Americans are uneducated about the issue. Not far away from them Chris Scarnelli sat on a bench watching weekend activity unfolding at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. They were right. Scarnelli didn’t know much about the issue, but enough to know people were dying.

“I just wish everybody would live in peace … why can’t we all get along? Lack of communication somewhere.”

One of the peace activists, Amanda Cruz, traveled to Palestine last summer. While there she also went to Israeli controlled Jerusalem. Cruz said she doesn’t just want to raise awareness about Palestinian suffering to U.S. citizens, but to Israelis as well.

“Many of them don’t know outside of the walls and they believe that there are Palestinians outside of these walls within close proximity that can do things to hurt them, but in reality the Palestinians are very far away from them. But it’s this idea, they don’t know, it’s unseen to them.”

Cruz said she saw refugee camps in Palestinian territories where people were residents of nowhere – permanently displaced without a country to call home. Others she saw bullied and harassed by Israeli military.

“People, every Friday, they have demonstrations – peaceful demonstrations – where they go out and they protest against the IDF and the IDF will throw – I don’t know how you call them – basically gas bombs over to people. The people have nothing mind you. They just have flags and their voices and they’re protesting for change and they will throw these things over and the guy went with me and we picked up some that had been – they were cold and stuff- and he was like, ‘this is made in Pennsylvania, I recognize this.’”

The U.S. consistently supports Israel over Palestine. Last week the U.S. defended the attacks on Gaza during an emergency UN hearing. Steve Gentile, a member of Occupy Tampa, thinks the U.S. supports Israel too much, including financially.

“The U.S. needs to divest ... from supporting Israel. We give $3 billion a year out of U.S. tax dollars to support them, so I guess that’s where I would start.”

Also this week, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn issued a statement expressing his concerns for Ashdod, Israel. Ashdod is Tampa’s sister city and Buckhorn visited it just last year. At an unrelated event near the Palestine vigil, Buckhorn said even though Israel is protecting their citizens he’s concerned for both Palestinians and Israelis.

“I mean, I don’t think in either case that the response was necessarily warranted because you’re going to have a lot of innocent civilians that are going to be hurt, you’ll have property damage, you’ll have people that will be killed as a result of this on both the Israeli side and the Palestinian side. I don’t know who started it. I don’t know who fired the first shot, but very rarely is the escalation of violence the answer.”

Friday marked the first time Hamas has fired on the Israeli capital of Jerusalem. The Israeli military has called up 16,000 reservists in preparation for a possible ground offensive in Gaza.

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