Saturday, April 13, 2002

Backers of Israel, Palestine protest

Speakers urge peace, justice

By Susan Vela,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Elizabeth Hall watched in bemusement Friday as 200 Muslims and Arabs marched across Fountain Square to peacefully protest Israel's military actions in Palestine.

[photo] Craig Kurtz, of Hyde Park, holds up a sign supporting Israel as Aysha Nassar of West Chester screams in support of Palestine during a rally held Friday at Fountain Square.
(Brandi Stafford photos)
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        They carried banners and shouted “Sharon Must Go!”, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Across Fifth Street, about 30 Jews stood holding Israeli flags and signs that said “We stand with Israel.”

        Both sides gathered to let Greater Cincinnati know how passionately they support Palestine or Israel — the two countries now locking horns in violent fighting.

        But the sight left Ms. Hall wondering how peace can ever arrive in the Middle East if the two ethnic groups can't put aside their differences in Greater Cincinnati and work toward peaceful relations.

        “I feel sorry for both sides. I think the whole world does,” said Ms. Hall, 45, of Hyde Park.

        The Arab American Council of Greater Cincinnati and the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati organized Friday's peace rally. Participants bowed their heads to observe a moment of silence and recognize the Palestinians who have been innocent victims of the Middle East violence.

        Several speakers, including Christians, called for peace.

        The Rev. Ben Urmston, founding director of Xavier University's Peace and Justice Program, said he will never choose to take sides between Palestinians and Jews.

[photo] Hamza Shalash, 12, of Delhi Township, carries a Palestinian flag as he runs around Fountain Square.
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        “if I choose justice, I am for both Jews and Palestinians,” he said.

        A fight for justice, he said, should include an end to the violence and occupation of the West Bank.

        While most of the rally was peaceful, tensions were obvious when Craig Kurtz, 41, of Hyde Park, approached a group of Palestinians on Fountain Square. He carried the Israeli and American flags and a sign that said “We Stand with Israel.”

        “You stand with Nazis!” shouted Nader David, 38, of Mount Orab, which made Mr. Kurtz yell back.

        “Arafat's a Nazi!” he shouted.

        The two were quickly separated, but tensions between the two groups remained obvious. Rally participants lined Fifth Street to wave banners at the Jews across the street. Other rally participants walked in a large circle around the fountain, carrying banners and raising their voices to shout “No peace! No justice!”

        Organizer Zeinab Schwen of Symmes Township said many in Greater Cincinnati's Arab-American community still have friends and relatives in the Middle East.

        She doesn't condone the suicide bombers who are terrorizing Israel but said many Americans don't understand how devastating Israel's military actions have been. Many Palestinians are without food, water, electricity and medical supplies, she said.

        “Our community has been in a lot of pain,” she said. “We're all Americans here, but we're very concerned. People are dying. Homes are being destroyed. We support Bush's attempts to get cooperation from Sharon.”

        Michael Zedek, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, predicted that the violence will not end until people can shout “Palestine and Israel! Palestine and Israel!”

        “It's not that one side is right,” he said. “It's a clash of rights.”

        Samia Alfaour, 36, of Montgomery, helped her son carry a banner that read “Stop the Holocaust of 2002” as they walked Fountain Square.

        She said Friday's rally was an example of how similar tensions can spark here.

        “They cannot understand us and we cannot understand them,” she said.

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