Stories of Israelis and Palestinians holed up in shelters, terrified to leave their houses during the most recent conflict between Israel and the Islamic military group Hamas, have prompted Queens politicians and residents to voice their support for victims of the violence in the Middle East.
Some borough lawmakers and residents are backing Israel’s invasion of Gaza, while other city groups have condemned the attacks that have killed a reported 510 Palestinians. Israel has reported the death of one soldier in a ground attack and four civilians from rockets since Dec. 27, the day it began its strikes against Gaza.
“People are trying to go to work and send their children to school, and in the middle of all that they’ve got seconds to run to a bomb shelter or risk getting killed,” said City Councilman Rory Lancman (D−Fresh Meadows), who visited Israel in mid−December. “I want people to understand what’s going on in southern Israel is not just a headline. These are communities and neighborhoods, and I want people here to identify with people there in southern Israel.”
Lancman held a conference call Monday, during which Israeli citizens living near Gaza spoke of their current living situation.
“We have not had relief for eight years,” said Chen Abrahams, who works for the Gvanim Association in Sderot, a town hundreds of feet from Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas. “Sometimes there are 20 or 50 missiles shot at us a day. You can’t do anything. You have to stay indoors all the time. Now there are 60 missiles being fired every day at us. When you live close to the border, you’re living in a war zone. The house is shaking all the time.”
Some Queens and city politicians — including Lancman, U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D−Forest Hills), U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D−Bayside) and Mayor Michael Bloomberg — have thrown their support behind Israel’s attacks, which have been widely criticized by Arab leaders and thousands of protesters in the United States and Europe.
Bloomberg and Ackerman returned earlier this week from a trip to Israel, where they had to run to a protected room for safety after rockets were fired in an area near them. Bloomberg has blamed Hamas for the recent round of violence.
The conflict follows a six−month truce between Israel and Hamas that ended Dec. 19. Israel blames Palestinian−militant group Hamas for firing rockets at its citizens, while Hamas blames Israel for not lifting the Gaza Strip blockade, which was imposed by Israel and Egypt in 2007 after the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip.
The blockade prohibits all exports and allows a minimal amount of goods into the country in order to avert a humanitarian or health crisis.
Israel, which has refused calls from Arab and European leaders, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy, for a cease−fire, has said it will no longer attack Gaza once Hamas stops firing rockets. Hamas has demanded the cessation of Israeli attacks and an end to the blockade.
Tens of thousands of city residents gathered in Times Square Saturday for a rally against the strikes that Israel said were launched to retaliate against the missiles Hamas has fired at Israeli citizens.
“A couple of my friends are from Gaza, and they’ve had friends or family members killed,” said Sayaf Rami, the youth coordinator for the Brooklyn−based Arab American Association of New York. “People are being slaughtered, people are being killed. People in Gaza are being attacked left and right. They can’t even go to sleep. The only thing on their minds is when the next attack is going to happen.”
Kew Gardens Hills resident Cynthia Zalisky, executive director of the Forest Hills−based Queens Jewish Community Council, said Israelis also live in constant fear due to the barrage of rockets, now and in past years.
“The Jewish community here is terribly concerned about what’s going on,” Zalisky said. “The loss of life on both sides worries us very, very much.”
“We’re trying to connect with the people of Sderot to let them know they’re not alone,” she added. “We’re doing everything in our power — politically, monetarily, and spiritually — to help them.”
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson
©2009 Community News Group
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