Thursday, December 21, 2023

Tragedy Strikes: How Connecticut is Responding to the Israel-Hamas Conflict (Yael Everett - Written for a High School journalism class)

When Rabbi Hammerman heard that Hamas had attacked Israel, he was shocked.

“I did have some bad feelings, some premonitions, ” he says. “But I didn’t think it would happen that day.” 

Rabbi Hammerman is the leading rabbi at Temple Beth El in Stamford, Connecticut. Since the attack on October 7, he has been releasing nightly emails to congregation members to coordinate efforts in support of Israel, and to draw as much attention as he can to the tragedy in Israel and Gaza.

“People want to talk. They want to hear each other. So we just want to make it possible for people to do that,” he continues.  

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has had repercussions all over the world. Nobody is unaffected. Whether someone has loved ones in Israel or Gaza, or is hearing about the tragedy through the news, hearts have been broken by the recent happenings. People have their own political opinions. They have their own stances on “right” and “wrong” in this conflict. 

But in the end, no matter the side, this war, and the turmoil consuming the Middle East for years, is a tragedy for all. 

In the early 1900s, Britain took control of Palestine, which was inhabited by both Jewish and Arab people. Then came the Balfour Declaration of 1917, when Britain promised to provide Jewish people with a safe haven where they could freely practice their religion. This immediately created tension between Jews and Palestinians as both people considered Palestine their homelands, and this conflict only worsened when Jews began fleeing Europe to Palestine during the Holocaust. 

1947. The UN decided Palestine could be split into two nations, one for Jews and one for Arabs. 

1948. Britain leaves Palestine, establishing Israel. War. Thousands of Palestinians were pushed from their homes. Jordan took control of the West Bank, while Egypt took control of Gaza. 

This was only the beginning of the fighting between Israel and Palestine. After the war in 1967, Israel occupied many regions previously inhabited by the Palestinians, leaving refugees unable to return to their homes within Israel. There were minor peace talks in the 1990s, however Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly shut down these negotiations. Israel continued to establish settlements in Palestinian territories, and in response, Hamas used suicide bombers to officially end any deal. Other efforts were made towards a two-state solution, but nothing ever came of them. 

In 2005, Israel quit occupation of Gaza, and it was taken over by Hamas, an Islamist military group intent on the complete destruction of Israel. There hasn’t been an election in Gaza since 2006, leaving Hamas as the sole ruling party of this territory. 

Then comes the current war. Israel and Egypt established a partial blockade of Gaza in an effort to stop Hamas from firing rockets at Israeli cities. Since the beginning of the war, which began on October 7, over 2,000 deaths have occurred cumulatively, with many people injured. Hamas has taken over 200 Israeli hostages, many of whom are children and the elderly, and the terrorist attack on 10/7 killed more Jews in any single day since the Holocaust. 

In response, Israel blocked supply lines of fuel and water into Gaza, and they have targeted air strikes on Hamas and Islamic Jihad bases in Gaza. A humanitarian crisis has ensued there, leaving Palestinian refugees with nowhere to go, while Israelis face a continued threat in the form of Hamas. 

What to do? What to think? Controversy has erupted across the world, with some blaming Israel for its occupation of Palestinian territory, and others condemning the terrorism and tragedy that has befallen Israelis as a result of Hamas’s actions. 

This debate has even reached Connecticut. Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal of CT, as well as Governor Ned Lamont, are supporting Israel in this conflict, denouncing Hamas’s terrorism, with Blumental going so far as to construct a package of arms. 

On the other hand, Faisal Saleh, who is director of the Palestine Museum in Woodbridge, has criticized Israel for its isolation of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, arguing that the Israeli government has subjected them to terrible conditions, mistreatment, and even death.  

“There’s a long-standing controversy regarding Israel and the Palestinians, and there are different narratives,” says Rabbi Hammerman. “One side isn’t 100% right, and the other side isn’t 100% wrong.”

But in regards to the events in Israel on October 7, politics is not a factor. 

“What happened on October 7 stands by itself. It was genocidal terrorism, and this was the worst day since the Holocaust,” he adds. 

This attack has touched Jewish communities everywhere. There is controversy throughout the U.S. between pro-Israel and Pro-Palestinian supporters, but one thing is certain: the Stamford community isn’t the only town in Connecticut that has responded in support of Israel. 

“We had a temple-wide vigil. The Ridgefield Clergy Association helped support it, and it was heartwarming to see all of the people who came,” says Cantor Debbie Katchko-Gray, of Temple Shir Shalom in Ridgefield. “The first selectman was there to show his support.”

Temple Shir Shalom is a Reform Jewish congregation in Ridgefield, and is one of the many Jewish places of worship in Connecticut to receive bomb threats after the initial attack on October 7. 

“Even though nothing came of it, it was still terrifying. We are definitely much more aware of our security measures,” says Cantor Katcho-Gray.  

The Ridgefield community stands strong with Shir Shalom, showing support in anyway they can, according to Katchko-Gray. 

“Ridgefield is a very compassionate and caring community, and I am proud to be a part of it,” she says. 

There is no telling when this war might end, how many people will die, or if Israel and the Palestinians will ever be able to reach peace. 

But for now, the Jewish community is just trying to stay strong. 

“We need to keep supporting each other, and so far, the Ridgefield community has done that,” says Katcho-Gray.

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