With the increased violence in the Gaza Strip has come increased vitriol on all sides, and at Hillels of Florida Suncoast, an on-campus Jewish life organization, executive director and campus rabbi Ed Rosenthal said he hoped to educate students about the ongoing conflict.
Changing views is not what he hoped to do, he said at an event Monday evening in the Hillel Jewish Student Center, where the public was invited to a discussion over matzo soup and other homemade dishes, and many including student body President Brian Goff expressed their support for Israels right of self-defense.
Its not all one side, Rosenthal said. Im not an apologist for Israel. In this situation, I think Israel is 100 percent right, but over the course of time, Israel has made mistakes. Im pro-Israel. Im also pro-Palestine. Im pro-peace.
Rosenthal told the audience of about 50 of the more recent history of conflict in the Gaza Strip, particularly since the 2004 unilateral agreement in which Israel agreed to withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank over the course of a year.
Rosenthal, who has visited Israel several times and studied in Israel while in college, said he was in Israel at the time of the withdrawal and watched as Israeli soldiers knocked on doors, asking families in Jewish settlements to leave their homes a process, he said, that was surprisingly peaceful.
It was one of the most amazing things you could have seen, he said. Without a single shot fired, Israel unilaterally removed itself from the Gaza strip.
But since then Israel has maintained control over airspace, and monitors and patrols borders and has implemented a naval blockade something many protesters take issue with.
One student asked why food and medical supplies were being blockaded to the people of Gaza.
The reason for the blockade is to ensure there are no weapons coming in with supplies, Rosenthal said. (Are the food and supplies) enough? No. There could be more. I wont disagree. But there is food in Gaza.
In 2007, Hamas, a radical Palestinian Sunni militant group which governed the West Bank, overthrew the
Fatah leader of Gaza, Mahmoud Abbas, and launched 200 rockets into Israel.Israel retaliated and the death tolls were high according to multiple news outlets, 13 Israelis were killed and 1,166 Palestinians were killed.
But Rosenthal said of the Palestinians killed, the majority were armed combatants and many of the civilians killed were used by Hamas as human shields.
Is it disproportionate? he asked. On one level, yes. But according to international law, a country can defend itself from attackers. Every nation is afforded that right. Can we imagine if Havana would send one rocket to Miami? There would be no Cuba.
Others also expressed their support for Israels right to self defense, including Goff, who sent the Hillel center a letter on official USF letterhead with gold embossment saying he would commit himself to support U.S.-Israeli relations and Israels right to self-defense, signing off in Bull Pride as student body president.
Barry Berger, a visiting psychology professor from the University of Haifa, who lives in Israel and who has children who are Israeli military officials, some of whom are awaiting directives on the situation in Gaza, said that he, like many of the people he knows in Israel, simply want to see an end to the violence.
Would it make it more appropriate if there were more casualties on the Israeli side? he asked. Im happy there were not more Israeli casualties. I wish there were fewer on the other side, too.
Berger said living in a war zone for so long has made him grow accustomed to atrocities on all sides.
Whats in it for us to stop a pregnant woman to get to a hospital? he asked. Whats in it for us to stop an elderly person from crossing the border? Weve been sucked into it. … Look at what its made me do. Its corrupted me. War dehumanizes the occupier as well.
But, he said, the Israelis should have the right to remain on their ancestral homeland that was agreed upon in 1967.
Moti Feldman, who served in the Israeli army as a 17-year-old in 1967, said he thinks the root of the conflict starts in teaching hatred at home. He said he remembers entering schools at the time to see young children creating drawings in class of knives and blood.
At that age they should be drawing flowers and happy things, he said.
Michael Kalmowicz, a sophomore majoring in political science and president of advocacy for the Hillel center, encouraged supporters of Israel to be respectful to protestors for Palestine.
Theyve been respectful, he said. Let them be. Its freedom of speech. Dont address them, and if they address you, tell them you dont want to talk about it. It creates conflict, and we dont want to create conflict or negative attention. … If we cant make peace on campus, how can we make peace in Gaza?
Feldman said ending the conflict would require more than just discussions at a table, but an appeal to humanity.
Were cousins, he said. At the end of the day, we are just family fighting family.