As the violence between Israeli and Palestinian forces continued Wednesday in Gaza and beyond, local Jewish leaders reacted with anguish and sorrow over the region’s deaths and destruction.
More than 1,000 airstrikes were fired from both Israeli and Palenstinian forces as of Wednesday, displaying the stark impact of the worst flare up of violence the nation has seen in seven years. Tensions remained on the rise in the ongoing conflict Wednesday, fuelling a decades-long dispute over rights to religious territory in Jerusalem.
On Monday, Hamas, an Islamist militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, fired a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem in response to an earlier Israeli police raid at the Aqsa Mosque. The raid injured hundreds of Palestinians and a number of officers, according to The New York Times.
Israel returned fire with multiple airstrikes aimed toward Gaza on Monday, escalating a conflict that continued through Wednesday. Israeli officials reported that a Hamas commander and at least 15 other militants were killed in airstrikes this week.
The ongoing violence has had a significant impact on civilians living in Gaza, Tel Aviv, Ashdod and Ashkelon, where rockets have flown through apartment buildings and houses. At least 65 people have been killed in Gaza as of Wednesday, and six have been killed in Israel, according to health authorities in the region.
In response to the violence, Jonathan Bar-el, the consul for public diplomacy and spokesperson for the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles, said he felt “furious that so many civilians in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority has to go through this.” As dozens of Palestinian and Israeli civilians have lost their lives as a result of the violence, Mr. Bar-el said he is calling on citizens and authorities to denounce the actions of Hamas.
“I believe that anyone who cares about Palestinian lives and Israeli lives the same should aim to address Hamas, a terror organization, that has taken as hostages the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip, using them as human shields when attacking … (Hamas) has a full responsibility for the casualties on both sides,” Mr. Bar-el told the News-Press. “So I want everyone who cares for Palestinian lives to condemn Hamas and to call them to stop launching missiles at Israel.”
On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Israel’s retaliatory attacks against Hamas “just the beginning,” making claims that the nation would “hit them like they’ve never dreamed possible.” Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh confirmed the death of a Hamas commander Wednesday, adding that “the confrontation with the enemy is open-ended.”
With the violence expected to continue, the Biden administration announced it would send an envoy from the State Department to help de-escalate the violence.
As American Jewish citizens watch the violence unfolding overseas, Rabbi Daniel Brenner, an assistant rabbi at Congregation B’nai B’rith in Santa Barbara, said his first response to the violence was to encourage his congregation to pray.
“Anytime there’s an escalation of violence like this, the first thing that we as a community do is pray for peace,” Rabbi Brenner told the News-Press. “Regardless of the extenuating circumstances, no one should feel unsafe in their home, no one should feel at risk to attack. And so that’s our first hope.”
He continued, “We have many members of our community who either are from Israel or who have family in Israel, many of us have friends who live in Israel. So you know, of course, we’re concerned for them. And we’re reaching out to our community members there. It’s very painful to see the violence.”
A main catalyst of the ongoing violence centers around the long standing Isreli-Palestinian conflict regarding ownership of the Holy Land. In order to restore peace in Israel, Rabbi Brenner said he believes both sides will have to agree to share territory in Jerusalem.
“For me, one religion can’t claim exclusive religious rights to Jerusalem,” Mr. Brenner said. “It is a city that is holy to more than half of the world’s population — Christians, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, every type of Christianity, all the orthodoxies — and we (should) recognize that our shared value of the religious importance of Jerusalem can be used to better the city as opposed to divide it. Until we have that, there’s very little else that we should be focusing on.”
Though leaders on both sides of the fight have refused to back down, Mr. Brenner estimates that a ceasefire will eventually come, especially as U.S. officials become involved. But until that time comes, Mr. Brenner said he will hold on to the hope that peace can still be restored in Israel despite the recent violence.
“I can’t be the one to optimistically say that peace is just around the corner, and yet, as a rabbi and as a Jew, I always feel that I have to live my life and have my outlook express that type of optimism and hope,” Rabbi Brenner said. “Because if we lose hope for peace, it will definitely not come.”