More than a thousand people supporting the Palestinian cause gathered Tuesday evening in downtown Boston, in response to the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip. Starting in Copley Square, protesters marched to the steps of the Massachusetts State House where dozens of participants staged a mock “die-in,” lying prone in the street.
In response to the planned pro-Palestinian march, a counter protest formed in support of the state of Israel and its role in the ongoing conflict in Gaza. Members of the “Boston Stands Against Hamas” contingent could be seen holding Israeli flags and following the pro-Palestinian marchers from Copley Square.
Boston Police briefly had to separate the two sides as they approached the Boston Common, but no arrests were reported.
As of this writing, an estimated 718 Palestinians have been killed, with over 4,520 wounded. At least 233 women and children are among the Palestinians killed. The fighting has also claimed an additional 32 members of the Israeli Defense Force and three Israeli citizens, bringing the total death toll to well over 700.
According to the Israeli Defense Force, over 1,000 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip since the fighting began 17 days ago, with more than 200 rockets being intercepted by the state’s Iron Dome missile defense system. Israel launched Operation Protective Edge with the stated purpose to put an end to these rocket attacks.
On July 17, Israel launched a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, the 3rd land incursion into Gaza since 2008. Hamas’ network of tunnels entering Israel is the explicit target
However, Hamas and numerous human rights organizations believe that Israel’s response is disproportionate, inflicting unnecessary casualties on the Palestinian population at large. On Wednesday the United Nation Commission on Human Rights launched an inquiry into whether Israel committed war crimes.
Israel claims that the high number of civilian casualties is a result of Hamas using human shields, an argument that Boston College Professor Eve Spangler called “not terribly persuasive given all the film clips of Israel bombs raining down.”
In regards to the reported shelling of hospitals, private homes, mosques and schools, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said, “These are just a few examples where there seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes.”
The Boston chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace planned the original march “to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people” and end the Israeli occupation of Gaza.
Boston College student Tala Berro, A&S ’15, joined the pro-Palestinian protest and recalled, “It was wonderful to see so many people from Boston stand in solidarity with Palestine, demanding an end to US aid to Israel and highlighting the inhumanity of the situation currently occurring in Gaza.”
Professor Spangler, who also attended Jewish Voice for Peace’s protest, drew particular attention to the end of the march that culminated in the aforementioned “die-in” and the reading of all of the names of those killed in Gaza.
The pro-Israel demonstration, although smaller, did draw several hundred participants. Brett Lowenstein, a Berkley School of Music student who took action in part to confront “anti-Semitic rhetoric,” accused the Jewish Voice for Peace-led group of resorting to Nazi slurs at this and previous events and of chanting language directing violence towards the Jewish people. Instead of large protests, Lowenstein believes that it would “be more productive” to come “together to discuss better ways for better leadership in Gaza and the West Bank.”
Nadav Mortman, A&S ’15, the President of Eagles for Israel and was unable to attend the demonstration, emphasized moderation in light of both protests. Mortman stated, “I think that the fanatics on both sides need to step aside and allow people to work towards a mutually beneficial peace.”
Neither side indicates that a lasting ceasefire or break in the fighting appears likely at this time. There is an event scheduled for Friday July 25 in recognition of the International Day of Quds, when “people of conscience gather to express solidarity with all the oppressed human beings of the world.”