BRIDGEPORT — Connecticut Muslims met at an Islamic religious school Friday to protest Israeli air attacks on Gaza. The airstrikes, the Israelis say, are aimed at rooting out Hamas operatives.
“We want justice. We want peace,” Muhammed Ali intoned into a huge bullhorn to the crowd of more than 140 outside Bridgeport Islamic Community Center’s Al-Manaar School.
“We want justice. We want peace,” Ali’s audience chanted back, while many waved handmade protest posters.
Some of the signs featured photographs of the human carnage in tiny Gaza of wounded children and dead babies. The signs lambasted Israel, comparing the Jewish nation’s attacks to Nazi atrocities, called on the United States to stop defending Israeli attacks.
Motorists lumbered down Clinton Street, slowing down to check out the protesters waving Palestinian red, green and black flags and holding their posters high in the air. Midway through the demonstration, the rally ground to a hushed halt as the assembled lined up in long rows and faced east to pray.
Hassan Haid, of Trumbull, held a picture of a wounded boy with his head bloodied laying outstretched on a gurney. Haid pulled the photograph off an internet site that he says tells “the real story” of what’s happening in Gaza.
“I am sure some people want to know. I feel sorry for the USA. They are only hearing one side,” said Haid, who emigrated to the United States 30 years ago from Lebanon, where he still has
relatives. “What Israel is doing in Gaza now is the same thing it did in Lebanon [with Hezbollah]. I know from experience. My son was there.”The Israeli military launched its airstrikes on Hamas in Gaza after its six-month long truce with the militant group came to an end. The United States and a number of other western countries list Hamas as a terrorist organization. The Israeli Minister for Foreign Affairs says that between 2000 and 2004, Hamas has killed about 400 Israelis and wounded more than 2,000 in 425 separate attacks.
“We understand they want to fight Hamas,” Haid said of the Israelis. “But it doesn’t make sense to kill everybody. To kill children, how can you ever ever hope to have peace?”
Suhib Abunar, a junior at Fairfield Warde High School, who was born in Jordan, but considers himself a Palestinian, said he is paying close attention to all that transpires in Gaza, especially since he has only been back in Connecticut two months after spending a year in Jordan at a private American school where courses are offered in Arabic.
“I don’t like seeing anybody killed — Muslim or not. I don’t like war,” Abunar said, adding that after school he often stops off at a home of a family friend who has satellite television to watch Arab broadcast news from Gaza.
“Sometimes the media [here] doesn’t show everything,” Abunar said. By contrast, on the Arab broadcast stations, “you actually see bombs exploding real close to them and people getting killed right on camera.”
Khaled Elleithy, a professor at the University of Bridgeport and one of the organizers of the demonstration, said many local Muslims believe Israel’s campaign on Gaza is unjust.
“Consider what their targets are,” Elleithy said. “They have bombed civilian homes, hospitals and mosques.”
The Israeli government has said Hamas has stored rockets and other weaponry in mosques and the homes of some key Hamas operatives in Gaza.
“We do not approve of this use of military might of Israel. Their [warplanes] are F-16s from the United States paid for with our tax dollars.”
A few feet away, Hana Bajes, of Milford, a demure young woman in her mid-20s dressed in a hijab, a traditional Muslim veil, waved a sign that featured a Jewish star, an equal sign, and a swastika.
“This symbol represents the star on an Israeli flag,” Bajes said, adding that it wasn’t an anti-Semitic statement.
“I have many friends who are Jewish,” said Bajes, who was born in Kuwait, moved to Jordan after the first Persian Gulf war and then emigrated to the United States. “I’ve worked with many people who are Jews. It’s not any kind of attack on them.
“What these symbols represent here is that the actions of the Israeli military in Gaza and also on the West Bank resembles what Hitler and the Nazis did to the Jews. It’s not just Jews that are persecuted and slaughtered. It’s our people, too.”
A couple of motorists honked their horns and a few gave the protesters a thumbs-up sign.
Bajes held her sign high above her head.
“I am an American citizen. I love this country. I love what it means to live in a democracy and have the right to stand out here the way we are to make our point,” she said. “Mostly what I want to do is get people to think, to get all the information about what’s happening in Gaza and to stop the killing. I’m in a country now that cherishes freedom. So I am standing up and speaking out because that is my right.”