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Government, Politics & Issues

Palestinians In St. Louis Worry About Family, As Violence Continues In Gaza And Israel

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Lara Hamdan
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St. Louis Public Radio
Demonstrators in St. Louis march this week through the Central West End to protest the Israeli military's bombing of homes and businesses in Gaza.

Neveen Ayesh has not been able to sleep or eat this week, knowing that her aunt, uncle and cousins are in harm’s way in the West Bank.

She and other Palestinians in St. Louis are watching with anger and dismay as Israeli military forces continue to bomb the Gaza Strip and violence continues in East Jerusalem and West Bank.

“I am waiting every morning. I am terrified when I wake up, checking social media, checking with family, because we never know,” said Ayesh, a member of the Missouri chapter of American Muslims for Palestine. “Is it going to be my cousin next? Is it going to be my uncle?”

Israeli police clashed with Muslim worshippers on the last night of the holy month of Ramadan at Al-Aqsa Mosque, a holy site for Jews and Muslims. Palestinians were outraged that Jewish settlers are trying to evict Palestinians from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

The violence intensified last week. After Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, fired rockets toward Jerusalem, the Israeli military bombarded Gaza. The airstrikes have killed at least 200 people in Gaza, including dozens of children. At least 10 Israelis have been killed in the rocket attacks.

The waves of violence have Jewish and Palestinian people in the St. Louis region worried about loved ones in Israel and the occupied territories.

Ayesh, a Palestinian American, said she is tired and overwhelmed by the news but glued to social media.

“We don't want to post anything else to our social media sites unless it has to do with Palestine, because we want to force people around us to seek, to read, to hear to learn to open up their hearts,” said Ayesh, 28.

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Lara Hamdan
Children stand in the Central West End to demonstrate with other Palestinians and St. Louisans with signs saying "Free Palestine."

Over the past week, Ayesh and others who support Palestinians took to the streets to decry the Israeli military’s actions and to stand in solidarity with them. The protests in St. Louis were part of a wave of demonstrations across the nation.

Palestinians are urging people in the U.S. to stop buying Israeli goods and shed their investments in Israeli companies to push Israel to stop occupying Palestinian territories. They also want Israel to allow Palestinians freedom to move between Palestinian territories and Israel.

Lena Salameh, a Palestinian who lives in St. Louis, protested at the first rally in downtown St. Louis. She said the protest inspired her because she had never seen so many people support Palestinians.

Salameh, 28, has family in Jalazone, a refugee camp in the West Bank. She is afraid for her aunt and cousins because their camp is next to a Jewish settlement where tensions are rising.

“I stay up at night watching what's happening," Salameh said. "I'm worried about my family, but I want to make sure that people know about what's happening there. I want to make sure everybody can see the atrocities.”

Salameh lived in an occupied Palestinian territory during the war between Gaza and Israel in 2014. She said that conflict was devastating, but the current one is harder to watch as schools, mosques and churches are targets.

Some Jewish people in St. Louis who have family in Israel also are paying close attention to the conflict between Israeli military and Hamas. But some blame the conflict on Hamas.

Rabbi Moshe Shulman of the Young Israel of St. Louis synagogue is worried about his children who live in central Israel. He said they have had to retreat to their safe houses to stay clear of Hamas rockets.

Shulman said he believes Israel is acting in self-defense. He said the violence would come to an end if Hamas would stop firing rockets.

“It’s tense because you have hundreds or thousands of rockets being fired indiscriminately at civilian populations, civilian areas,” Shulman said.

Other Jews in St. Louis have been protesting with Palestinians to join them in decrying the violence against their territories and calling for an end to Jewish settlements on Palestinian land.

No one should be forced out of their homes or territories so another ethnic group to take over, said Michael Berg, a member of the Jewish Voices of Peace and the co-founder of the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee. He said this is a human rights issue.

Berg fears for his friends who live in West Bank and Jerusalem because at any moment he could receive bad news.

“It's terrifying as far as the killing, far more Palestinians are suffering and being killed, but it's terrible for all the sides that nobody should have to go through any of this,” Berg said.

Sandra Tamari, a Palestinian attorney in St. Louis, uses social media to connect with family and friends in Palestinian territories and Israel. She scrolls through social media constantly to keep tabs on those who are protesting.

"I have friends in Gaza who tweet at us before they go to sleep and say 'these may be my last words,'” Tamari said. “So, it's a terrible time. It's just a terrible time. We don't know who's going to live and who's going to die this way."

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly noted where the Israeli military is bombing. That is occurring in the Gaza Strip.

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

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