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CT reacts to war in Israel as death toll on both sides continues to grow

Miriam Newman who attends the New England Jewish Academy and lives in West Hartford holds an Israeli flag as people gather to stand in solidarity on October 9, 2023.
Dave Wurtzel
/
Connecticut Public
Miriam Newman who attends the New England Jewish Academy holds an Israeli flag as people gather in West Hartford to stand in solidarity on October 9, 2023.

Members of Connecticut's Jewish and Palestinian communities are reacting to the latest Israel-Palestinian war, which has already killed at least 1,600 people.

The death toll was expected to grow as Israel pummeled the Gaza Strip with airstrikes and blockaded the densely populated Palestinian territory. The war began after Hamas militants stormed into Israel on Saturday, taking hostages and bringing gun battles to the country's streets for the first time in decades.

At least 11 U.S. citizens have been confirmed dead in the attacks, U.S. President Joe Biden said. Thousands are reported wounded on both sides.

In Connecticut, religious and political leaders gathered at events across the state to address the ongoing conflict.

Speaking in West Hartford on Monday, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Israel needs American weapons.

"I am helping to put together a package of additional arms; the interceptors for the Iron Dome that are needed to replenish their stockpiles, the precision guided missiles that are necessary for their fighter aircraft, all that Israel needs to win this war," he said.

The captives taken by Hamas are known to include soldiers and civilians, including women, children and older adults — mostly Israelis but also some people of other nationalities.

Rabbi Rebekah Goldman of Farmington Valley Jewish Congregation, holds back tears as supporters of Israel gather in West Hartford, Connecticut to stand in solidarity on October 9, 2023.
Dave Wurtzel
/
Connecticut Public
Rabbi Rebekah Goldman of Farmington Valley Jewish Congregation, holds back tears as supporters of Israel gather in West Hartford, Connecticut to stand in solidarity on October 9, 2023.

One attendee, Jane Wadler Resnick, said her son just made Aliyah, the law of return mandating any person of the Jewish faith to be given Israeli citizenship. That was four weeks ago. On Saturday found himself escorted by armed guards, 15 miles away from the Gaza border she said.

She soon heard from him, expressing relief for his safety.

"Thank God nothing happened," Resnick said.

Zach Kessin's ex-wife who is in Israel texted him that she was OK at 2 a.m. on Saturday, a highly unusual time for him since Jewish people he said, don't text on a Jewish holiday.

But it still rattled him.

"Everybody's safe so far, but I'm scared. I'm very scared," Kessin said.

In Gaza, a tiny enclave of 2.3 million people sealed off by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade for 16 years since the Hamas takeover, residents feared further escalation. Israeli strikes flattened some residential buildings.

In a statement, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy called Hamas’ attacks “shocking” and says he supports the Israeli government’s “right to defend itself from this horrific violence.”

“Many innocent people on both sides will suffer as a result of Hamas’s orchestrated attacks, which will only cause more chaos and misery,” Murphy said in a statement.

Murphy, who is chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, said he is calling on the Senate to make swift confirmations of key state department positions for the Middle East.

But while several lawmakers, including Gov. Ned Lamont, attended various pro-Israel rallies and expressed support, some Palestinian Americans in Connecticut say Palestinian death and suffering are often minimized or overlooked, as people fail to see the root causes of this conflict.

Faisal Saleh, the director of the Palestine Museum in Woodbridge, which focuses on Palestinian culture, was born in the West Bank then became a successful businessman in the United States. But his family he said, lost their home during the Nakba, or catastrophe in 1948 when Palestinians were expelled from their homes after the creation of Israel — itself the result of European Jews who wished to establish their own homeland after suffering centuries of prejudice.

The attacks, according to Saleh, didn't happen in a vacuum.

"I want the American people and the people in Connecticut, particularly, to understand that these people are living under horrible conditions and being insulted and humiliated on a daily basis in the streets, and put into prison, they're killed, they're restricted from travel," Saleh said. "And nobody is raising a finger to help them."

Saleh referred to the ongoing isolation of Palestinians within the West Bank and in Gaza, which were occupied by the Israel Defense Forces. However, most Palestinians are unable to freely move outside of Gaza and the West Bank, dealing with armed checkpoints. When violence does flare up, Palestinian civilians he said, suffer the most.

Meanwhile, Hamas' attacks targeted Israeli civilians seemingly at random, while also attacking military personnel. One speaker in West Hartford, Asif Peretz, an Israeli cultural emissary tearfully spoke of not knowing if her close friend was alive, her friend frantically texting her in hiding while Hamas gunmen searched for Israelis.

"She hears the Hamas terrorists above her shooting, screaming and banging on doors with no light, low battery mode, and then completely alone, she was terrified," Peretz said.

Others at the rally held signs, broke into chants, and placed their heads or hands on nearby shoulders. Saleh called the deaths of Palestinians who had nothing to do with the attacks as "collective punishment." Now he said he wonders if his artist friends in Gaza are still alive.

Karen Tuvin also attended the rally. Tuvin has close friends in Israel and said she understood the impulse for revenge.

But indiscriminate killing won't help, she said.

"Their first reaction was very similar; pummel Gaza, I hate to say that, right. But it's not right," Tuvin said. "And it doesn't help the long term viability for anyone."

Currently there is no U.S. Ambassador in Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Oman or Kuwait.

The Palestinians want a state of their own in all three territories, captured by Israel in the 1967 war, but the last serious peace talks broke down well over a decade ago, and Israel’s far-right government is opposed to Palestinian statehood.

Ahmed Youssef is an Uber driver in Connecticut. He has family in the West Bank, not Gaza. Sometimes, his fares ask him about his opinions on Palestine. While many Connecticut lawmakers showed support for Israel, more and more people Youssef said, are interested in hearing about the plight of the Palestinians he said.

Even those who aren't in agreement still appreciate his opinions.

"When somebody asked me what do you think about what's happening back home, back home and then to see oh, well, you know what," Youssef said. "That's not how we see it. But thanks for sharing your story with us so much."

On Sunday, the U.S. dispatched an aircraft carrier strike group to the Eastern Mediterranean to be ready to assist Israel, and said it would send additional military aid.

But while Saleh said Palestinians have a right to freedom, he did not defend the attacks.

"If somebody stands up and says, 'Kill this and kill that,' I'm not for that," Saleh said.

This story has been updated. Connecticut Public Radio’s Jeni Ahrens and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.
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