For some Americans, the conflict between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is too far away to be fully understood.
For others, like Palestinian-American Eyad Alkurabi, the fighting, the deaths and the ruin caused by war are more than just images and statistics. It’s his people suffering, and sometimes, it’s difficult to see.
“You don’t want to be alone,” he said. “You feel very sad. You feel helpless.”
Alkurabi, who was born in Troy, grew up in Latham and lives in Clifton Park with his family, is 23 and a senior at the University at Albany. He doesn’t want people to forget the conflict and the suffering he feels the Palestinian people in Gaza have experienced.
He and Cassandra Hamdan, a Palestinian-American from New York City, helped to organize a rally and march Saturday in solidarity with the people of Gaza. It took place at the West Capitol Park in Albany.
Hamdan, who graduated from UAlbany in May, was born and raised in New York City. Her father came to the United States from his native Palestine about 34 years ago, when he was 19. Hamdan said her father taught her the conflict has two sides and that she should learn both of them.
He still believes Palestinians can coexist with Israelis, but recently, he has been unable to watch television and hear what is being said about his people.
Hamdan said she hopes that one day the blockade on Gaza will be lifted and Israeli settlements in the West Bank will stop.
“It’s devastating. It’s crushing to the heart,” Dina Hammad, who had come from Fitchburg, Massachusetts, for the rally, said of the conflict.
She has relatives in the West Bank and said seeing what is happening to Palestinians — her father is Palestinian — in Gaza is difficult. But, she said, she can’t lose hope because what she’s feeling is nothing compared to what the people in Gaza are going through.
Being optimistic, she said, is something they must continue in honor of those in Gaza.
“It’s the least we can do,” she said.
The conflict is actually between Israel and the armed Palestinian resistance group Hamas, said Shelly Shapiro, director of community relations of the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York and director of the Holocaust Survivors & Friends Education Center. Shapiro said Friday it is Hamas shooting rockets into Israel and the Israelis are only responding.
“We’re hoping that people understand that Israel must defend itself,” she said.
The federation helps people living in the Eshkol region in southern Israel, near Gaza. The community has a place called The Resilience Center, which provides psychologists and a haven for children dealing with the trauma of the conflict. The federation also helped fund a fortified wing of the center that can serve as a bomb shelter.
“If Hamas was not in Gaza, there would be no blockade and Gaza would thrive and no civilians would suffer,” said Stephen Berk, the Henry and Sally Schaffer professor of history of Holocaust and Jewish studies at Union College and a congregant of the Agudat Achim synagogue in Schenectady.
To Berk, the problem is Hamas and its anti-Semitism and terrorist behavior.
At the rally, chants of “Free, free Palestine!” filled the park.
Protesters included Haneen Alsaad, 18, of Utica, who has a cousin in Gaza, and Manar Abdelfatah, 17, and her mother, Andriea, both of Syrcause, who also have relatives in Gaza. All three said they haven’t been able contact family in Gaza since Israeli airstrikes began last month.
Andriea Abdelfatah said she would like Palestine and Israel to coexist, but also feels Gaza has been under siege.
“We won’t give up,” Alkurabi said. “We will be free. And we are human beings.”