More than 2,000 people filled Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield on Wednesday to show their support for Israel in the face of a deadly conflict that has rocked the Middle East and drawn international attention.
“We believe that enough is enough,” Roey Gilad, Israel’s Consul General to the Midwest, told the overflow crowd at the synagogue. “We believe that this is the time to de-militarize Gaza Strip.”
Officials sought support for an emergency relief campaign while attendees also recited a prayer for Israeli soldiers and lit a memorial candle to honor the lives lost as clashes continue in the embattled region. Several area youths who recently returned from Israel also shared their experiences.
Benjamin Reinheimer, a West Bloomfield teen who was on a mission there cut short this month by the violence, said rushing to bomb shelters underscored the dangers Israelis face. “This is their reality all the time,” he said.
The event, “Detroit Stands with Israel, an Evening of Solidarity,” coincided with the United States announcing signs of progress in cease-fire talks Wednesday. Prospects for a quick end to the fighting were dim as Palestinian families fled fierce battles in southern Gaza Strip and the death toll rose to more than 700 Palestinians and 34 Israelis.
Underscoring the challenges facing international negotiators shuttling around the Middle East in a high-profile bid to end the bloodshed, the leader of Hamas insisted the Islamic militants would not relent until their main demand of lifting an Egyptian-Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip is met.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who met for the second time this week with United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon, flew to Israel on an Air Force jet, amid a ban imposed a day earlier by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on commercial flights into Ben-Gurion Airport because of Hamas rocket fire nearby. The FAA extended the ban Wednesday and many major European carriers also canceled more flights due to security concerns.
“We certainly have made steps forward,” Kerry said in Jerusalem, without elaborating. “There’s still work to be done.”
Israel has insisted it must substantially curb the military capabilities of the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza — a position that appears to have gained support within the U.S. administration — while Hamas has demanded the lifting of a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade on the impoverished coastal territory it has ruled since 2007.
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said in a televised speech that the opening of the border crossings was a red line.
“When it comes to the balance of power in this crisis between us and Israel, they are the executioners, the aggressors, the occupiers, the settlers, and we are the true owners of the land,” he said from his home-in-exile in Doha, Qatar. “We will not accept anything but the end of the siege.”
The U.S., Israel and the European Union all consider Hamas a terrorist organization, though the U.N. does not. United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon said he and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry were jointly lobbying officials in the region to push Hamas and Israel to a cease-fire as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, those with ties to Palestine have spoken out about the ongoing unrest and bloodshed.
On Sunday, Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition organized a mass demonstration in Washington, D.C., calling for an end to the conflict as well as U.S. military funding to Israel.
The Palestinian positions and casualties have not been accurately portrayed, said Abbas Hamideh, national chairman of the California-based nonprofit, which has chapters nationwide and coordinated a demonstration in Dearborn this month. Many believe the land has been illegally occupied; Hamas has not had as large a role as depicted; and Palestinians are largely defenseless, he said.
“There is no doubt this is a genocide,” Hamideh said. “This is not an equal conflict... (Israelis) have no reason to be invading Gaza.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.