JOLIET – As the harrowing conflict between Israel and Hamas stretches into its fourth week, members of the Joliet Jewish Congregation and others gathered Thursday night to stand with Israel.
Rabbi Charles Rubovits spoke to a crowd of about 50 people at the “Stand with Israel” solidarity event, held at Joliet Jewish Congregation, 250 N. Midland Ave.
Rubovits said the “uninformed” world at large – and the mainstream media – often portray Israel in a negative light in the Gaza conflict. He said he wants the world to understand Israel has a right to defend itself and its people against deadly attacks.
“Israel has an inalienable right to exist peacefully without threat of military action against them,” he said. “We must stand with Israel in her time of need.”
The event was organized by the Joliet Jewish Congregation with the hope of educating the general public and helping them understand their side of the conflict, Rubovits said. The United States has not publicly supported Israel as much as he'd like, he said.
He stressed the Hamas militant group is a terror organization that refuses to put down its weapons, while Israel is doing what it can to defend itself.
Over the 24-day conflict, about 1,300 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and about 60 Israelis have been killed. More recently, the United States condemned Israeli forces for the shelling of a United Nations facility in Gaza this week that resulted in about 20 deaths. The U.S. called the incident “totally indefensible.”
At the same time, Hamas' network of underground tunnels are being used to infiltrate into the heart of Israel and to carry out surprise attacks. Israeli forces have recently vowed to destroy the tunnels as they are uncovered.
Both sides have been accused of committing war crimes.
Among the speakers at Thursday's event were Very Rev. Kathryn White, with St. Edward and Christ Episcopal Church in Joliet; Michael Block, past president of the Joliet Jewish Congregation; and Dr. David Rubovits, senior vice president of planning and allocations for the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago.
White emphasized the need for a peaceful resolution between both sides.
“I come before you this evening … as a witness to the rights of individuals, for the right of a three or four-year-old to sleep in his or her bed without the sounds of air raid sirens disturbing their peace,” she said. “I stand before you for the cause of the teenager who worries about his or her parents who serve in defense of their way of life.”
Both sides agreed to a 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire beginning Friday morning.
“Tonight, we've got to keep praying for a change in people's hearts, that they can give up the gun,” said Peter Hannon, a professor of culture and civilization with Lewis University. “Let's pray for justice and peace and let's have hope.”
Amanda Rose Hicks-Barnhardt was among those in attendance. She said she hopes these events continue to educate people about the conflict in the Middle East.
“Being here and looking at it from the outside, I'm doing what I can here because physically I'm not there and I cannot support Israel in the way I would like. I am in the United States, so I'm going to do what I can here,” Hicks-Barnhardt said.
Those in attendance were encouraged to donate to the Jewish United Fund to help with relief efforts and other humanitarian programs in Israel.