WEST BLOOMFIELD — “One holocaust doesn’t justify another” echoed down Maple Road as Palestinian supporters protested the Zionist Organization of America — Michigan Region’s annual meeting at the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit July 31.
And on the opposite side of the street, supporters of Israel sang and held signs that included “Stop using children as human shields” and “End the tunnels.”
Metro Detroit activists — including groups like the Jewish Voice for Peace, which endorsed the pro-Palestinian protest, and the Detroit Light Brigade — planned to protest the ZOA’s annual meeting after hearing that it was being held at the JCC, according to Joel Reinstein, an organizer of the Palestinian supporters’ protest. Reinstein classified ZOA as a “racist organization that depicts Arabs as terrorists,” and said that as a Jewish person, he found it “especially outrageous” that the meeting was being held at the JCC.
“Over 1,500 people have been massacred in Gaza. They have no bomb shelters; they have nowhere to run. Children are being targeted, not just (as) collateral damage. … It’s clear Israel is gunning for civilians,” Reinstein said.
In response to Reinstein’s comments about ZOA being a “racist organization,” Kobi Erez, a staff member with ZOA, disagreed and said, “We have no problems with Arabs at all. We have problems with people who want to kill us.” Erez added that there are “Arabs living in Israel,” and explained that some serve in the army, and are doctors and professors.
The West Bloomfield Police Department learned of the pro-Palestinian protest and candlelight vigil days prior through a social media site. And by Thursday morning, Israel supporters had planned a counter protest, according the pro-Palestinian protest event page.
Erez said the ZOA welcomed the protest because they “believe everybody gets to voice their opinion as long as it’s not hurting anybody.
“We want peace in Gaza,” said organizer and Palestinian supporter Jarah Maan, of Hamtramck. “Are the children the terrorists? No. Are the women, the elderly the terrorists? No. But that’s the majority of who is being killed over there right now. We’re just asking for peace.”
While Palestinian supporters arrived around 6 p.m., Israeli supporters lined Maple Road with flags and signs before 5 p.m.
Ruth Vosko, of Farmington, heard from a friend who lives at the Meer Apartments — which is located on the Eugene and Marcia Applebaum Jewish Community Campus in West Bloomfield — that the residents couldn’t leave the facility because of the pro-Palestinian protest, and when she heard about the counter protest, she vowed to donate at least one hour of her time to attend.
When asked why she was protesting, she responded in tears, “Because I’m a Jew,” adding that she was there because Hamas is “killing our children and because they are putting their children at risk to save their ammunition.”
Standing about 15 feet from Vosko, Marcie and Eran Reznik, of Novi, stood with signs reading, “We stand with Israel.” Marcie is an American-Israeli citizen, and her husband, Eran, emigrated from Israel about 3 1/2 years ago. Marcie said that she lived in Israel during the First Intifada, which lasted from 1987-1993, and she reflected on her experience.
“It was scary; you couldn’t get on buses. Every time you got on a bus, you didn’t know if you were going to be targeted. … My first year there, I was issued a gas mask. As an American, you don’t have that problem,” she said.
Eran, on the other hand, grew up in Israel and said he got used to the fighting but was never OK with it.
“Every day, there are rockets shooting. Sometimes it’s not even on the news. … For me, it’s just devastating.”
Like all men and women living in Israel, Eran served in the Israel Defense Force for three years. He said that men serve three years and women serve two, and if a person becomes an officer, they serve longer.
“I (felt) honored to serve my country. … I felt if we were not joining the military, we wouldn’t have protection. We depend on our military for our defense. We don’t have a military to attack anybody. That’s why it’s called the Israel Defense Force.”
While the media focuses on the “dead bodies,” Marcie and Eran said, Israel provides a number of services to Gaza, including electricity, medical aid and food, but they said that’s not publicized.
“Israel is providing most of the electricity to Gaza, and they’re shooting on the same city of which this electricity comes from,” Eran said. “Nobody talks about that.”
Marcie added, “The only way you can know it is (happening) is if you’re there with your eyes seeing it.”
“This isn’t even our fight. This is a fight in Israel, and look what has happened throughout the entire world right now. It’s sad,” she said.
On the opposite side, Beilal Chatila, of Detroit, a first-generation Arab-American, stood waving a Palestinian flag while chanting “Free, free Palestine.”
“The world consensus has finally woken up to the correct side of history, and there’s only a few minute people who are still on the wrong side of history,” said Chatila, who is studying immigration law and human rights at Wayne State University.
“We’re here to not protest against (Israelis) but to protest for them. … For them to realize that this is a genocide, this is not a war; for them to realize that their exceptionalism is at the cost of innocent lives. … And we’re here as friends and brothers of humanity,” Chatila said.
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