About 100 pro-Palestinian protesters gathered in Portland’s Monument Square on Friday afternoon to denounce Israel for the ongoing violence in Gaza.
Speakers used a microphone to read emails from people enduring the shelling in Gaza and carried Palestinian flags and signs condemning Israel for the attacks that have killed innocent Palestinians. “Stop Israeli State Terrorism,” one read.
Several police officers entered the crowd to surround a man and his son who had come to the square carrying an Israeli flag and a sign condemning Hamas. Protesters argued with the man loudly before police physically separated the two groups.
The protest, the third in Portland in three weeks, took place as Secretary of State John Kerry pushed for an elusive cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas and as the violence threatened to spread to the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.
As speakers read emails from people in Gaza, Barbara Loring, who lives on Portland’s Munjoy Hill, held one side of a large banner calling for peace. “I understand this is a very complex political situation. … We want respect for all sides,” she said.
People who are following the situation closely have been moved by images from Gaza of dismembered children and pictures tweeted by doctors from overwhelmed hospitals, she said. While Loring said she did not view the protest as anti-Israel, she noted that the vast majority of civilian casualties have been in Gaza.
She said she hopes by alerting the public to the issue, people will become more informed and ultimately pressure elected officials to stop the fighting.
Elaine Piccini, a longtime civil rights activist from Portland, said the protesters’ sentiments reflected the imbalance in the conflict. The majority of casualties have been Palestinian civilians, with entire families decimated by the Israeli bombardment.
“Israel is intent on genocide –doing away with an indigenous population … trying to push them out of the land,” Piccini said.
Mickey Haas of Portland and his 13-year-old son Benjamin staged a small counterdemonstration that drew police into the crowd to separate them from pro-Palestinian protesters. Haas carried a large sign condemning Hamas and defending Israel, while Benjamin carried a large blue and white Israeli flag.
“I came to support Israel. No country could possibly put up with this way of life,” Haas said.
Hamas has fired thousands of rockets into Israel in the past decade, and is intent on killing innocent Israelis, he said.
“All they want to do is blame Israel for everything,” Haas said. “If Hamas laid down their arms tomorrow, there would be peace. If Israel laid down its arms, there would be no more Israel.”
William Slavick, a longtime Portland activist, said Israel is instigating the violence even as it claims that it is only defending itself. Israel fired 60 missiles into Gaza before Hamas fired its first rocket, he said.
“Peace is a threat to Israel,” he said. “Because peace is going to require that they retreat” and give up settlements.
Evah Hellewell of Portland said she was demonstrating because she is a pacifist and feels compelled to protest against war.
“As a country privileged by having peace for the most part, we should be working to promote peace in other places.”