Kathleen Kienitz, of Old Orchard Beach, left, brought a sign reading “Palestinian Lives Matter” to a vigil in downtown Portland on Saturday to condemn Israeli military attacks in the Gaza strip. “I don’t advocate violence” by either Hamas or the Israeli military, she said. Bonnie Washuk/Staff Writer

About 100 people gathered in Portland on Saturday to protest U.S. support for Israel, saying that nation’s response to a massive attack by Hamas a week ago is killing and injuring innocent Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip and that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is unjustified.

The protesters held Palestinian flags and signs reading “End Israeli Apartheid,” “Israel, End the 16-year Siege on Gaza” and “Stop Israeli War Crimes” during the rally at the corners of Middle and Exchange streets.

“I’m mad at the automatic, knee-jerk reaction of the United States, saying, ‘We are 100 percent behind Israel’ when the people of Gaza have been stripped of rights and liberties and freedoms for all these years,” said Janet Drew, of York, a retired nurse.

With people dying on both sides, shouldn’t the U.S. try to be “something other than the one who brings more war?” Drew asked.

The protest came a little over a week after Hamas militants launched attacks on Israeli communities, plunging the region into its worst conflict in decades. Thousands of Israelis and Palestinians have been killed and injured in the ensuing fighting, and by Saturday, Gaza residents were either fleeing from or bracing for an Israel ground assault that could begin any time.

Abby Fuller, chair of Maine Voices for Palestinian Rights, said demonstrators were protesting the use of U.S. taxpayer money to fund the Israeli military, “and right now, the Israeli military is committing genocide in Gaza. There are thousands and thousands of people killed. They’re being told to leave. They have nowhere to go.”


In recent days, she said, she’s seen too many pictures of dead babies and children being pulled from the rubble of apartment buildings in Gaza.

“It’s horrific,” Fuller said. “There’s no justification for it. These were innocent people who did nothing wrong.”

Voters here need to pressure officials and members of Congress to end military aid to Israel, Fuller said.

When asked how Israel should retaliate following Hamas’ attack on Israeli civilians, Fuller said the Palestinians now being killed by Israel airstrikes are not part of Hamas. “And the life of a Palestinian child is just as valuable as the life of an Israeli child.”

It’s important to understand the historical context that gave rise to Hamas, she said. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, with a population of 2 million, are trapped there and have been for 16 years, Fuller said. Most have never left Gaza and live in poverty – the unemployment rate is 50%.

“They have so little hope,” she said.


Saturday’s protest in Portland was one of hundreds across the country and the globe this weekend.

Hundreds of protesters marched in Times Square; Pittsburgh; Portland, Oregon; and Washington, D.C., on Friday, with other rallies planned in Los Angeles and elsewhere through the weekend, The Washington Post reported. Law enforcement agencies nationwide said they were stepping up their presence around synagogues, other places of worship and Israeli diplomatic posts.

Years ago, Gazans tried nonviolent means to bring about change, Fuller said. People in Gaza have asked for international help and have been ignored. “We can’t be surprised when they turned to violence, is my view,” she said.

Bill Slavick, of Portland, attends a vigil Saturday to condemn Israeli military action against Palestinians. His sign read: “Palestinian dispossession: ‘Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s House.’ ” Bonnie Washuk/Staff Writer

Bill Slavick, of Portland, said he attended Saturday’s protest “because Israel stole Gaza in 1948. I’d like to see an end of the occupation and Palestinian independence, and Israel recognize that Palestinians are human beings.”

Kathleen Kienitz, of Old Orchard Beach, held a sign that read: “Palestinian Lives Matter.” She’s taken several trips to the West Bank and said Gaza “is an enclosed prison. You can’t get in and out.”

The brutal attack Hamas carried out on Oct. 7 “was horrible,” Kienitz said. “I don’t advocate violence. It makes me cry to read about the abductions. … It’s sickening. It’s heartbreaking.”

But for President Biden and others to act as if the violence came from nowhere and was unprovoked “is so ignorant, it’s so infuriating,” Kienitz said. When 2 million people are imprisoned, she added, “it’s a time bomb.”

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