Charlotte rallies draw hundreds who support Israel, Palestine

As Israel and Hamas argued over proposals for a lull in the fighting in Gaza on Sunday, hundreds of people rallied across Charlotte to show support for the two sides.

In Romare Bearden Park, hundreds gathered Sunday afternoon to support Israel, waving Israeli flags and holding signs that read, “We support Israel now and forever” and “State of Israel Est. 1948.”

“This is a clarion call for all of us who sit outside of Israel to not sit idly by as our brothers go to war,” Rabbi Yoseph Groner told the crowd shortly before reading from Psalm 20.

In Freedom Park, meanwhile, the Palestinian American Community Center of Charlotte hosted a silent protest and vigil for people in Gaza who have been killed.

More than 100 people stood in a semicircle near the band shell, holding signs encouraging a boycott of Israel and saying the conflict was a massacre of Palestinians.

Israeli officials say the military operation aims to stop relentless rocket fire and to destroy a sophisticated network of Hamas tunnels that could be used to infiltrate Israel.

More than  1,000 Palestinians, mainly civilians, have been killed and more than 6,000 wounded in the fighting, according to Palestinian authorities.

Israel says it is doing its utmost to prevent civilian casualties, including sending evacuation warnings to residents in targeted areas, and it blames Hamas for putting civilians in harm’s way. Israel has lost more than 40 soldiers.

U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Republican from Charlotte, told the crowd at Romare Bearden Park that elected leaders stand behind Israel.

“This is no time for America to stand down,” Pittenger told the crowd. “America needs to stand up for Israel. America needs to stand up for freedom. America needs to stand up for democracy.”

A small group of about 30 counterprotesters stood outside the park as well, organized by Jibril Hough, a local activist.

“They (Israel) say they have the right to defend themselves. But what exactly are you defending when in this current war, it’s not even a war. I just call it a massacre,” Hough said. “Over a thousand Palestinians have been slaughtered.”

Organizers said the protests were peaceful, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police didn’t report any incidents or arrests.