Are Local Pro-Israel and Cease-fire Actions Still Making an Impact?

Israeli and American Jews gathered in Center City on March 3 to raise awareness of the hostages. (Photo by Mark Aizenberg)

It’s been more than five months since Hamas attacked southern Israel, killed 1,200 people and took more than 200 hostages, according to Israeli government figures. And in those five-plus months, the Israel-Hamas war has killed more than 30,000 people living in Gaza and displaced more than 80% of the territory’s population, per the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.

Public actions to raise awareness of the hostages continue in Philadelphia on a near-weekly basis. Protests calling for cease-fire do as well.

But what is the point of reiterating the same message over and over?

Getting the attention of politicians, according to activists on both sides.

“I don’t think they ever changed anyone’s mind,” said Yedida Goldman, a Jewish Bala Cynwyd resident, of the pro-Israel actions. “I think most people who show up at these events have their minds made up. I think the point of them is to give each other support. I think when they make the news, they have the impact of keeping the issues on the minds of politicians who make policy.”

Goldman compared the rallies to those for Soviet Jews in the 1970s and ‘80s. Eventually, “there were sanctions starting to be applied,” she said.

“Ultimately, they got enough pressure, and they started letting Jews out,” Goldman added.

“Our politicians in Washington see us. They put pressure on Qatar, and Qatar puts pressure on Hamas,” Goldman concluded.

Shani Amram, an Israeli who lives in Ambler, explained that the actions are not about raising awareness at this point. They are about maintaining it.

There are still more than 150 hostages.

“We need to make sure our community knows and has awareness all the time of the fact that they are still there,” Amram said. “In a way, we also want to make sure that the Jewish American community is part of that and knows it’s important for them.”

“People are forgetting, and they go back to their routine. We can’t let it happen,” she concluded.

On March 3, a Sunday, more than 500 Israeli and American Jews showed up to a Center City rally to raise awareness of the hostages, according to organizers. But “more importantly, bystanders just stopped by,” said Michal Mary, an organizer and Bala Cynwyd resident.

“That was great exposure,” she added.

Gatherings to raise awareness of the hostages continue in the Philadelphia area. (Photo by Mark Aizenberg)

To keep the subject in people’s minds, organizers such as Mary and her friend Dafna Ofer, another Bala Cynwyd resident, try to plan something every week. Last week after the rally in Center City, Mary and Ofer planned a smaller gathering with about 40 women.

They took a piece of challah and burned it.

“That’s sort of a blessing for the challah before you make it,” Mary said.

They wanted to get together to remember the 19 female hostages still held by Hamas, according to Mary.

“We have to make sure we always keep them in mind,” she said.

The hostages do not have a voice right now. That’s why Israeli and American Jews need to speak for them, according to Mary.

“That will ensure that people that are politicians and other people might have some sort of impact,” she said. “They’ll see us on the news. We’re still there. These people still need our attention.”

“We’re not stopping until they’re coming home,” she added.

Sonya Meyerson-Knox, the communications director for Jewish Voice for Peace, said her organization feels that way about a cease-fire.

“As we enter the fifth month of protesting the Israeli government’s genocidal war on Palestinians in Gaza, popular support for a permanent and lasting cease-fire has only gotten stronger. And yet, despite the mass appeal of a cease-fire to save lives, our elected officials continue to refuse to demand a cease-fire and our government continues to send weapons and military funds to the Israeli government,” she said. “This means that while the protests and disruptions of business as usual continue to play a vital role in galvanizing the growing support for Palestinian freedom and keeping Gaza in the news and top of mind, other forms of protest — like bird-dogging politicians who have not called for a cease-fire, and protests and disruptions of the president wherever he goes — are playing an increasingly important role.”

Many of the activists are just normal people with day jobs. Ofer is a physician in the University of Pennsylvania system. Mary is a real estate agent.

“It’s so important to us that we find the time and energy to keep doing this,” Mary said.

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