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Minnesota activists and congressional delegation respond to escalating violence in Mideast

Protesters demonstrated in Minneapolis in support of Palestinians on Tuesday, as several Jewish organizations expressed solidarity with Israel.

Hundreds of demonstrators
Hundreds of demonstrators assembled outside Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s downtown Minneapolis office to put pressure on the senator to commit to support the Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act.
Sigal Photos

A coalition of protesters from various faiths and backgrounds gathered on the streets of Minneapolis Tuesday afternoon to march in solidarity with Palestinians as violence escalated in the Mideast.  

Hundreds of demonstrators assembled outside Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s downtown office to put pressure on the senator and other members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation to commit to support DFLer Rep. Betty McCollum’s bill, the Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act. 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Sarah Silbiger/Pool via REUTERS
Sen. Amy Klobuchar
The protest was organized by the Minnesota chapter of the Palestinian advocacy organization American Muslims for Palestinians, and was supported by other groups, including Jewish Voices for Peace Twin Cities, the Anti War Committee, If Not Now, and Women Against Military Madness. 

Also on Tuesday,  The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, along with the Minneapolis Jewish Federation and St. Paul Jewish Federation released a statement expressing solidarity with the people of Israel and a hope for peace. 

“The all-too-familiar escalation of violence in Israel and Gaza is deeply upsetting and we mourn the loss of Israeli and Palestinian civilians in recent days. Hundreds of Hamas rockets from Gaza, aimed at Israeli cities and meant to terrorize civilians, are the cause of the current crisis,” the statement read in part. … “For many in our Jewish community, the trauma Hamas is inflicting on Israel is deeply personal. Hamas is targeting our parents and grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and dear friends. The brave members of the IDF are our family, especially those Lone Soldiers from the Twin Cities. We hold all of them, all of Israel, closely in our hearts.”

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Weeks of unrest in Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories were triggered by the Israeli courts issuing evictions of several Palestinians from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and an attempt to block Palestinain Muslims from gatherings at the start of their holy month of Ramadan. The events then spiraled. A confrontation on Monday morning at the historic al-Aqsa mosque left approximately 250 Palestinians hospitalized and several police officers injured, according to local health officials. Later that day, Hamas retaliated by firing rockets into Israel, which then responded with airstrikes. The death toll as of Wednesday morning included 48 Gazans, of which 14 were children, and six Israelis, including one teenage girl. 

At the Tuesday demonstration in Minneapolis, demonstrators held signs with the phrases “Free Palestine” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” As they walked across the 35W bridge, they chanted “What do we want? Justice.”

Among the protesters was Murad Salam, a Palestinian refugee who arrived in Minnesota three years ago and says he is unable to return home because of Israeli restrictions. “We are people who deserve their land and deserve the rights to be back and deserve to have the right to return to their original villages. We would like to be dealt as human beings,” Salam said. “And so being here in Minneapolis with everything happening in the Twin Cities, we are an organic part of being in solidarity with other movements.”

Sara Farrah, a 27-year-old lawyer of Palestinian descent and a member of American Muslims for Palestine, lost her cousin in the strikes against Gaza on Monday night. “Everybody there is just kind of scared and I think scared of what’s to come because at least in our eyes, this is just the beginning. Things tend to escalate,” Farrah said. “And one side is just so clearly at a disadvantage.”

Farrah believes that social media has brought more awareness to the unfolding events than in previous cycles of violence in the area. “Social media, I think, has been a double-edged sword. I tend to hate social media, but I don’t think that we’d be where we are right now without it, because the world becomes so small because of it. And we have a lot more access to what’s going on on the ground than we did before,” Farrah said. “Now you have footage and you have an idea of what’s happening in real time.”

Naomi Hornstein, a 28-year-old grad student at University of Minnesota and a member of If Not Now, a Jewish advocacy organization that is against occupation in Gaza and the West Bank, says she attended the protest because social justice is part of her Jewish faith. 

There’s a huge push by younger Jews to say our community can’t support this because we’ve learned growing up that Judaism and social justice are intertwined and this is part of that. And so we can’t support what’s happening in Palestine,” Hornstein said. “And so I think that’s a huge shift that’s definitely been happening in my generation and the younger generation.”

Rabbi Jessica Rosenburg, another demonstrator at the protest, says she has also noticed this trend. “Many Jews who I know and am in a community with are deeply opposed and more and more people, I think, are feeling called to to speak out,” she said.

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The events of the past week have also generated comments from  members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation. 

McCollum, who in April re-introduced her Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families bill to Congress, tweeted on Monday: “Firing rockets from Gaza into Israel is an attack that I condemn unequivocally. This violence must stop. Israeli violence against Palestinian protesters in #SheikhJarrah – East Jerusalem must also end. Peace & security will only be achieved by ending Israel’s military occupation.”

Rep. Betty McCollum
Rep. Betty McCollum
McCollum first introduced her bill the to the House in 2017, after writing letters to the Obama administration in 2015 and 2016 about “the human rights of Palestinian children subjected to Israeli military detention.” She has introduced multiple iterations of the bill since 2017. But since its re-introduction last month the bill was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the same place where it got stuck in 2019 in a previous Congress.

“My bill … is a vehicle to inspire and mobilize people of faith, human rights activists, civil rights leaders, and policy makers to ask a simple question: Do you want U.S. taxpayer dollars to assist Israel in imposing its military occupation and persecution of the Palestinian people? I say no,” McCollum said. The bill would prohibit the use of foreign-assistance funds from being used to support practices against children including torture, sensory deprivation, solitary confinement and arbitrary detention. It would also make funds available for nongovernmental organizations to monitor “incidents of Palestinian children being subjected to Israeli military detention.”

A report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found that “in no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights.” 

Prominent Jewish organizations such as J Street, T’ruah and Jewish Voice for Peace have endorsed McCollum’s bill, along with multiple Palestinian rights activist groups. The bill also has support from Rep. Ilhan Omar, who has been vocal about the issue since before her election to Congress. Omar declined to comment for this story, but tweeted Tuesday that “Palestinian children deserve advocates for their humanity, safety and security. No exceptions.”

But all of Minnesota’s other representatives — including Democratic Reps. Dean Phillips and Angie Craig — signed a letter to the House Appropriations Committee seeking “full funding of security assistance to Israel,” and saying that there should be no stipulations placed on U.S. unrestricted aid to Israel because added conditions “would be detrimental to Israel’s ability to defend itself against all threats.”

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Phillips did not respond to a request for comment on his position, but in a statement on Twitter, he said: “I’m heartbroken by the loss of life in Israel & Gaza — particularly precious children. I fiercely support Israel’s right to exist and protect itself from sworn enemies AND Palestinians’ desire for self-determination and opportunity.”

McCollum, for her part, seemed unfazed by the differing stances among her Democratic colleagues, saying, “I respect my colleagues and when we disagree on the issues we do it respectfully – and then we look for places where we can work together to help Minnesotans.”