Hundreds turn out for pro-Israel rally in Miami Beach

07/20/2014 4:27 PM

07/20/2014 8:38 PM

Wrapping Israeli flags around their shoulders, bearing signs saying “Israel we stand with you,” singing and dancing along to songs about peace, about 400 people gathered at a pro-Israel rally in a Miami Beach park Sunday in an event organizers described as both in support of peace and Israel’s right to defend itself.

Peace was far from the reality in the Middle East Sunday morning, with fighting escalating in the Gaza Strip in what has been called the deadliest day of the two-week conflict. Casualties mounted on both sides as Israeli troops fought Hamas militants in Shijaiyah, a crowded neighborhood. Sunday’s battle raised the death toll to more than 400, and tens of thousands of people have been displaced in Gaza.

But in Miami Beach, rally participants — forming a sea of blue and white — stood in support of the Israeli people and the actions of the Israeli government. Signs emphasized an idea expressed by many at the rally — that Israel is under siege, and that its response is reasonable. One sign, with a picture of a rocket, asked, “What would you do?” Others read, “No more rockets from Gaza” and “Israel is here to stay.”

Though the dominant color scheme was blue and white, Israel’s national colors, there also was red, white and blue on display Sunday as well. Israeli and American flags hung from trees, festooned hats and were waved by people of all ages. The Star-Spangled Banner was sung alongside Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem. A keyboardist played traditional Hebrew songs.

Ran Regev, a board member of the Israeli-American Council, which organized the rally with about 20 other groups, said the event was an effort to expand understanding of the conflict in the Middle East.

Chaim Shacham, the consul general of Israel to Florida and Puerto Rico, spoke to a crowd that booed the mention of Hamas. “Over the past 13 days over 2,000 rockets rained down on Israeli civilians, every one of them a war crime,” he said. “Knowing the value Israel places on human life, Hamas purposefully forces a moral dilemma on Israel. We did not want this war. But Israel, like any nation, has the right to defend itself.”

Shacham said that the two sides are fighting in very different ways, and condemned what he called “despicable, evil tactics” on Hamas’ part.

“Israel is using its arsenal to protect civilians, while Hamas is using civilians to protect its arsenal,” he said.

During the event, organizers played the sound of air sirens as a reminder to the crowd of what daily life is like in Israel. There was also a moment of silence for the casualties of the conflict.

Varda Kainan, 64, of Aventura, who was born in Israel but has lived in South Florida for decades, said at the end of the day the rally was about solidarity with the people of Israel.

“What we really want is peace and quiet,” she said. “We want to live quietly with our neighbors.”

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