As the conflict between Israel and the Gaza Strip continues to escalate, some Columbia residents came out to the Katie and Irwin Kahn Jewish Community Center Sunday to show their support for the United States’ ally in the Middle East.
The “Stop the Sirens” rally at the Katie and Irwin Kahn Jewish Community Center, off of Two Notch Road, hosted speakers from Israeli leadership as well as leaders from the Columbia community; including Mayor Steve Benjamin, who has traveled to Israel two times.
Benjamin said the city of Columbia has had a strong history with Israel, that Israel is “our one true friend in the Middle East.”
“This is not theory,” Benjamin said. “The thing that many Americans, and many others around the world, take for granted as a mere possibility, the people of Israel know are a real existential threat. If we take our eyes off the ball, if we waver in our commitment to the people of a true and free democratic Israeli state, so much can be lost in such a short period of time.”
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Joining Benjamin was Opher Aviran, the consulate general of Israel to the Southeast, based in Atlanta, who recently returned from a trip to Israel with his family. There he said his family experienced the threat of missile strikes launched from the Gaza Strip by Hamas forces, something that Israeli residents face on a daily basis.
As Aviran explained the threat of missiles that are fired directly into the city of Tel Aviv, he checked an app on his phone called, in English, “True Time.”
“Every time there is a siren in Israel, it will go off, and I will hear the siren,” Aviran said. “In Israel, it is their life and death. The last one was one hour ago, the previous one two hours ago, and another one two hours ago.”
Aviran said there are more rallies to come in Charlotte, Raleigh, Nashville, Tenn., and Atlanta.
“Christians and Jews can come and show their solidarity with a nation that is actually like America, a democratic and peace seeking nation,” Aviran said.
The Israeli military forces began their ground invasion of the Palestinian held land Thursday in order to destroy the tunnels that Hamas forces use as well as their rocket systems. Leading up to the invasion, thousands of missiles have been fired at targets in both Israel and the Gaza Strip putting the lives of many civilians in danger.
Barry Abels, the executive director of the Columbia Jewish Federation, said the rally is a cause to bring the conflict in Israel to the attention of people in Columbia.
“We want people to pray and to come in solidarity,” Abels said. “To make people aware of other peoples’ condition in Israel. That is what we are hoping to talk about. At the same time, for people to understand what’s going on, why it is happening and what has to happen for it to stop.”
Statements were also read by representatives for U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, S.C. Attorney Gen. Alan Wilson and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott.