It’s been two years since Hana Baalousha has lived in her Gaza home.
The last time she and her husband were there, the Palestinian region was under attack. Now, the situation in her homeland is more desperate than ever, with an estimated 1,000 or more Palestinians dead in the ongoing seige by the Israeli military, whose leaders say their actions are needed to keep the peace for their own country.
On Saturday, Baalousha joined some two dozen supporters of Palestine at a Columbia protest in a plea for Gaza peace. The group waved signs – and waved at drivers in passing cars – near the main fountain in Columbia’s Five Points.
“We live in an unjust world,” said Baalousha, who moved from the United Kingdom to Columbia for about five months ago for her husband’s job.
Their friends and both their families still live in Gaza. Her family recently evacuated their house because their neighbor’s house was bombed.
“All the world watches the news, and everyone sees this,” she said. “And at the end of the day, they say Israel has the right to defend itself. No, Israel is not defending itself. Israel is destroying us.
“This has to stop. This needs to stop.”
Others with deep ties to the region, such as Leila Ajjaoui, also were part of the protest.
Ajjaoui’s parents and grandparents fled to Lebanon as refugees during the 1948 war in Palestine, and her family has been banned from Palestine ever since, she said. She said it’s her dream to one day see the land where her parents lived.
“It’s like they are vanishing the people,” she said of the attacks on the Palestinians. “That’s not a war. It’s not a defending. It’s criminal. I call it terrorist. That’s why we’re here.”
Ajjaoui led the protesters in chants at the intersection of Greene and Harden streets.
“What do we want? Peace! Where do we want it? Gaza!” they cried. “Not another nickel. Not another dime. No more money for Israel’s crime.”
Donning Palestinian flags and posters with messages such as “You don’t need to be Muslim, just HUMAN,” the protesters’ aim was to draw attention to the need for peace in the region and to the United States’ role in the conflict by supporting Israel, said David Matos, president of the Carolina Peace Resource Center, which organized the event.
“People need to know that U.S. arms and support are making this bloodshed possible,” Matos said. “We hope (the protest) increases the pressure on our leaders to do the right thing and really push for a ceasefire.”
The violence does not just affect the people living in the region, he said. He pointed to the example of Iman Abu-Aitah, a Columbia College student who this week lost her parents, two brothers and a nephew in a rocket attack in the Gaza Strip.
Another local student with deep roots in the region, Azza Shoaibi lent her voice to Saturday’s protest. She’s been in Columbia for three years studying under the Fulbright Program at the University of South Carolina.
As she does every summer, she returned this year to the Palestinian West Bank territory to visit her family. She came back to Columbia on June 8, just days before the Gaza fighting intensified, she said.
“We live here, and it’s really hard to see life is going on,” Shoaibi said. “Every day, we wake up, we open our Facebook and look at the channels and the news coming from journalists all around the world, and the human crisis is just heartbreaking.
“It has to stop.”