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Palestinian natives, supporters in Utah speak out as Middle East conflicts escalate

SHARE Palestinian natives, supporters in Utah speak out as Middle East conflicts escalate

Lelah Alhemrani, right, and Yasmeen Alherz, of Salt Lake City, attend a rally and protest to show support for Palestinians at Washington Square in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 12, 2021.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Adi Jamhour said he was heartbroken when he saw the images and videos of the violence and destruction as they emerged from his Palestinian homeland, especially over the past few weeks and days.

The Utah resident watched from afar as Israel and Hamas forces have traded attacks on each other over the past week. It’s considered the heaviest fighting between the two sides since 2014.

“(These are) people that I know and I relate to that they’re basically struggling, and they’re victims, and they’ve been killed and injured,” he said, standing on the lawn outside of the Salt Lake City-County Building Wednesday afternoon as a rally in support of Palestine and protest of over how Palestinian people have been treated in Israel began.

Jamhour was one of about 100 people who showed up at the event. The demonstration included speeches from people who, like Jamhour, came from the region or have strong ties to it. Many of the attendees also marched from the building along State Street to the Utah Capitol to voice support for Palestine.

Noor Saleh helped organize the event, which was promoted by the members of Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Utah. She said the point of the event was to highlight the crisis back in Palestine that many like her were “tired of seeing.”

This week’s events may have brought the issue back to the global forefront, but for Saleh and other organizers, it just adds more to the struggle that’s existed in the Middle East region for many decades.

She shared an experience she had in Bethlehem during her last trip there with her family a few years ago. During that trip, she said she was struck with tear gas in what she described as an unprovoked attack.

“This just happens to be the fate of many Palestinians; it’s an apartheid,” she said. “It needs to be broken. There is absolutely no reason that this much of a power dynamic should be happening.”

The escalation of violence comes after Israel was unable to form a government during elections earlier this month. At the same time, there’s been growing concern over the treatment of Palestinians under Israeli control.

The battles have been between the Israeli government and the militant organization Hamas — which has significant control of Gaza, west of Israel — and have led to dozens of deaths this week with “no signs of slowing.”

While it’s an area sacred to people of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, Saleh, who is Muslim, said the conflict really isn’t about religion at all. She said people from all faiths and backgrounds have been affected by the turmoil as it’s unfolded.

“It’s not the people. I have no hate for anyone. I’m not angry toward anyone — wars happen because it’s between two counties, between two government officials,” she said.

“It’s an awful thing,” she added.

Amos Guiora, a law professor for the University of Utah who resides in Utah and Jerusalem, also wouldn’t pinpoint the escalation to religion. He found himself in the crossfire of the recent attacks and told the Deseret News Wednesday that he was on a Zoom call earlier when he heard sirens blare and missiles head toward the city.

In another interview with KSL NewsRadio’s “Inside Sources” Tuesday, Guiora said he believed most of what’s happened as of late is the result of politics. He served nearly two decades in the Israel Defense Forces, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. A harsh critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Guiora said he had “no faith or confidence whatsoever” in Netanyahu’s ability to handle the situation.

“I would take it even one step further and say that, in the context of his own political interests and considerations, I think he made a concerted effort to amp up the pressure in East Jerusalem,” Guiora said on the show. “It’s pretty deliberate. We all know that extremism begets extremism.”

Stepping back and viewing it in a more objective sense, Guiora said Netanyahu supporters would argue that the prime minister conducted the attacks as a form of anti-terrorism and that’s why he’s the “right man for the job.”

Either way, the end result is something that people who attended Wednesday’s rally from both Jewish and Palestinian backgrounds didn’t want to see.

In Jamhour’s case, the United States offered him experiences he couldn’t otherwise have due to political persecution tied to the Israel-Palestine conflict. His experience also compelled him to attend Wednesday’s rally so he could offer insight into what it was like growing up in the region and voice his support of the Palestinian people still impacted by the conflicts.

“That’s one of the reasons I moved here. I’m looking for peace and a good life ... where I can share my rights and share my experience,” he said. “People back home, basically they’re really struggling. I’m one of those people who moved because I had no future, and I’ve been impacted heavily from the situation back home.”

Eric Jerome, of Salt Lake City, stepped up to the front of the crowd toward the end of the rally. Jerome, who is Jewish, said he attended the event because he knows that the Jewish representation isn’t very large.

He made it clear to the crowd in front of him that people of Jewish faith don’t agree with the conflict or even the tactics used by the Israeli government.

“As I (told the crowd), your enemy might be Jewish people, but the Jewish people are not your enemy … I think there are fabulous people and horrible people on both sides of this conflict,” he said, afterward. “Unfortunately, it’s not one that’s easily resolved.”

In addition to speaking up on the ongoing events in the Middle East, Saleh also went around carrying a clipboard for signatures of those opposed to a recent Utah bill that went into effect last week. SB186 ”prohibits a government entity from contracting with a company that boycotts the State of Israel.”

“We’re not against Judaism,” she said. “We love our Jewish brothers; we love our Jewish sisters. We just want to use our voice, and this (bill) is impacting Palestinian businesses in Salt Lake and in Utah.”