As war wages for its third week, the fighting in Gaza has killed nearly 3,000 and left more than 12,500 wounded. For Israel, the death toll reached to over 1,400 and close to 300 Israeli soldiers have died since the fighting began on Oct. 7, according to Israeli officials.
On Tuesday, Al Ahli Arab Hospital was rocked by an explosion, leaving nearly 500 Palestinians dead and dozens more wounded. In countries like Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, thousands march demanding justice for Israel’s alleged actions, sparking a worldwide escalation.
As the fighting continues, the world reacts and South Pasadena is no exception, navigating the emotions of one of the most brutal conflicts between Israel and Hamas in recent memory.
Our Leaders Speak
Mayor Pro Tem Evelyn Zneimer moved to the U.S. when she was 16 years old, earning a bachelor’s degree at UCLA. In her time, she met a lot of Jewish students, and started to attend Orthodox School. When she finished, she converted to an Orthodox Jew.
At UCLA, she would walk on Sabbath, which is on Friday night, to the Orthodox Temple Beth Israel synagogue.
In South Pasadena, Mayor Pro Tem Zneimer notes that the community comprises approximately 200 Jewish families.
Upon her involvement with the local government of South Pasadena, Mayor Pro Tem Zneimer learned of some people in the distant past whose racial bias was backed by city leadership. That treatment of others at the time had detrimental outcomes for many people; including leaving a legacy that has left a mark on the history South Pasadena that leaders still answer for today. “…These archaic practices go back to 1911; 112 years ago. For example, until anti-discrimination laws were established in 1974, it was highly discouraged, and even prevented Jewish individuals, as well as Japanese Americans, and people of color from purchasing property”, says Zneimer. “While there is still work to do in these areas, South Pasadena is nearly a polar-opposite from those times.”
“Reflecting on our history, it’s imperative now to demonstrate that South Pasadena is committed to inclusivity, celebrating and welcoming all cultures.”
She also expressed her deep sorrow over the violent conflict between Israel and Hamas.
“My heart is with Israel; and I stand with the Jewish people. But the violence must stop” remarked Mayor Pro Tem Zneimer.
Between 2008 and 2009, she visited Israel, specifically Tel Aviv – the nation’s second-largest city located on the Mediterranean coast – to support a classical guitarist. During her stay, she forged connections with individuals residing in Gaza. Following the recent unrest, she immediately reached out to these acquaintances.
“The news of the unrest and destruction is horrifying, especially reports circulating on social media about harm to children, I am deeply affected,” she commented.
She further acknowledged the incident at the Al Ahli Arab Hospital, which reportedly resulted in the loss of 500 Palestinian lives. “The value of life, be it Israeli or Palestinian, is immeasurable. This must end”
Earlier this week, Israel clarified its position regarding the hospital incident, attributing it to Islamic Jihad, an organization reportedly associated with Hamas. Hamas is blaming Israel, according to reports.
“In the end, every life is invaluable,” she added. “No matter one’s ethnicity or background, the sanctity of life should always be protected.”
Mayor Pro Tem Zneimer expressed her hope for a peaceful resolution and international recognition of Israel’s sovereignty.
“The complex history of the region goes back thousands of years, and it’s difficult for many of us in the West to comprehend. It is essential that the global leadership acknowledges Israel’s right to exist as an independent state,” she said. “I hope international leaders extend the necessary support, as they did in other regions, to ensure a free and harmonious existence for its citizens.”
Boots on the Ground
Earlier this year, thousands protested in Israel in response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to overhaul the nation’s judiciary system, plunging it even closer to the most conservative, right-wing leadership the country has ever seen.
Now, those protests have been mostly quiet, while the world continues to respond.
Back in the U.S., demonstrations across college campuses across the country have seen demonstrations like this, and on the campus of Pasadena City College, students are speaking on the issue.
On Tuesday, over150 marched on the University of Southern California campus, rallying support for Palestine with signs reading “Free Palestine!” on the front.
Haytham Shalabi is an 18-year-old Palestinian freshman at Pasadena City College and lives in Arcadia. Graduating from Arcadia High School, he is first-generation, studying biology. He also speaks fluent Arabic.
His parents met in the Middle East and moved to Los Angeles in the 1980s.
“I have a good family,” Shalabi said. “I always knew my culture and where I came from.”
Shalabi believes what’s happening between Hamas and Israel is a “horrible conflict,” and despite death on both sides, he doesn’t feel Israelis respect the Palestinian people.
“Israel has gone too far,” he said. “I do believe in the two-state solution. I don’t believe it will become a two-state solution if Israel keeps breaking international law and keeps killing thousands of Palestinians.”
Shalabi’s grandmother was taken from her home and beaten by an Israeli Defense Force’s soldier.
“She lived her life in fear,” Shalabi said. “She finally returned to Palestine 40 years after she left. She cried because she knew that it’s probably not going to get better anytime soon. We need to work both sides, Israelis and Palestinians, and figure out how we can work this issue, not killing millions.”
Shalabi admitted his family reels every time they turn on the news and see the death toll. Even when they return to Palestine every year, they experience the harsh reality of the climate back home.
Just this last year, Shalabi’s mother was held by the IDF for close to five hours and how the Israeli government would shut down power to their neighborhood.
One day, Shalabi said he spent the entire day in his room hiding in fear, not knowing if the soldiers would come into his room next.
“The most terrifying thing when I was there was, I just stayed in my room and prayed that the Israeli soldiers would not come through that door,” he said.
Moving forward, Shalabi believes the United States should sit down with Israeli and Palestinian officials to come towards a two-state solution, peacefully.
“This has happened for years,” he said. “It just keeps happening…both people have a right to that land and they shouldn’t be scared that their house will be taken away in the middle of the night.”