During a rally Thursday near downtown Murfreesboro, protesters called on the United States to stop providing aid to Israel in light of the recent air strikes over the Gaza Strip.
“I oppose the U.S. supporting Israel as it massacres Palestinians,” said Salina Khan, a Murfreesboro resident. “Ten percent of the people who live in Gaza are Christian. If not for humane reasons, Americans should still care because Christians are also being killed.”
According to the Congressional Research Service, the federal government has provided more than $3 billion in aid to Israel this year, due in large part because the U.S. considers it an extremely important ally in the Middle East.
The protest comes on the heels of a stepped up Israeli offensive that began Wednesday in response to attacks from Palestinian militants associated with Hamas, which the U.S. has classified as a terrorist organization.
Operation Pillar of Defense, the largest military campaign Israel has conducted in nearly four years, started with the targeted killing of a top Hamas commander, Ahmed Jaabari, in response to militant attacks.
As head of the Hamas military, Jaabari is believed to have been the force behind several attacks against Israel in recent years. His death comes as a serious blow to the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip.
For decades, Hamas has fought for the formation of a Palestinian state that would be recognized as a legitimate country by the United Nations. As part of those efforts, Hamas has long argued that Israel illegally occupies land belonging to the Palestinian territories, which includes the Gaza Strip.
The protesters gathered outside of the Murfreesboro office of U.S. Rep. Diane Black, who has not publicly commented on the conflict, in an effort to bring attention to what they believe has been an unwarranted assault on Palestinians.
“We are protesting because Israeli strikes have killed innocent people and a leader who was considered a moderate, not a militant,” said Jase Short, a recent Middle Tennessee State University graduate. “There are people of all faiths and backgrounds participating today because the violence needs to stop.”
President Barack Obama said Thursday the U.S. supports the right of Israel to defend itself in light of the barrage of rocket attacks being launched from Gaza against Israeli citizens, according to a White House press release.
In a phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, he urged the Israeli government to make every effort to avoid civilian casualties.
Since Jaabari’s death, violence has quickly escalated in Gaza, which is home to more than 1.6 million Palestinians. Seven Palestinians and three Israelis have already been killed – a growing number of casualties that Afnan Ahmae said she hopes will not rise as the conflict continues.
“I am here in support of Palestine, for my country,” said Ahmae, who is an American citizen of Palestinian descent. “My family is from there, so I came to show support for my fellow Palestinians who are suffering.”