How the Israel-Palestine conflict resonates in Central Florida

Professor Günes Tezcür says conflicts also incite attacks locally

ORLANDO, Fla. – The cease-fire agreement between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas went into effect last week but the violence left more than 240 people dead, hundreds injured and homes and buildings reduced to rubble and communities distraught.

Eleven days of airstrikes and rocket launches plagued the skies over Gaza city and parts of southern Israel. In Central Florida, the 11-day conflict resonated among both Israelis and Palestinians.

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“They were going to bed afraid because they didn’t know what it would look like when they would wake up. I was going to bed afraid not knowing that my family would be safe,” Rasha Mubarak said.

The American-Palestinian activist in Orlando has several family members in Hizma, a Palestinian town in Jerusalem.

For Nirit Gelfer, an Israeli who moved to Orlando two years ago, the violence also hit close to home.

“My family, my friends run to a shelter all the time, all day long,” Gelfer said. “It’s a really complex situation and I couldn’t (believe) that 4,300 rockets was sent towards my home, attacked people I know. All my family my friends, I grew up in Israel everybody at home it was really stressful being here and (I) just hope for the best.”

The conflict happened more than 6,500 miles away but is one that Mubarak is passionate about raising awareness here in Central Florida. Especially when it comes to the funding from the U.S. for Israel.

“We have to understand that the freedom of one community does not come at the expense of another,” Mubarak said. “This is absolutely our business here locally. In this state and in this country because our taxpayer dollars are going there.”

For more than 70 years Israel and Palestine have been feuding over who should live on the land of Jerusalem. Britain took control of the area known as Palestine after World War I, the land was inhabited by a Jewish minority and Arab majority. Tensions between the two peoples grew when the international community gave Britain the task of establishing a “national home” in Palestine for Jewish people. In 1947, the United Nations voted for Palestine to be split into separate Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem becoming an international city. That plan was accepted by Jewish leaders but rejected by the Arab side and never implemented.

There are several reasons as to why the fighting recently escalated. Tensions were already high as Palestinian protests were growing--some sparked by an Israeli court ruling that ordered the eviction of six Palestinian families from an east Jerusalem neighborhood.

And clashes also broke out at a holy site in Old City, Jerusalem between Israeli police and Palestinian protestors who were upset over Israeli restrictions on gatherings during Ramadan which coincided with Jerusalem day-- an Israeli national holiday. It was lead by intense fighting between Israeli forces and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, who since 2006 controls the Gaza strip, a small territory bounded by the Mediterranean Sea, Israel and Egypt.

Professor Günes Tezcür of UCF’s School of politics, security, and international affairs explained these conflicts also incite attacks locally.

“Unfortunately, an increase in hate attacks both anti-Semitic that typically target the Jewish people but also anti-Muslim attacks that target the Arab-Palestinian people,” Tezcür said.

While a cease-fire was agreed upon, there’s a chance the past could repeat itself.

“There’s a cease-fire, it may look like stable but then if underlying circumstances are not going to be addressed then it’s very likely that we will see more violence and maybe more intense violence,” Tezcür said.

For Mubarak, the end to the decades-long conflict is to allow for Palestinians to be allowed to live and move freely in their home.

“When it was historic Palestine, Palestinian Christians, Muslims and Jews lived in peace. They shared agriculture together they shared businesses together a lot of different marriages happened,” she said. “People talk about ... how complicated it is when it is in fact simple. It’s ending 73-year apartheid against a people.”

Gelfer believes the end to the ongoing conflict won’t be that easy.

“Under a war, no one wins I believe. My hope is that it will be peaceful life, you know, that it will find how we can negotiate and how we can both live in the same area together,” Gelfer said, adding “But as we know this conflict has been forever so I hope our government will come or will do something to find solutions but we need partners for that.”