COLUMBIA — Hoisting a large sign on the southeast corner of Providence and Broadway, Kamau Bilal and Muhammad Muraywid encouraged drivers to show their support for residents of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday afternoon.
Their black and white sign — which read "End the Occupation-Siege-Oppression Now" — was intended to show their longstanding frustrations with Israel's treatment of Palestinians. But the protest came on the heels of a recent incident that has put the Israeli-Palestinian issue on center stage yet again.
On Monday, Israeli commandos raided a convoy of ships carrying activists from multiple countries and basic supplies intended for the Gaza Strip, which is under Israeli blockade. When the raid turned violent, nine activists died and many others were wounded, drawing international criticism of the Israeli government for the blockade and its actions during the raid.
Bilal and Muraywid, both members of the Islamic Center of Central Missouri, expressed a viewpoint similar to others' in Columbia — that the raid was bad, but simply the latest episode in an ongoing problem.
Another group, the Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation, met Wednesday morning at Daniel Boone Regional Library, and 11 community members of different cultural and religious backgrounds discussed their perspectives on the raid and living conditions in Gaza.
Maureen Doyle recently visited Gaza with the Code Pink organization. Doyle described the devastation she encountered on her trip: "At night, you'd hear the bombs going off."
Doyle said she was especially concerned about children in Gaza experiencing post traumatic stress and depression. Doyle described visiting a library in Gaza, where she examined children's drawings of tanks, bombs and civilians being arrested.
Saleem Alhabash, a founder of the Palestine Israel Peace Association, discussed a October 2009 report from the United Nations that stated only 10 percent of Gaza’s drinking water was safe to consume. The report also detailed issues of overcrowding and a lack of medical supplies in the area.
Alhabash said it was important for people to understand the multiple perspectives involved.
MU professor George Smith, a co-founder of the Palestine Israel Peace Association, emphasized that members of the same religion may passionately support different sides of the issue, he said.
Meeting attendees agreed on the need for greater education and discussion about the issues surrounding the raid.