Missoulians protest and push for peace in Israel-Hamas war
More than a hundred people marched through rainy downtown Missoula Saturday. They carried signs reading “ceasefire now” and “free Palestine” and chanted to the beat of a drum.
The protesters have gathered each weekend since conflict erupted in Israel and Gaza after the Palestinian militant group Hamas killed more than 1,400 Israelis in early October. Israel’s counteroffensive had killed nearly 10,000 Palestinians as of Sunday.
Missoula resident Robbie Lebin is Jewish and says some of his family in Israel are being called up to serve in the Israeli Defense Force.
Lebin wants the U.S. to stop sending military aid to Israel to prevent more bloodshed.
“The repression against the Palestinian people is not in their interest. It is always going to come back and hurt them,” Lebin said.
83-year-old Sigrun Kuefner agrees. She marched in the protest with a wooden walking stick. Kuefner says she’s appalled by the war’s civilian death toll.
“It’s outrageous. You shouldn’t go out and kill other peoples’ kids. That’s end of — you just shouldn’t do that,” Kuefner said.
The protesters called on U.S. Sen. Jon Tester to join some of his Democratic colleagues to push for a ceasefire. Tester and his Republican counterparts in Montana’s congressional delegation support additional U.S. military aid to Israel.
Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke recently introduced a bill seeking to ban Palestinians from entering the U.S. and possibly expel Palestinian noncitizens already living in the country. U.S. Sen. Steve Daines introduced a similar bill aiming to prevent Palestinians from obtaining U.S. visas needed to enter the country.
A quieter scene played out Sunday at a vigil held in a University of Montana theater. More than a hundred sang hymns for peace and listened to poems and prayers read by Missoula interfaith leaders.
Organizer Kelcie Murphy is Jewish and says she’s lost three friends on both sides of the conflict. She says she hoped the vigil would bring people together and help them see eye to eye.
“Once you get to know someone and see that they’re human, you see them differently, and you’re willing to talk to them; you know they’re not scary,” Murphy said.
Organizers also collected donations at the door they say will support efforts by the Red Cross to help civilians in the crossfire.