The effects of the escalating Israel-Hamas war are being felt around the world, including in the Twin Cities’ Palestinian and Jewish communities.
Several Palestinian and Jewish community members who spoke to Sahan Journal expressed diverse opinions on the long-standing conflict, but shared a common feeling—fear for family members who live in or near the combat zones in the Gaza Strip and Israel.
The most recent conflict began when Hamas militants stormed Israeli towns on October 7 during a major Jewish holiday, killing more than 1,000 civilians and kidnapping hostages. Israel immediately launched airstrikes on Gaza, killing more than 3,000 Palestinians.
Twin Cities resident Moe Asme, who is Palestinian, was one of the hundreds of people who attended a candlelight vigil on Monday, October 16, for Palestinians who were killed and impacted by the Israeli military’s ongoing bombing campaign of Gaza and its blockade of food, water, and electricity into the area. More than 1,000 protesters attended a pro-Palestine rally Wednesday evening at the State Capitol.
Organizers at Monday’s event at the University of Minnesota asked the community to “share their grief” about the Palestinians injured or killed in Gaza. Asme said he has had trouble focusing on school, because he can’t stop thinking about those deaths.
“Seeing the people being killed—no food, no water, no electricity—of course you will break down on the inside,” Asme said.
Sami Rahamim, the director of communications for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, said that more than 2,000 people gathered at the Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park on October 10 to show solidarity with the Jewish community after the killings of Israeli civilians.
“Many Jews have family members, friends, and close ties with people in Israel, and what happens there really does impact us here,” Rahamim said. “And there’s a deep sadness still from the massacre on October 7, and the absolutely heinous evil that was committed by Hamas terrorists against Israeli civilians.”
More than 1,400 people were killed and 206 were kidnapped in Israel, most in the initial Hamas attack.
In response, Israel launched airstrikes on Gaza, killing 3,785 Palestinians and injuring another 12,500, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. More than 1 million Palestinians fled northern Gaza as instructed by Israel, which continued its airstrikes, including in southern areas of Gaza that Israel had declared “safe zones.”
Andrew Latham, a professor of international relations and political theory at Macalester College, said that when the general public considers the conflict, they should remember that real people are involved.
“I think a good place to start is to recognize everyone’s humanity, and that there are real people on both sides of the video who are suffering terrible losses,” Latham said.
Family members in conflict zones
May Marsa, a member of the Minnesota chapter of American Muslims for Palestine, said she has family in Palestine’s West Bank who were under lockdown and were too scared to leave the house for groceries.
“We’ve been checking in on my aunts and my cousins. My dad’s been very scared for his brothers,” said Marsa, who is Palestinian. “I also have some colleagues with family in Gaza, so it’s been very emotional trying to see what’s happened to them.”
Marsa said the Twin Cities Palestinian community has grown closer this week over the Palestinians killed in Gaza, but that a “sadness” hangs over them. Marsa said many local Palestinians feel hurt by what she describes as “very little support” for Palestine among many Americans.
“Even just the basic condolences just doesn’t feel like it’s there,” Marsa said. “Everyone is like, ‘I stand with Israel,’ but why isn’t anyone standing with the Palestinians, or why hasn’t anyone been standing with them even before this week? What has happened in Palestine was before this week. It didn’t begin just the last few days—it’s been happening for decades.”
Local Jewish community members also have loved ones affected by the conflict. Oren Kranek, 40, of Apple Valley, spent the first 18 years of his life in Tel Aviv, Israel. Kranek said he felt resigned the minute he heard about the October 7 attack. He called his parents, his brother, and his friends who live in Israel.
“I’ve had some unpleasant conversations, but my immediate friends and family have been OK so far,” Kranek said.
Kranek has been in daily contact with family and friends through text messages. His father, a retired computer engineer, and his mother, a retired professor who taught at Tel Aviv University, have used their bomb shelter periodically over the last few days. One of his friends relocated from southern Tel Aviv because of daily rocket strikes.
“It’s a tragedy,” Kranek said. “I’m confused over why—why all this loss of life?”
Kranek recalled living through instability and periodic bombings at nightclubs when he grew up in Israel in the 1990s, and Israel constructing a controversial wall along the West Bank.
“We thought that was it, we made it through the ‘90s,” Kranek said. “This is very different. There hasn’t been an invasion or attack like this in modern Israel history. People are shocked and scared and hurt and confused.”
Mariam El-Khatib, who is a member of the Minnesota chapter of American Muslims for Palestine, agreed with Marsa that there appears to be less public support for Palestinians.
“Palestinians are killed twice—once by Israel and then again in the media due to the dehumanization we’re seeing,” said El-Khatib, who is Palestinian.
El-Khatib referenced a now-deleted tweet that was posted on Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s account, @IsraeliPM, on X, formerly known as Twitter. The official government account had posted the message, “This is a struggle between the children of light and the children of darkness, between humanity and the law of the jungle.”
“It’s just absolute dehumanization,” El-Khatib said of the post. “It’s been really, really difficult and on a personal level to me, that’s even harder than seeing the violence and aggression because it just completely distorts reality.”
Israel has cut off supplies of food, water, and electricity to Gaza in the past week. El-Khatib said many Palestinians across the globe have been directly impacted by the bombings and evacuation in Gaza, or knows someone who has.
Long history of conflict
Latham said that understanding the current conflict requires going back 100 years to the end of World War I.
“It’s at that point we get two incompatible nation-building projects: one Palestine Arab, the other Jewish Zionist, both building on the nationalist idea that every people should have its own state,” Latham said. “But here’s the nub of the problem: both claiming the same piece of territory.”
The Jews and Palestinians claimed the territory of Israel-Palestine at that time due to their historical claims to the area, with both groups asserting that they were the legitimate heirs of the region, Latham said.
Israel, with the help of the United Nations, established itself as a country in 1948. The goal was to establish a Jewish-run country after centuries of pogroms in other countries and the then-recent slaughter of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust. A Zionist movement to establish a Jewish state in the group’s ancestral homeland had already taken root a half century before then.
The initial plan by the United Nations was to establish two Palestinian states—one Jewish and one Arab. The Israeli-Arab war followed. Before and during the war, 700,000 Palestinians migrated out of what is now Israel, some fleeing and some by force.
Palestinians emigrated to modern-day Gaza and the West Bank, which at the time were a part of Egypt and Jordan, respectively. The 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and a coalition of Arab states changed this. Israel won the Six-Day War and occupied Gaza and the West Bank.
In 2005, Israel withdrew from Gaza. The following year, Hamas won an election. A civil war followed, and Hamas gained control of Gaza and hasn’t held an election since. Israel has since blockaded the territory.
Latham said that Hamas is not the same as Fatah, the Palestinian political party that holds power in the West Bank and which lost the civil war in Gaza in 2007. The Palestinian people have legitimate national aspirations, and Hamas does not represent those interests, Latham said.
The Fatah supports a two-state solution where both Israelis and Palestinians have their own independent country, while Hamas does not, he added.
Hamas was founded in 1987 during an uprising against Israel’s occupation, and aims to liberate Gaza and the West Bank through violence and the annihilation of Israel. The organization has been designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department, the European Union, and other countries.
El-Khatib said that to understand the current conflict and conditions in Gaza, it’s important to know that the Palestinian territory has been occupied for nearly 75 years and has been blockaded by Israel and Egypt since 2007.
Palestinian and Jewish community members expressed concern about biased sources sharing news about the Israel-Hamas war, and advocated for a careful review of sources to avoid misinformation. Rahamim urged people to carefully review information before spreading it on social media.
Latham encouraged the general public to read news about the conflict from several different sources, and to practice patience as facts are sorted out from sensationalism in the media.
Local Palestinian and Jewish community members also expressed fear that emotions surrounding the conflict could escalate into attacks on their communities in the United States.
El-Khatib said there is a lot of fear in the Muslim community about hate crimes or mosques being targeted. She pointed to the October 14 stabbing of Wadea Al Fayoume, a 6-year-old Palestinian Muslim boy, by a white landlord in the Chicago area as an example of the violence many Muslims fear.
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas has received reports of Jewish children experiencing antisemitism from their peers every day since the conflict heated up, said Rahamim, the group’s director of communications.
But despite the hum of worry that now runs through their daily lives, some community members expressed empathy for each other, and hope that the local communities could work towards understanding.
El-Khatib was optimistic that Palestinians and Jews in Minnesota could work together to show mutual support, adding that the Minnesota chapter of American Muslims for Palestine often worked with Jewish Voices for Peace, a Jewish group that is against Israeli military action in Gaza. She said she has seen many Jews say they don’t want to see violence perpetrated against Palestinians in Gaza.
Kranek, the Apple Valley man whose parents and brother live in Israel, said he also feels for the people suffering in Gaza.
“I can’t even speak to what’s going on at the Gaza side,” Kranek said.
A small number of Jews also showed up at Monday’s candlelight vigil at the University of Minnesota; some they believe Judaism condemns acts of aggression against civilians.
Karen Schraufnagel, a non-practicing Jew who is a member of Jewish Voices for Peace, showed up at Monday’s vigil to support Palestine. Schraufnagel said that she stopped attending synagogue services because she could not find acceptance for anti-Zionist movements.
“I feel somewhat jealous of the younger Jews who feel that they can be Jewish and still in solidarity with Palestine,” Schraufnagel said.
The Twin Cities chapter of IfNotNow is organizing a rally at 3 p.m. Friday outside the Minnesota DFL headquarters in St. Paul to call for “an end to war and occupation,” according to a news release the group issued Thursday. IfNotNow is a Washington D.C.-based group of American Jews advocating for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
“We are here as Jews to say NO to escalated violence against Palestinians,” said the group’s news release. “Not in our name, not ever. The safety of Israelis, Palestinians, and all Jews depends on putting an end to Israel’s ongoing genocide against Palestinians.”
Small gestures offer relief
Members of the Twin Cities’ Jewish and Palestinian communities said small gestures can go a long way in easing their anxiety. The best way to support each community, they said, is to check on Jewish and Palestinian community members.
Rahamim recommended asking Jewish friends and colleagues about the conflict, and offering a listening ear without judgment if they wanted to talk about it.
El-Khatib asked that people check on their Palestinian friends and neighbors, noting that one of her mother’s coworkers had offered to get groceries in case El-Khatib’s mom was afraid to go out in her hijab due to a heightened fear of Islamophobia.
“These efforts go a really long way,” El-Khatib said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.