By Marie Pfeifer
Hundreds gathered on the historic Morristown Green on Thursday to voice support for Israel, just hours before a fragile ceasefire expired in Gaza.
Under tight security that included police on horseback and barricades around the stage, area Jewish leaders blamed the month-long war in Gaza on Hamas, citing rocket attacks that have rained fear on Israeli citizens.
Leslie Dannin Rosenthal, president of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, was in Israel near the start of the recent hostilities.
“I experienced being in a safe room while the sirens signaling the expected launch of a rocket went off, and the explosion of the rocket as it was intercepted in mid-air. The Iron Dome, a joint venture between Israel and the United States, saved thousands and thousands of civilian lives.”
The Iron Dome is a mobile system designed to intercept and destroy short-range rockets and artillery shells.
Photos by Scott Schlosser and Kevin Coughlin.
Pro-Israel songs, speeches, chants and placards filled the grassy square where George Washington’s troops once paraded. Organized by MetroWest, the event aimed to win the war of public opinion.
Israel has taken some hits on that battlefield, with the U.N. criticizing Israel’s powerful military response to rocket attacks and tunnels dug by militants.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier this week told the General Assembly that “the massive deaths and destruction in Gaza have shocked and shamed the world,” and another U.N. official said attacks on civilian targets “may amount to war crimes.”
Palestinian officials estimate more than 1,800 people have been killed since hostilities erupted; the U.N. says more than 1,300 of them were civilians, including 415 children and 214 were women, according to the BBC.
Israel reports losing 64 soldiers and three civilians so far, in fighting that resumed late Thursday as a three-day ceasefire expired. Egyptian-mediated talks failed to resolve to the crisis.
Amnesty International has called for an investigation into allegations that Israel has attacked hospital and health officials.
At least 144 schools and other facilities in Gaza have been damaged, unexploded ammunition is everywhere, and more than one million people lack access to water, reports the Associated Press.
Israel has deplored Hamas for using Palestinians as human shields, accusing the organization of hiding militants among citizens in public buildings.
More than 15,000 rockets and mortars have been fired at Israel by terrorists since 2001–including more than 1,000 rockets since July 7, 2014, when Israel launched Operation Protective Edge to counter these attacks, said the Israeli Defense Forces.
“Israel wants to live in peace with its neighbors and expects that peace to be reciprocated,” Rabbi David Nesson of the Morristown Jewish Center said.
“Israel has been there for 65 years. They withdrew unilaterally from Gaza nine years ago, giving the Palestinians beautiful land with the ocean and beautiful beaches and millions of dollars. What did they do with it? Built tunnels and amassed war weapons,” the rabbi said.
Andrew Gross, political advisor to the Deputy Israeli Consul General, said: “No one has the right to preach morality to Israel. Israel will never apologize for defending itself. Our Jewish values will win out. We opened a field hospital to treat wounded Palestinians. We want an end to violence and terrorism. Our goal is to see Hamas disarmed . . .while Hamas advocates the death of all Jews.”
Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty voiced his support for Israel’s self-defense.
“Every country has the right to protect itself from rockets. I hope and pray that we resolve these conflicts peacefully. Sixty thousand people, in our own country, died this year from violence. We need to stand with countries that believe in peace and freedom.”
Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, and Senators Corey Booker and Robert Menendez did not attend the rally. Gordon Haas read statements from them expressing unconditional support for Israel.
Morris Township Committeeman Jeff Grayzel urged the audience to thank these officials for “standing with Israel.”
Prayers for peace were offered by Pastor Brad Motta of the Mt. Fern Methodist Church and Pastor Dave Edwards of the Millbrook Methodist Church.
The parents of Lonnie Monkado, an Israeli “Lone Soldier” and a 2002 Morristown High School graduate, were recognized.
Ira and Esti Monkado of Morristown said their son did not have to go into the Israeli military because he was not an Israeli citizen, but he chose to serve in support of his heritage.
–Morristown Green Editor Kevin Coughlin contributed to this report.