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Mainers Hold Peace Vigil in Response to Gaza Conflict
11/19/2012   Reported By: Tom Porter

Peace activists in Portland are planning a downtown vigil tonight to protest Israel's ongoing military action in Gaza. A group called Codepink is organizing the candlelit event, during which the names of more than 50 people killed since Nov. 14 will be read aloud. It gets underway at 6 o'clock in Congress Square Plaza. Tom Porter has more.

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Peace activists in Portland are planning a downtown vigil tonight to protest Israel's ongoing military action in Gaza. A group called Codepink is organizing the candlelit event, during which the names of more than 50 people killed since Nov. 14 will be read aloud. It gets underway at 6 o'clock in Congress Square Plaza. Tom Porter has more.

Organizer Patricia Taub (left) says the purpose of the vigil is solidarity. "To stand in solidarity with the people of Gaza, who are being unmercifully attacked by Israel. I think the latest tally is somewhere around 100 dead, and maybe 3 Israelis have been killed."

Taub blames Israel for kicking off the latest round of violence, with the targeted assassination last week of Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari - a man who she says was trying to enforce a ceasefire. She says her group also wants to highlight what she calls America's "complicity in Israel's aggression."

"Our tax dollars are paying for Israel's state-of-the-art weapons," she says. "And many of us who are pacifists don't want that to happen, so there's really two messages: We stand in solidarity with the people of Gaza and we do not want American money going to Israel at this hugely unfair advantage."

Members of Maine's congressional delegation were unable to provide comment for this story. However, both of Maine's Republican senators were on board with a resolution passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate last week backing Israel's action in Gaza and supporting the country's "inherent right to self-defense."

Senator-elect Angus King, who will represent Maine as an independent beginning next year, says he, too, would support the resolution. Speaking this afternoon on MPBN's "Maine Calling," he said he would also do everything he could to find a diplomatic solution.

"We have every interest in not letting this get out of hand and turn into another Mideast war," he said. "To the extent we can quietly work diplomatically, work with the Israeli government, work with whatever other contacts we have in Middle East, other governments, to try to develop a ceasefire to try to tamp this down, I think clearly is in our interest."

Emily Chaleff"During this last year, there were over 700 rocket attacks from Gaza by Hamas, and Israel has done very little in retaliation during that time," says Emily Chaleff (right), executive director of The Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine, which has released a statement affirming Israel's right to defend itself against what it calls "persistent rocket attacks launched by Hamas militants in the Gaza strip."

"We can't think of another country in the world where, if rockets were raining over the border for a year, that it would have taken them this long to retaliate," Chaleff says. "So we staunchly support Israel."

Chaleff points out that Hamas is a terrorist organization, whose charter calls for the destruction of the state of Israel. "What is so confounding is Hamas's need for the destruction of Israel over the well-being of its people," she says. "And the attacks that Israel's launching is against Hamas leadership that hides behind human shields of families."

Israel's supporters have described last week's killing of Ahmed Jabari as a justified response in the face of repeated rocket attacks from inside Gaza. Codepink's Patricia Taub, however, regards it as the start of an aggressively disproportionate military campaign against a defenseless population.

"They're so vulnerable," she says. "They live in this destitute poverty and they don't begin to have the firepower that can match Israel's."

And she's not alone in that viewpoint: In addition to tonight's Portland vigil, anti-Israeli protests have also been held in cities across the U.S., and overseas.

Photos by Tom Porter.

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