Mideast protesters gather downtown

January 2, 2009 9:09:30 PM PST
As violence continued in the Middle East Friday, Chicago protestors on both sides of the confrontation between Israel and Palestine marched.The two demonstrations started at different times and took place in different locations. They had no contact with each other. But as one demonstration was ending, the other was beginning. And it was an uncomfortable few minutes that illustrates the tensions between the two sides.

A relatively small group of pro-Israeli demonstrators gathered in front of the Israeli consulate in Chicago, offering their support holding Israeli flags and signs that read 'Israel wants peace.' But as they looked across the Chicago River, they see thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators who are accusing Israel of just the opposite.

Carrying small coffins the demonstrators accuse Israeli forces of killing civilians during air strikes on the West Bank this week.

"It's an invasion, it's an attack on civilians. It is not targeting terrorists, it is targeting people who are defending their homeland," said Ghada Talahami, Pro-Palestinian demonstrator.

Jewish leaders in Chicago deny their army has targeted civilians.

"We're concerned about innocent civilians on both sides of this conflict," said Midge Pearlman, Jewish Council.

Jewish Council leaders want to call attention to what they say is inflammatory rhetoric coming from the Palestinian demonstrators. They showed pictures from a weekend demonstration where a Nazi swastika flag was prominently featured.

"This kind of rhetoric and this kind of agitation also has the potential of provoking violent behavior here at home as well," said the Jewish United Fund's Michael Kotzin.

Both demonstrations on Friday afternoon were peaceful but anger and frustration is mounting as well as concern for loved ones caught in the middle of the violence in the Middle East. And both sides are blaming the other.

A number of the Palestinian demonstrators say they have high hopes that President-elect Obama can help calm the violence. They are urging him to get involved immediately even before his inauguration later this month.