During frantic phone conversations with her family in Lebanon, Christina Abraham learned how Israeli forces were bombing the predominantly Christian neighborhood of Ashrafiya. She heard how her cousins were trapped for days in an underground bomb shelter, unsure if they would survive the battle raging between Israel and Hezbollah.
With a mix of emotions ranging from worry to rage, Abraham spoke Thursday at a news conference organized by Chicago’s Muslim leaders and joined them in calling on the United States to halt the violence.
“To kill hundreds of civilians for the sake of two captured Israeli soldiers—who are still alive—is to desecrate the sanctity of human life,” said Abraham, 25, a DePaul University law student and civil rights coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Chicago.
“Israel justifies this attack by saying they are targeting Hezbollah,” she said. “But the Beirut airport is not Hezbollah. The medical supply trucks are not Hezbollah. The children that are dying are not Hezbollah.”
At the news conference held at Chicago’s Downtown Islamic Center, Muslim community leaders said many Lebanese-Americans feel betrayed by U.S. support of Israel and the Bush administration’s opposition to a cease fire. Muslim and Arab leaders are planning a rally for noon Saturday at Pioneer Court on North Michigan Avenue to denounce attacks on Lebanon.
Leaders of Chicago’s Jewish community, meanwhile, said they continue to support Israel’s actions to defend their nation. Todd Winer, director of public relations and communications for the American Jewish Committee in Chicago, said a cease fire would play directly into the hands of Hezbollah.
“How do you have a cease fire with a terrorist group?” Winer said. “Hezbollah soldiers continue to attack Israel and in response, Israel rightly feels the need to get rid of the Hezbollah presence in Beirut.”
Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said his organization accepts the U.S. designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist group but the Muslim community does not support killing civilians who have no relationship to Hezbollah.
“We are speaking out to condemn the killing of close to 400 civilians, with no ties to Hezbollah,” Rehab said. “Israel has destroyed much of Lebanon’s infrastructure from bridges to power plants to homes and villages; 50,000 civilians have been displaced, a humanitarian crisis is in the making.”
Lebanon’s population is a diverse religious mix with Muslims and Christians making up the majority, and smaller communities belonging to the Jewish and Bahai faith, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives. There are about 25,000 U.S. citizens in Lebanon, most of them of Arab or Muslim descent, community leaders said.
Rehab said members of Chicago’s Lebanese community believe the sluggish evacuation process for U.S. citizens and failure to request a cease fire suggest the Bush administration has a double standard for Arab-Americans.
“The unwillingness to call for a cease fire gives the impression that the administration places less value on the lives of American citizens of Arab descent,” Rehab said. “The administration should have one standard regarding the value of life and one definition of terrorism.”
Also Thursday, the National Council of Churches issued a statement calling for an end to the violence. Pope Benedict XVI similarly called for “an immediate cease fire” to allow humanitarian aid to get to the innocent victims of the violence.
“In reality, the Lebanese have the right to see the integrity and sovereignty of their country respected, the Israelis the right to live in peace in their state, and the Palestinians have the right to have their own free and sovereign homeland,” the pope said in a release from the Vatican Information Service.
The pontiff also proclaimed this Sunday a special day of prayer and penance, inviting Catholic priests and parishioners to pray for peace.
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