Oklahoma City’s CAIR activists decry IDF actions, advocate peace in the Gaza

OKLAHOMA CITY – The conflict between Israel and Hamas, the group governing the Gaza Strip region, has provoked activism here in the Sooner State, half a world away from the current fighting.

Supporters of Israel gathered last week at Temple B’nai Israel in Oklahoma city.

Four days before the Temple event, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) drew around 350 members and supporters to a state Capitol Rally (July 18). The group vigorously protested actions taken by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) in the Gaza Strip.

Nadia J. Enchassi moderated the event. Her father Imad Enchassi, Imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, is an officer in the state chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Enchassi described frustrations during a recent visit to the region, including a security process that caused a short trip to last several hours, and rebuff he faced when visiting an ancestral home. The current resident refused to let him come in.

The Imam, who grew up in a refugee camp in Lebanon, read from a poem, “Brother from another mother.” HE stressed that he honors “the children of Israel.” He called for an end to the IDF incursion in Gaza.

The elder Enchassi grew up in Lebanon, in a family displaced by warfare after the creation of the modern Jewish state.

Also speaking at the Capitol event, calling for “Peace in Palestine,” was state Sen. Connie Johnson, D-Oklahoma City. Johnson, a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat incumbent Tom Coburn is vacating, issued a passionate appeal for dialogue and negotiation in the eastern Mediterranean region.

Long known for her advocacy of Gandhi-style non-violent protest, Sen. Johnson called on attendees to “seek justice and demand peace. She expressed respect and appreciation for organizers of the rally.

Other speakers at the Capitol rally included Rev. Lori Walke of Mayflower Congregational Church, CAIR officer Saad Mohammed, Rev. Constantine Nasr of St. Elijah Church and Bilal Piracha of the Islamic Society of North America.

Nasr equated “the Jewish Holocaust” of the 1930s-40s with what he called a modern “Palestinian Holocaust.” All other speakers were more restrained in their comments.

Rev. Walke said that rocket attacks had provoked the IDF’s response. That response, she said, will lead to more and more violence in the region.

Some speakers referred to Israel’s governance as an “occupation,” while eschewing violence.

Mohammed, a U.S. Navy veteran raised in Brooklyn, said the Israeli incursion into Gaza was “an attack on humanity.” Stressing the oneness of humanity and hopes for peace for all who live in the area, he assailed the deaths of women and children in the conflict, calling on those present to help lift Palestinians “out of the brutality they have faced for almost 70 years.”

The rally commenced with a stirring rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, performed a capella by a young man, who later led the crowd in a variety of anti-war chants, including, “1-2-3-4, we don’t want your bloody war.” That was followed soon thereafter by “5-6-7-8, stop the killing, stop the hate.”

After months of rockets fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip, an area vacated by the Israeli military several years ago, the IDF launched a land invasion of Gaza two weeks ago. 

Scores of tunnels were found originating in Gaza and ending in or near Israel. The Israeli military is now destroying those sites, saying its actions are defensive in nature. The “Iron Dome” missile defense has stopped most rockets aimed at Israel, and the IDF is destroying launch sites and the tunnel system Hamas had established.

Also contributing to the start of recent military action was the abduction and murder of three Jewish boys in Israel, followed by the kidnapping/killing of an Arab boy and the severe beating of another.

In addition to Hamas military fighters, hundreds of Palestinian civilians have died in the recent fighting, along with several dozen Israeli soldiers. This week, a ceasefire or temporary suspension of hostilities seemed possible.