Rabbi Ben Zeidman of Temple Mount Sinai and Omar Hernandez, spokesperson from the Islamic Center of El Paso, jointly denounced the recent massacres in Israel and Gaza, condemning the “violence against unarmed children, women and men” and “hatred in all forms, including antisemitism and Islamophobia.”
“Both religions share many values, including the unique value present in every human life,” Zeidman said Thursday while reading from the joint statement. “The obligation to pursue peace. The responsibility to disavow those who purposefully target and slaughter civilians. And the duty to engage in disagreement through dialogue rather than violence.”
More than 4,200 people – including children, medical workers, journalists and other civilians – have been killed and more than 1 million people have been displaced since Oct. 7, when the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched an attack on Israel and took around 200 people hostage, according to a United Nations briefing.
In retaliation, Israel bombarded the Palestinian territory of Gaza with airstrikes that have obliterated entire neighborhoods and safe zones, turning some of them into rubble. Israel has also blocked the flow of food, medicine, water and electricity into Gaza.
Hernandez described some of the actions, such as the blockade, as a violation of international law and would like to see elected officials come to a peaceful solution. He and Zeidman also want to break the stigma that what’s happening between Palestine and Israel is a conflict of religion.
“This is not a religious issue between Muslims and Jews, and that’s one of the reasons why we’re here today – is to show we don’t have any tensions with the Jewish community, nor the Jewish community toward Muslims here in El Paso,” Hernandez said.
El Paso’s faith leaders spoke Thursday evening at the Raindrop Turkish House in East El Paso. The community center, which is part of the Dialogue Institute of the Southwest, hosts multicultural and interfaith events throughout the year.
Zeidman said it’s painful seeing the images and news stories that have come out daily since Oct. 7 showing people’s loved ones dead.
“I think this community really gets it because we had that as a community with August 3rd,” Zeidman said, referring to the 2019 hate crime shooting in El Paso. “I didn’t know anybody at Walmart, but I still felt grief, just profound sadness and anguish over that because it’s a part of my family that was taken.”
Amid national reports of an uptick in hate crimes against Jewish and Muslim people, Zeidman and Hernandez asked the El Paso community to call out people around them who express prejudice against Muslims and Jews.
Shortly after they read their statement, President Biden gave a televised address from the Oval Office. The president is asking Congress for billions in funding for military assistance to Ukraine and Israel, entrenching the United States further into international warfare. The funding request also includes $14 billion for additional enforcement on the U.S.-Mexico border.
On Saturday, El Paso for Palestine, an advocacy group, plans to call for a ceasefire at a rally at 11 a.m. in San Jacinto Plaza.