Jewish Group Holds Service As Israeli-Palestinian Death Toll Nears 800

Jul 24, 2014

Steven Bell, left, and Regina Willis of Jewish Voices for Peace lead a prayer service for the victims of the recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict in front of the Israeli consulate Thursday in Midtown Atlanta. A silent protester with signs criticizing the Palestinian militant group Hamas stands behind.
Credit Michell Eloy / WABE News

A Jewish organization held a prayer service today in front of the Israeli consulate in Midtown Atlanta Thursday to honor both Israelis and Palestinians who’ve died in the latest regional conflict, calling for peace as the death toll nears 800 people.

Dressed in black and holding candles, participants read the names of some of the victims aloud while others laid stones, a Jewish tradition at gravesites.

The vigil was organized by the Atlanta chapter of the group Jewish Voice for Peace, which also condemns Israel’s recent military offensive in Gaza and its activity in the West Bank.

“We just wanted to make a space for people to mourn and grieve and wrestle with these complicated feelings about what Israel is to us and what we can do to hold Israel accountable for the civilian deaths that have happened,” said Regina Willis, a spokesperson for the group.

Reports say more than 750 Palestinians and 32 Israeli soldiers have died so far in the 17 days of fighting and shelling from both sides.

Steven Bell, who’s also with the Jewish Voices for Peace, says the conflict – and Israel’s role in it – is dividing Jewish families.

“One of the things we did was to speak at our synagogue, and we didn’t get through one-fifth of the presentation,” Bell said. “Of all my Jewish friends, I’m kind of considered a pariah. But we try to find areas where we can agree.”   

Free Polazzo said his parents met at the Jewish concentration camp in Italy Auschwitz** during World War II. He said during the service he held a photo of the Auschwitz concentration camp’s victims.

“So for Jewish Voice for Peace to remember that we Jews have been on the other side for thousands of years. And just because we now have a state, that doesn’t give us the right to indiscriminately kill people,” Polazzo said.

One man silently protested the vigil, holding signs condemning the Palestinian militant organization Hamas of firing rockets at Israel.

He did not stay through the vigil for comment. 

**An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Polazzo's parents met at the German concentration camp Auschwitz. The updated version has corrected the error.**