CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – With a rising death toll between Israel and Gaza now hitting over 1,500 lives lost, the severity of the Gaza-Israel conflict hits close to home for Charleston residents that have ties to Israel.
Thousands have been wounded, more than 100 Israeli citizens were abducted by Hamas terrorist members, and 11 Americans have also been killed.
Charleston residents who have ties to Israel, like Sigal, are heartbroken.
“We have no other hope than to fight for our life and for our country,” Sigal said.
Sigal was born and raised in Haifa, Israel, and now lives in Charleston. She only shared her first name for privacy.
“You say ‘Israel’ and you see a big smile on my face. I love this country with all my heart, all my soul. I have two homes: Israel is my first one, United States is my second one,” Sigal said.
Her entire family lives in Israel, and the destruction that stemmed from the Hamas terrorist attacks on Saturday has been hard to process. She said since then, she’s been glued to the news for live updates.
“We have a family WhatsApp and we just update each other. Phone calls, support each other. Try to remain positive with all the pain,” Sigal said.
Her family is a few hours from the Gaza border with Israel, but tensions are still high as they wait to see if fighting spreads to their region.
“The everyday life is interrupted. People are not going to work. Some do, some don’t,” Sigal said. “Military is in high alert. So, we are getting ready for a war. Going to grocery store, getting some basic food, water. We’ll just have to wait and see, but our military is out there protecting us.”
Another Charleston resident, Rabbi Joseph Blair of Temple Israel, has friends, colleagues and extended family in Israel.
Unlike Sigal, he doesn’t know if some of them are safe.
“It feels like a desecration. If it’s a holy land, how can you go and spill blood? How can you go and create chaos, cause injury and damage and hurt and loss of life and say that you’re doing it for any good purpose?” Rabbi Blair said. “I can’t wrap my mind around that, and I can’t accept any answer that’s given, ever.”
The conflict between Israel and Palestine is decades long, stemming back decades, and it’s something Rabbi Blair said he’s always known. However, violence on this level is new and breaks his heart.
“I think of the people who have already died, but I also think about the people that have been taken captive and have no idea what the future holds for them and all their families and friends who have no news,” Rabbi Blair said.
Rabbi Victor Urecki from the B’nai Jacob Synagogue said the attack on Israel is significant for the global Jewish population.
“It is our place of refuge. It is our safe haven as a people in exile for 2,000 years going from one country to another,” Rabbi Urecki.
Rabbi Urecki has been to Israel twice and says he sees both the Israeli and Palestinian experiences behind this conflict.
“There is a narrative, and there is a compelling narrative, and then there are innocent lives that are on the other side. My connection with Palestinians are they are human beings just like me. Ultimately, the goal that I think the world would want is for both people to live in peace,” Rabbi Urecki said.
“There are two sides to this conflict, but the only way that narrative can ever come forward is through negotiation, through understanding, not through violence,” he said. “That’s unfortunately the cycle we’re in right now, and unfortunately we’re probably going to be in that for quite a while. Until that lessens, we’re a long way away from both peoples living in peace.”
For that reason, Rabbi Urecki said solutions are complex.
“How do we bring the two sides together? That is a challenge. That is the missing piece to the missing peace,” Rabbi Urecki said.
Del. Michael Pushkin representing West Virginia’s 37th District is a Jewish American. His father served as a medic in Israel during the Yom Kippur War in Israel, and he said this conflict is of great concern to him and other Jewish Americans.
“We’ve not seen an attack like this on Israel really ever where civilians were targeted, women and children were targeted, people being dragged out of their homes and kidnapped by Hamas,” Del. Pushkin said. “Hamas is a terrorist organization. They’re taking advantage of the situation over there, and they really have very little regard for human life whether it’s Arab or Israeli.”
He said because the United States has a long-lasting relationship with Israel, one of the U.S.’s closest allies in the Middle East, he predicts to see support for Israel as fighting continues in their region.
“It might be difficult to put that into perspective how we’re relatively safe over here in the United States, but with what happened Saturday morning, civilians were targeted. Women and children were targeted,” Del. Pushkin said. “This has been an unprecedented, horrific attack on the people of Israel like we’ve never seen. I’d believe most Americans agree that of course they have the right to defend themselves, and they will.”