At first, the pro-Israel, anti-terror rally, Sunday, Jan. 11 at Colorados State Capitol evoked the scenario of a family that has gathered too often in a short period of time for funerals.
Despite the weariness of having to come together to eulogize another loved one, the mourners nonetheless focus all their attention on the specific life that was lost.
So, too, once again, Americans Against Terrorism called a rally to support Israel while calling public attention to the worldwide threat of Islamic terrorism.
Like AATs rallies in 2003 to oppose Saddam Hussein and in 2006 to oppose Hezbollah in Israels war in Lebanon, this was held on the West steps of the State Capitol, and attended by many non-Jewish supporters of Israel. It also included some of the same speakers.
This time, the fervor was focused on supporting Israels military action in Gaza, as she defends herself against eight years of Hamas rockets launched from Gaza into southern Israeli cities.
Colorado State patrol estimated the rally attendance at 2,000-3,000. At least half appeared to be non-Jews. Many were evangelical Christians. The sea of faces in the chilly January air was diverse: black, white, Hispanic, Asian Indian, even some Muslims, and of course, Jews.
Rally-goers held US and Israeli flags of all sizes, and placards with messages such as 15 sec 2 run 4 cover, Blame Hamas, Never Again, Israel must do what the UN wont, Stop attacks on Gaza, Want peace? Stop Hamas rockets.
Down the hill from the State House just across Lincoln St., several hundred pro-Hamas demonstrators stood loudly yet peacefully with placards and spewed anti-Israel chants, with their leader using a high-powered bullhorn. His words were easily heard up the hill where the rally was taking place. Their placards compared Israelis to Nazis, and called the Israeli military action in Gaza genocide.
Facing off against the pro-Hamas demonstrators on the Capitol side of Lincoln St. were a handful of Israel supporters who quietly held placards, blaming Hamas for the loss of life in Gaza, and proclaiming Israels right to defend herself.
And that, for the most part, was the theme of the rally: Israels right to defend herself. Speakers recounted how Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005, followed a few months later by the election of Hamas in Gaza, and the launching of some 7,000 rockets from Gaza into southern Israel towns such as Sderot, which have continued until now, even during the so-called ceasefire from June to December, 2008.
The rally also focused heavily on Islamic terrorism, jihad, Irans control over Hamas and Hezbollah, and the potential threat to the US and all other enemies of Islamic extremists.
The rally, emceed by Matt Walles, began with an opening prayer by Rabbi Marc Gitler of EDOS. He was scheduled to leave for Israel Monday morning for a whirlwind, yet intensive two-day, JNF-sponsored, rabbinic solidarity mission to southern Israel. He expressed his pride in being able to visit the people directly affected by the three-year barrage of rocket fire from Gaza, and lend them support and friendship from the Jewish community of the US.
I will tell the people of southern Israel that the people of Colorado stand behind them. We understand that their fight is our fight, that their pain is our pain.
Rabbi Gitlers prayer was for the Palestinian people: that you should choose the pen rather than the sword. The choice is yours. he said, Stop the violence.
Pastor Cheryl Morrison, leader of Faith Bible Chapels Israel ministry, and arguably Colorados most visible and articulate non-Jewish supporter, delivered the message loud and clear: Israel, we stand behind you and support your right to defend your people.
Morrison lamented the result of Israels disengagement from Gaza in the summer of 2005. The light of the Torah was taken from Gush Katif, sinking it into darkness, she said.
Hamas, when it was elected to run Gaza in January, 2006, refused to give up its terrorist ways.
Morrison encouraged Israel in its current military operation to crush Hamas. Finish the job! she charged.
She implored the US Congress to allow Israel to finish the job, and she hoped that President-elect Barack Obama should remember his declaration of Israels right to defend itself during his campaign visit to Sderot this fall. She also pointed out that Obama would be taking the oath of office on Inauguration Day with his hand on the Bible, which contains G-ds words to Abraham in Genesis: I will bless those who bless you, and he who curses you, I will curse.
Joshua Scharf, a Jewish Republican activist who recently lost a bid for a seat in the Colorado legislature, told the crowd, Israel is fighting for us as well as for themselves.
Yona Eshkenazi, director of Colorados newest Israel advocacy organization, Stand With Us, clearly stated Israels reason for the military action in Gaza: 377 rocket attacks on Southern Israel from Gaza during the six-month ceasfire, June-December, 2008.
Dr. Neil Dobro, AAT chair, though he declared, War stinks, reviewed historic examples of how, in the past, Israeli military force has brought peace; making a deal has brought war.
Although there have been civilian casualties in Gaza, Dobro pointed out that most Gazans voted for Hamas in 2006. We dont apologize.
He said Israel is fighting for something larger than the protection of her citizens in Southern Israel. We are fighting for more than nationalism. We are fighting more than the desire to destroy Israel. This is a fight against jihad.
The rallys most unlikely but strikingly poignant speaker was Nosh Tarachand, chairman and president of the National Asian Indian Republic Association, a GOP group. Still reeling from the Nov. 26, 2008, terror attacks in Mumbai, Tarachand declared Hindus support for Israel. He said the Mumbai attacks by Muslims were a reminder that Islamic terrorism is a global problem.
Former Congressman Tom Tancredo, in a repeat appearance at a pro-Israel, anti-terror rally, gave credit to the moderate Muslims out there, who have the guts to oppose jihadist terrorism. He asked: Dont you wish our own government had the guts to stand up to those sponsors of that terrorism?
Tancredo was speaking of Iran, which he called the biggest contributing factor to Islamic terrorism all over the world. Hamas, he said, would not have made the first move without Irans okay.
The concluding prayer was delivered by Pastor Chuck Anderson of McCarroll Bible Church, followed by Cantor Zachary Kutner leading the crowd in the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah.
The chants from the anti-Israel demonstrators across Lincoln St., grew louder and louder throughout the rally, but speakers and rally attendees remained unfazed and focused on the messages of Israels right to defend herself and the importance of fighting terror on behalf of the entire free world.