Minnesota Israeli and Palestinian reflect on violence in Israel and Gaza

A building stands near a sight of rubble from a destroyed structure.
A Palestinian inspects the rubble of a high rise building destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City early Sunday. Israeli soldiers are battling Hamas fighters in the streets of southern Israel and launching airstrikes on Gaza a day after an unprecedented surprise attack by Hamas fighters.
Adel Hana | AP

An all-out war is raging in Israel and Gaza after Hamas launched a large-scale surprise attack over the weekend. The death toll has passed 1,100 on both sides. That also includes nine U.S. citizens. There may be more.

Palestinian militants claim they are holding more than 100 Israelis in Gaza.

Minnesota is home to communities on both sides of the conflict. And we wanted to talk to both about their personal experience watching this all unfold from thousands of miles away.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] CATHY WURZER: An all-out war is raging in Israel and Gaza after Hamas launched a large-scale surprise attack over the weekend catching the Israeli army off guard. The death toll has passed 1,500 on both sides, that also includes 9 US citizens. There may be more. Palestinian militants claim they're holding more than 100 Israelis in Gaza, that's an enclave of about 2.3 million Palestinians bordering Israel and Egypt.

Minnesota is home to communities on both sides of the conflict-- Israelis and Palestinians. We wanted to talk to both about their personal experience watching this all unfold from thousands of miles away. Joining us right now is Tal Dror Rouache. She is the Israel program director with the St. Paul Jewish Federation. Tal, welcome.

TAL DROR ROUACHE: Thank you. Thank you.

CATHY WURZER: You work for the federation, what do you do?

TAL DROR ROUACHE: So right now my husband and I are visiting his family. So I'm volunteering for the federation because I was here in 2017 to 2019 as a young emissary for the Jewish Agency for Israel.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, what was your first reaction when you heard about the violence over the weekend?

TAL DROR ROUACHE: It's a nightmare. We've never had anything like that going on in Israel. I couldn't believe that I see videos of Hamas, which are humans, kidnapping, raping, and murdering women and kids, and they're all innocent. And they even kidnap more than 130 people into Gaza-- women, seniors-- who doesn't deserve that.

CATHY WURZER: Have you had a chance to-- have you had a chance to talk to your family?

TAL DROR ROUACHE: Yes, I'm in touch with my family, thank God they are safe. But I have a lot of friends that have relatives who are missing and they don't know what to do because these people were kidnapped into Gaza.

CATHY WURZER: What do you feel that people don't understand about this conflict, and now war?

TAL DROR ROUACHE: I think that this is a wake-up call for anyone who supports the Palestinian narrative. In the end of the day, we are dealing with a terror organization. This terror organization has people who make choices of raping and kidnapping. More than 800 kids and women were murdered by them.

CATHY WURZER: I have to ask Tal, what do you mean by Palestinian narrative?

TAL DROR ROUACHE: I mean by what's happening in Gaza. Gaza is controlled by a terror organization, and they want just to destroy Israel and kill Israelis, both Jews and Arabs.

CATHY WURZER: I'm wondering, I understand that you were in the Israeli army-- of course, being in the Israeli army is required of all citizens, and you were in the IDF during the 2014 Gaza war. What was that experience like, and can you compare and contrast that to what is currently occurring?

TAL DROR ROUACHE: Yes. So I was an education guide in my military services, like every Israeli has to go and serve in the military. And in 2014 during the Protective Edge Operation, I was a soldier. I had a few friends that were murdered in Gaza. And this is different. This is different because now Hamas is not just trying to kill soldiers, they are killing innocent women and kids, pregnant women, seniors, and they are taking them all into Gaza. And they don't even want to negotiate, they just kill them.

CATHY WURZER: How do you see this ending?

TAL DROR ROUACHE: I only see this ending if we have a side that we can talk to because right now, we don't have a side that we can talk to. And this war has to end and we need to bring back our innocent people who are being held in Gaza. This is pure evil, and this evil must be stopped.

CATHY WURZER: Tal, are you able to go back? Do you want to go back?

Tal Dror Rouache: Of course, I want to go back. This is my homeland. This is the only Jewish state in the world, and this is the only state that we can feel welcome. After so many events throughout the years, Holocaust, this is the only place that accept Jews, but this is a dangerous situation.

CATHY WURZER: It is a dangerous situation. Tal, I appreciate your time. Thank you so very much.

TAL DROR ROUACHE: Thank you for having me.

CATHY WURZER: Tal Dror Rouache is the Israel program director with the St. Paul Jewish Federation. Well, right now we're going to turn to Ziad Amra. Ziad is a Palestinian American living in Minnesota. Ziad, thanks for your time.

ZIAD AMRA: Hi, Cathy.

CATHY WURZER: I know you were born here. Your mom and dad were born in Palestine. You've been back many times I understand, including this past summer. What was that like?

ZIAD AMRA: Well, it's always interesting dichotomy because as Americans, we can go there and visit as tourists. And yet when we get there, of course, we're Palestinians, given our name and where we're staying and all of that and we're treated that way by the Israeli authorities. I would say that during this particular trip, we went to see this past summer family and relatives. And there was Israeli military incursions into Jenin and Nablus. And when we were there, over 20 Palestinians were killed, including children.

And also, there's been over time, and including through the summer and even as recently as this week, a lot of settler violence. So we didn't travel to see some of the sites in the Northern West Bank, especially around Nablus, because settlers had-- been covered in the news to a certain degree set entire towns and villages on fire. So it was a subdued trip and people are very apprehensive about their safety, about their livelihoods, and really what's going to happen next. So it's a little depressing, but it's sort of that way all the time.

CATHY WURZER: What was your reaction when you first saw the news-- heard the news and saw the video?

ZIAD AMRA: Of this latest issue?

CATHY WURZER: This latest conflict. Yeah.

ZIAD AMRA: Yeah. Well, to be honest with you, it was shocking, sort of its breadth and scope, and also not surprising because the way-- you and I are talking about the news is-- the news cycle is filled with this. And the reason is because there have been an enormous amount of casualties on the Israeli side, but what's not mentioned in any of this is the context, the context of 75 years of Palestinian dispossession from their lands. Or if you want to start from 1967, 56 years of military occupation, the longest one on the face of the Earth.

And occupation, let's make no mistake about it, is violence day in and day out. People die, children die. And in this year alone, 250 Palestinians have been shot and killed, including 50 children. While I was there that happened. And it doesn't make the news because it's death by 1,000 cuts or the Palestinian lives don't matter to the West or the Western press. It's not covered.

And we should talk about Gaza too. It's been under a siege, where nothing goes in and out for 16 years. And 70% of that population are refugees from 1948. So with massive unemployment, nobody being able to get medicine or food or seek medical care or leave the territories without Israeli permission, on top of that, an Israeli government that is the most extreme and fascist that that country has ever seen and has publicly stated that the Palestinians have a choice.

They can die-- this is before this Gaza operation-- they can die, they can leave, or they can accept the apartheid rule under which they live. And then under which Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have all said that the Palestinians exist under, and that's the context that this is happening under.

CATHY WURZER: How do you see this ending?

ZIAD AMRA: The only way-- I mean, you know, what's so sad is that right now what's going to happen, it seems to me, and it's already begun is a massive bombardment of Gaza, which isn't new to them because Israel periodically does that. And thousands of Palestinians will also be killed and maybe and more Israelis. And then at some point, it will stop. And then it will be not in the news anymore until it is.

And the only way to stop this is to give the Palestinians their rights. Over 30 years ago, the Palestinians and the Israelis-- Palestinians through the PLO and the Palestinian National Authority recognized Israel, agreed to negotiate through non-violence for a two-state solution. And 30 years later, they've got nothing to show for it, except for more settlements, more ethnic cleansing.

And by the way, on this Indigenous Peoples' Day here in America and here in Minnesota, I mean, it's very interesting because we're talking about Indigenous peoples rights there in Palestine, and their right to be, live, and be free. And so the only way that this is going to end, I mean, permanently is for there to be a real two-state solution, but Israel has refused since 2014 to even talk to the Palestinians. And now they have a government that has explicitly said they won't.

So that's the only way. America has to-- America is Israel's largest benefactor. Europe, others, they need to apply international law equitably and equally. That's what needs to happen. But it hasn't.

CATHY WURZER: Ziad, I'd be remiss if I didn't end this interview by asking about your family. Are they safe?

ZIAD AMRA: My family, my relatives are in the West Bank. They are at present safe, but there are daily incursions by the Israeli forces, even before this there. And so everybody is always apprehensive and cautious and afraid to be honest with you, because that's the real sickness of this whole situation that there's an uncertainty to one's life day in and day out. But thanks for asking.

CATHY WURZER: Ziad, I appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

ZIAD AMRA: Thank you.

CATHY WURZER: Ziad Amra, he is a banker and a Palestinian American living in Minnesota.

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