The tension from the conflict between Israel and Hamas, which is now nearing its third week, has reached far beyond the Middle East.
Many in Winnipeg with loved ones close to the conflict are watching the situation unravel from afar, worried about what comes next.
For Winnipegger Ghassen Shamieh, concern and worry now fill his everyday life. Shamieh has more than 100 extended family and friends in southern Gaza. He said the majority of them are children.
“It’s very hard to imagine, it’s very hard to imagine,” Shamieh told Global News.
“It’s a very complicated situation. I cannot imagine what’s going to happen after two hours, after one hour.”
Shamieh said he has been trying to keep in contact with family, but lost contact this week as he believes some are unable to charge their phones due to having no electricity in the region.
He also said many of his family members are splitting up for their own safety.
“They hope that if a strike will hit a house it will not kill all the family members,” Shamieh said. “It’s very hard to say goodbye to your son or daughter or your wife or your dad, and you think that, ‘If I’ll be safe, they might not be safe.’ So this is a very, very stressful situation.”
Shamieh said he’s also hopeful aid can get to people in Gaza and the violence will come to an end soon.
“At this stage, we are calling for help. We are not asking for anything, just asking for help for those people to provide (the) basic needs, at least,” he said.
“We are (talking about) people, civilians, women, children, elder people. It’s very hard to imagine that this is happening and we don’t know when it’s going to stop.
“It’s a disaster; this is by all means a disaster. Nobody in the world should live in this situation nowadays. We are in 2023.”
For Kliel Rose, the rabbi of Congregation Etz Chayim in Winnipeg, the conflict hits close to home. Rose was born in Israel and has several family members in Jerusalem.
“They’re all in deep pain,” Rose told Global News. “That’s the pattern and the common thread that I’m hearing from Israelis — the level of grieving, the mourning, the sense of just tremendous loss.”
“We talk about six degrees of separation in our world. In Israel, there’s one degree of separation. Every Israeli knows somebody directly or they know somebody who has a direct connection to someone who’s either been murdered or one of the hostages, and I think the world needs to understand just that level of grieving that Israelis are currently going through.”
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Rose said that in addition to a feeling of loss, it also brings a feeling of unease among many, including within his own congregation.
“Israel has always been our insurance plan. We know, unfortunately, the levels of oppression and disdain that the world — in different places throughout history — has had for Jewish people. And for those of us who have lived in an era where there’s been a Jewish state, for the last 75 years, we’ve always thought of that as a place that we could flee to if anything were to rise up here,” Rose said.
“The animosity that we’ve witnessed for a long time, that includes the Holocaust of course, but all (the) inquisitions and the exiling of Jews from different parts of the world, that’s triggering.”
“I think a lot of people are thinking that way — do they show their Star of David, those visible signs, symbols?” he added. “And that’s a terrible feeling to have to carry with you.”
Kliel said his heart breaks for the innocent Gazans being impacted by the brutal conflict, and he hopes a peaceful resolution is within reach.
“I hope one of the messages I make clear is our people want peace. We might have differences on how that can be achieved, but that’s a unifying theme and idea that I keep hearing.”
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