A small, quiet group of demonstrators gathered on the steps of the New Haven courthouse on Church Street Friday to call for peace in the Middle East. Holding signs like “End U.S. Funding of Sharon’s War” and “End Israeli Occupation,” they demanded an Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories.

Organized by the New Haven Peace Coalition in conjunction with several other local and national organizations, the 20-some demonstrators denounced the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank and what they called the use of terror to maintain the occupation.

“A great travesty of justice is going on in Israel and Palestine,” New Haven resident Frank Panzarella said. “We know the reason for all this violence: It’s the illegal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.”

Protesters called for a cessation of violence in the Middle East, the withdrawal of Israeli forces, aid for the Palestinians, intervention by international peacekeeping forces, and the resumption of peace negotiations. They also demanded that the United States stop funding Israel’s war efforts.

“We must demand that President Bush stop encouraging [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon,” said Alfred Marder, the president of the Greater New Haven Peace Council, in a written statement. “We call for the immediate cessation of all military sales and funding to Israel by the United States.”

And all this occurred on a day when Israeli forces stepped up the offensive in the West Bank despite U.S. pleas to withdraw its forces. Israel sent more tanks into Palestinian cities Friday and fought with Palestinians in refugee camps.

Justin Ruben FOR ’02 said Israel’s actions are entirely inappropriate.

“People feel gross injustice happening and human rights abuses on the part of Israel that are in no way excused by the horrific suicide bombings,” he said.

But the New Haven Peace Coalition also condemned the Palestinian bombings for creating an atmosphere of violence and giving Israel an excuse to launch an offensive.

“That’s not to excuse the desperate violence on the behalf of the Palestinians,” Panzarella said. “But desperate people take desperate measures.”

Many protesters shared concern for the escalation of violence on both sides. Kohar Jones MED ’04, who was demonstrating on behalf of Physicians for Human Rights, said she had to do something after seeing tensions heighten last week.

“It’s scary that the violence is escalating,” she said. “Physicians for Human Rights issued a report that most people are radicalized after seeing someone shot, and it’s scary that so many people are becoming so radicalized.”

Jones also criticized American apathy toward the events in the Middle East and hoped to raise awareness by protesting.

“What’s going on is a huge turning point in the Middle East,” she said. “And then to have Newsweek have a cover story on the president’s daily life last week is ridiculous.”

Ruben expressed the same dismay over Americans’ lack of action in response to the escalation of violence.

“I’ve been really sickened by what I see happening, especially as a Jewish person,” he said. “I feel like there’s a lot of concern among Jews in this country, but it’s rarely expressed. There’s a sense in the Jewish community that we can’t speak out.”

Ruben said the reluctance of Jews to speak out can also make the politicians who represent them unwilling to do so, worsening the problem. He added that Jews in the United States especially need to speak out against the violence and urge their politicians to take action.

“People are being brutally oppressed in the name of a religion that for me has always been about seeking justice and healing the world,” he said.