Harry Cohen & Jeff Brandes participate in "Stand with Israel" rally in downtown Tampa

A cease-fire in the conflict in Gaza quickly unraveled this morning, with at least 44 Palestinians killed. Israel and Hamas accused each other of breaking the cease-fire. Israeli officials say it broke down after gunmen emerged from one or more Gaza tunnels and opened fire on an Israeli soldier, with at least one of the militants detonating an explosive vest.

"I think that the events in particular today that appear to have precipitated the end of the cease fire are so tragic and underscore how serious the tunnel situation is and what a real national security challenge Israel faces," Tampa City Councilman Harry Cohen told CL moments before he took to the stage in what was billed as a Tampa Bay Community Rally for Israel that took place this afternoon at Lykes Gaslight Park in downtown Tampa.

Tampa attorney Mark Wright was about thirty seconds into his prepared remarks about his recent trip to the Israeli city of Ashdod when his voice was drowned out by a loud siren, a pre-arranged sound cue used to exemplify the air sirens that go off to warn of incoming rocket attacks in southern Israel both before and especially during the current 25-day conflict with Hamas.

Wright said during his recent three-day stay in Ashdod (Tampa's sister city in Israel) he heard such sirens over ten times. "When the siren goes off in Ashdod, you have 30 seconds to grab your children and run for shelter. If you were outside of Ashdod, you have to find the nearest wall, you have to lie flat on the ground, put your hands over your head, and pray. What kind of way is that to live? What would happen if those rockets were being fired in Tampa, or St. Pete or Lakeland?"

There appeared to be at least 200 people in attendance, which brought Jews and supporters of Israel in the Tampa Bay area together to "stand for Israel."

During this year's legislative session, St.Petersburg/Tampa state Senator Jeff Brandes helped secure $6 million in state funding for the renovation of the new Tampa Jewish Community Center in West Tampa, and was publicly congratulated for that when he was introduced before the crowd. 

"Yesterday Florida stood with Israel," he declared. "Today it stands with Israel. And long into the future, this city, this state and this country will stand with Israel!" 

The keynote speaker was Pastor Scott Thomas, the Florida Director of Christian Friends of Israel, who said in addition to those in Israel, "we also hurt for the innocent Palestinians who have lost their families and friends in this horrid conflict between Israel and Hamas," and singled out Tampa resident Tariq Abu Khdeir, the 15-year-old Palestinian-American who was savagely beaten last month by Israeli police. "We support the fact that this officer has actually entered into Israel's criminal justice system because Israel has a fair system for all people."

But while the idea that Israel is doing all it can to avoid civilian casualties was universally accepted by those at the rally, that doesn't appear to always to have been the case. On Wednesday, United Nations officials accused Israel of violating international law after artillery shells slammed into a school overflowing with evacuees, an attack that Palestinian and U.N. officials said killed at least 20 people and wounded dozens as they slept.

At times gesturing intensely with his hands, Thomas was hardly subtle in his denunciation of Hamas. "In Israel, it is 1938 again," he said. "And Hamas is one of the new Hitlers raising his head, and he must be decapitated."

And Thomas said that because Hamas refuses to recognize the state of Israel, the U.S. should avoid trying to negotiate a peace between the two parties. "That's why it's my encouragement to Secretary (of State) John Kerry: please sir, just pack your suitcase and come home," to large applause. 

Members of the audience that spoke to CL decried the violence. The Associated Press reports that the war has killed nearly 1,500 Palestinians, mainly civilians, and more than 60 Israelis, nearly all soldiers. "Everything seems one-sided," Mike Kagan from Odessa said, but only because the Israel can intercept rockets because of their Iron Dome missile defense system and because of the ineffectiveness of Hamas' rockets. "Nobody's talking about that."

Colman Raeboi from Congregation B’nai Emmunah in Tarpon Springs said "This is not against Palestinians, but against a terrorist organization ruling the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip." He said he was always available to pray for peace, and said Israel has been vigilant about warning Palestinians when they are about to bomb them. "They give them a day sometimes, and they don't [leave]. They stay and they're in harm's way. And it's a terrible, awful thing."

Not everyone wanted to speak about the conflict. Maureen Cohn asked this reporter "How are you reporting? Are you reporting positively for Israel?," adding that she didn't want any negative press with her name attached to it. She went on to refer the border crisis with Mexico, adding, "We're just dying for leadership."

Among those spotted in the crowd who were noted Tampa attorney Barry Cohen and Democrat Alan Cohn, running for Congress in CD15 against Republican Dennis Ross.

There will be a major rally for the Palestinian cause this weekend in Washington D.C., and there will be at least one busload leaving from Tampa to D.C. You can get more information here.

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