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In Ann Arbor, a display calls for release of Israeli hostages: "This is our pain."

Ariel Levy, left, and Omri Zemler in front of the display calling for the release of Israeli hostages.
Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio
Ariel Levy, left, and Omri Zemler in front of the display calling for the release of Israeli hostages.

Dozens of empty shoes attached to red heart balloons appeared outside the Kerrytown Market in Ann Arbor Saturday morning.

They were attached to pictures of some of the more than 240 people kidnapped and held hostage by Hamas during its October 7 attack on Israel, including children and elderly people. Only four of those hostages have so far been freed, while a fifth was rescued. The fate of most of the kidnapped people remains unknown.

The display was created by members of Ann Arbor’s Israeli and Jewish community, who said they feel some aspects of the Israel-Hamas conflict—which began with the October 7 attack by Hamas and sparked Israel’s ongoing response campaign in Gaza—are widely misunderstood, especially abroad.

Omri Zemler is an Israeli graduate student at the University of Michigan. He said that in the past year, he joined many other Israelis in regular protests against the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Zemler said those protests were not just against Netanyahu’s proposed judicial changes in that country, which many see as an attempt to consolidate his power. He said they were also about opposing the Israeli government’s support of expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and the dispossession and violence against Palestinians who live there.

“There are many Israelis, me included, that are very pro-Palestinian in the sense that we are for either a two-state solution or a one-state solution where both nations can exist together,” Zemler said. “I feel like we have to stop conceptualizing this debate as either-or.”

But Zemler said people on both sides of the conflict need to reject the extremists within their own leadership—including Palestinians in Gaza currently under Hamas rule. “They need to know that no solution will come from an extermination of Israel, or like, a replacement of Israel with Palestine,” he said. “Something new has to be imagined.”

Noa Aviv came to Michigan from Israel just two months ago. Since then, she’s attended the funerals of friends over Zoom who were killed in the Hamas attack, including the husband of one friend who was killed attempting to protect her and their children.

Aviv said one piece of the greater tragedy is that many of the Israelis killed or taken hostage on October 7 were longtime peace activists who supported the Palestinian cause, and in many cases provided aid to people in Gaza.

“They drove the people from Gaza to the hospitals in Israel to get good medical care,” Aviv said. “And I mean, it doesn't really help them now because they're in Gaza. They're kidnapped or murdered.”

Aviv and others there said they feel no satisfaction about the suffering inflicted on Palestinians in Gaza, where the Gaza Health Ministry says more than 11,000 people have been killed so far in Israel’s military campaign. But they said they do fear a rising tide of antisemitism that’s been unleashed as a result, and left them feeling more vulnerable than ever before.

Ariel Levy, another Israeli living in Ann Arbor, said it’s become a “trend” to rip down the posters of hostages like the ones in their display. He said Israel is a “tiny country” where everyone knows someone directly impacted by the violence. “This is our pain, and ripping these down is an invalidation of that pain,” he said.

Omri Zemler said it’s hard to imagine a short-term resolution that doesn’t involve more violence and destruction, and where the most extreme elements of both sides are sidelined. He said that if a solution is to be found, it will likely come from Israelis and Palestinians who are living outside the region.

“I think it starts here, I think it starts far away,” Zemler said. “This is where, when we're far removed, it's precisely here that Palestinians and Israelis should be able to sit and talk about reimagining something new.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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