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Pro-Palestinian crowd rallies in Salt Lake City as Gaza cease-fire begins

Published: Thursday, July 31 2014 10:00 p.m. MDT

Updated: Friday, Aug. 1 2014 9:08 a.m. MDT

People participate in a pro Palestine rally in Salt Lake City on Thursday, July 31, 2014.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Hisham Arafat received a message from his father in Palestine on Thursday.

A bomb had exploded outside his family's home, but they were safe.

The Salt Lake Community College student paused, relieved. He picked up his white Palestine cap, a gift from his uncle, and tied a Palestinian flag around his neck before grabbing a homemade poster on his way out the door.

"Shame on Israel," it read.

As the beginning of a tenuous cease-fire approached along the Gaza Strip, Arafat joined more than 100 people waving signs and flags on a downtown Salt Lake street corner Thursday evening, chanting "free Palestine" and marching through the streets.

"It's great to bring awareness here," said Arafat, who left Gaza seven years ago to come to Utah. "It feels amazing when you see all the people here. The smallest thing can help."

The protest, the third of its kind in two weeks, came as the Palestinian death toll in Gaza passed 1,400 in the past 24 days, according to a New York Times tally.

Utah Anti-War Committee member Sarah Simmons, who coordinated both rallies outside the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building, said the small group hopes to add their support to that of Palestinians calling on the U.S. government for help.

The group wants the U.S. to support Palestinian people enduring crisis in the long-embattled region, require Israel to remove forces from Gaza and stop the deadly bombings in the area, and halt U.S. funding supporting the Israeli military.

Meanwhile, accusations against Hamas "terror tunnels" made international headlines Thursday as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Israel will continue to seek out and destroy the tunnels, with or without a cease-fire.

The tunnels reportedly connect from Palestine into Israeli territory and have been used to attack Israeli troops. The New York Times reported 62 Israeli deaths as of Thursday.

"Maybe not everyone is correct in this situation, but also somebody is doing the occupying, somebody is killing thousands of Palestinian children and women, and somebody is receiving intense military aid. It's not Hamas," Simmons said.

Simmons said she encountered a few people who opposed the pro-Palestine rally, but mostly the bystanders she met were simply curious.

Abdul Mansour, a first-generation American who grew up in Murray after his parents left Palestine, came to Thursday's rally out of growing frustration that U.S. tax dollars are being funneled into the conflict.

"It's just very wrong to call Israel a democratic country and our ally when they're practicing apartheid," Mansour said. "You can't control a piece of land and the people there but then have two separate laws — one for Israelis and one for Palestinians."

Mansour was accompanied by his wife, two children, and his brother. After spending time in Palestine following his high school graduation, he has made sure to stay in contact with his cousins still living in the area.

Mansour said he and his family will return to future demonstrations. He smiled as his 18-month-old son picked up a homemade sign depicting the Palestinian flag.

"Do you want to protest?" he asked the boy. "Protest for Palestine."

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com, Twitter: McKenzieRomero

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