In Boston, show of solidarity for Israel
Thousands mark 55th anniversary of Jewish state

By Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff, 6/16/2003

Thousands of Jews from Greater Boston and beyond gathered at the South
Boston waterfront yesterday to mark the 55th anniversary of the state
of Israel, celebrating amid the uncertainty over whether the US ''road
map'' for peace in the Middle East can succeed despite renewed
violence.

Organizers said the ''Boston Celebrates Israel'' event drew more than
10,000 people to the World Trade Center for a day of Israeli music,
film, food, crafts, and shopping.

There were small but vocal protests outside by pro-Israel and pro-
Palestinian groups who agreed that they were against the US-backed
peace plan, which envisions an end to 32 months of violence and the
creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

''A day like today helps us rise above all the clutter -- the clutter
that is all the different political opinions about the current
situation -- and celebrate our eternal connection to the land of
Israel,'' said one of the event's chief organizers, Mark Sokoll,
president of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston.

Although recent violence (including the bombing of a bus in Jerusalem
by the militant Hamas group and a string of Israeli helicopter raids in
Gaza) has claimed more than 60 lives since the June 4 launch of the
road map, Sokoll said those at the event were hopeful for peace and
stability in Israel.

''It [the road map] would be good for America, good for the Jewish
people, and good for the Middle East,'' he said.

Nancy Kaufman, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations
Council, agreed.

''We yearn in our souls for an era where we can send our teens there
again, and when our relatives there can put their teenagers on a bus
and not be afraid,'' she said.

Sokoll said that Israel's statehood has been celebrated in Boston since
the Jewish state was first established in 1948.

This year, however, was the first time that organizers offered
participants an opportunity for economic activism through a new ''Shop
Israel'' component, he said.

With the Israeli economy battered by a dramatic decline in tourism,
several Jewish service organizations that sponsored yesterday's
celebration have increasingly been bringing Israeli merchants and
vendors to events in the United States sponsors said.

Ori Gabrieli, a 27-year-old Tel Aviv resident who with his father runs
a shop that sells fine woven tablecloths, prayer shawls, and other
items, was one of 40 Israeli vendors at yesterday's event.

His family used to have three shops in Israel five years ago, he said,
but was forced to close two of them because of the decrease in tourism.

''The problem is that Jews in America watch too much television instead
of coming to Israel,'' Gabrieli said. ''If they don't come, then the
terrorists win.''

Throughout the afternoon, protesters from both sides of the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict kept up a bullhorn-vs.-bullhorn debate outside the
event across Northern Avenue, separated by steel barricades and about
three dozen Boston police officers and State Police troopers.

On one side, about 90 protesters organized by the New England Committee
to Defend Palestine waved flags and shouted slogans decrying the
Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. On the other, about 60
members of a group called the Land of Israel Committee shouted counter-
slogans and handed out leaflets calling for the majority of
Palestinians in the occupied territories to be relocated to Jordan.

Leaders of both groups said they were opposed to the US road map and a
two-state solution to the conflict. A Boston police spokesman said
there were no violent incidents or arrests.


This story ran on page B3 of the Boston Globe on 6/16/2003.
Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.