HAMMOND | A group of Purdue University Calumet students held a rally Thursday to raise awareness of the casualties in the escalating situation between Israel and Palestinian militants.
The rally of eight students was organized by Students for Justice in Palestine and focused on the 15 Palestinians killed in airstrikes this week.
Three Israelis had been killed in rocket attacks launched by Gaza militants as of Thursday afternoon.
For Purdue Calumet student Amani Hamed, of Hammond, the violence hits close to home.
Hamed, a Palestinian, grew up in the West Bank before her family moved to the U.S. in 1998.
“I mean I've had many friends where I post things on Facebook, and they are just like, 'We didn't know this was going on' or 'Oh, we heard about Israelis being killed, but we didn't hear about the Palestinians getting killed.'
"We're not here to talk about anything or anybody. We are just here to pretty much speak for those who can't speak. We want to raise awareness," Hamed said.
The group is planning a larger event for Monday at the Hammond campus.
The leader of The Jewish Federation of Northwest Indiana condemned Thursday what he described as terrorist activity against Israel.
The fighting, the heaviest in four years, has brought life to a standstill on both sides of the border, with schools canceled and people huddled indoors.
Israel and Hamas have largely observed an informal truce for the past four years. But in recent weeks, the calm unraveled in a bout of rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes.
From Israel's perspective, Hamas escalated tit-for-tat fighting in recent days with a pair of attacks: an explosion in a tunnel along the Israeli border and a missile attack on an Israeli military jeep that seriously wounded four soldiers.
The rally's organizer, Chris Radjenovich, of Dyer, said he's met a lot of friends who are Palestinian.
“Hearing their stories just really gets to you,” Radjenovich said, “and I just don't like it when people make it look like Israel is somehow being oppressed right now when they are the fourth-biggest military in the world and these people have been fighting for 60 years just so they can return back to their homeland.”
Michael Steinberg, executive director of The Jewish Federation of Northwest Indiana, said Israel is a free and Democratic society and rockets have been sent into Israel “arbitrarily.” He said Israel drops leaflets before strikes warning civilians to avoid compounds and homes occupied by terrorists because they are targets.
“There comes a time in the life of a country where they have to defend their country, and the lives of its citizens,” Steinberg said.
“At the end of the day, the only thing we want in that area of the world is a blanket of peace — that everybody should respect each other. When I go out and talk to schools, one of the greatest things I think our world has to offer is diversity, but not everybody is accepting of the idea of diversity.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.