HAMMOND | Members of a pro-Palestinian group at Purdue University Calumet fell to the grass Monday to protest the rising death toll in the Gaza Strip.
Steps away from the staged "die in," approximately 20 people gathered waving Israeli and American flags for a counter rally to show support of Israel.
The two rallies at the Hammond campus come as Israel continued air strikes Monday in the Gaza Strip in response to Hamas rocket attacks.
“We're still going to be out here as long as Israel keeps bombing Gaza. We're still going to be coming out,” said Chris Radjenovich, who leads Students for Justice in Palestine.
“Israel has one of the biggest lobbies in our country and our whole foreign policy in the Middle East is based on protecting them right now. I'm not arguing in protecting them. Jews have the right to be there. Israel has the right to exist, but it's clear they are in the wrong right now.”
Last week, the organization held a smaller rally near the school's Student Union and Library but planned to return for a larger demonstration.
Representatives of Northwest Indiana's Jewish community handed out fliers to passers-by with a quote from former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir that read, “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”
Michael Steinberg, executive director of The Jewish Federation of Northwest Indiana, said he came to campus to raise awareness.
“The world needs to be aware of the continuing terrorism that the Israelis have to endure daily from Gaza and people from Hamas, Islamic Jihad,” Steinberg said.
Tziporah Waternov said she came to the rally to stand with Israel, but not to stand against anyone else.
“Everyone of us is part of the human family,” Waternov said. “Each one of us gets a choice. The choice we get is what we think and how we act. History shows that those who bless Israel are blessed, and those that curse Israel are cursed. What's your choice?”
The rallies, which lasted for more than an hour, came to a head when a Purdue Calumet student called on the approximately 15 Palestinian supporters to drop to the ground to protest the bombings in Gaza.
Jonathan Wilson, a Purdue Calumet student who rallied in support of Palestinians, stressed the group wanted a resolution to the conflict because all human life is valuable.
“We don't think that what's happening to the Palestinian people is right. We think that there can be a civil way to handle the disagreement. We don't necessarily support the actions of Hamas,” Wilson said.
“We do understand when people are pushed to the limit people act out in desperation. We do not condone the lives of the Israeli people that are being taken away.”