Stephan Shatarah of Levittown, a Palestinian Christian, with his wife, Chandler Shatarah....

Stephan Shatarah of Levittown, a Palestinian Christian, with his wife, Chandler Shatarah. “I think it’s devastating for all sides," Stephen Shatarah said. Credit: Courtesy of Stephan Shatarah

Mustafa Elqumsan, 41, arrived in August to Long Island from the Gaza Strip to conduct research at Stony Brook University.

In recent days, after a surprise invasion by Hamas that had left at least 1,200 dead as of Wednesday, with an estimated 150 people taken hostage, Israel cut power to Gaza — as well as the entry of food, water, medicine and fuel. Elqumsan has lost communication with his family — his mother and three brothers, two sisters, aunts, uncles and others, all of whom are still in Gaza.

With a bombing campaign by Israel underway in retaliation and aimed at dismantling Hamas, Elqumsan can’t reach his family.

“There isn’t electricity now. How can I call them?” said Elqumsan, who holds a doctorate in bioinformatics. Nor is there working internet, and since the families’ cellphones haven't been charged since the power was cut, Elqumsan has no way to find out if they’re OK.

Hamas in charge

Hamas is in charge in Gaza, which has a population of about 2 million. Israel has declared war in response to the killings and kidnappings of Israelis in the rampage Saturday. Dancing Israeli concertgoers were slain in the desert; the elderly, babies and other civilians, as well as soldiers, were kidnapped, shot or otherwise killed. Hamas attackers recorded or livestreamed much of the violence.

Rockets fired Wednesday toward Israel from the Gaza Strip.

Rockets fired Wednesday toward Israel from the Gaza Strip. Credit: AP/Fatima Shbair

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to “crush and destroy” Hamas. Airstrikes continued Wednesday in Gaza and flattened city blocks; unknown numbers of bodies are underneath the debris. A ground invasion is looking increasingly likely. So far, more than 1,100 people in Gaza have been killed. Netanyahu, in a televised address Wednesday, said that during Hamas' attacks, Israeli soldiers were beheaded, women raped, boys and girls shot in the head and people burned alive. 

On Long Island

This week, several Palestinians on Long Island told Newsday they don’t condone violence against civilians on both sides.

Stephan Shatarah is a 33-year-old newlywed in Levittown and financial adviser in Westbury. A first-generation son of parents who emigrated from the West Bank — his father was born in Ramallah, his mother in Birzeit — Shatarah considers himself living the American dream.

And while he’s proud of his ancestry, he's disappointed how news coverage has cast Palestinians in an unfavorable light, said Shatarah, president of the Ramallah Club of New York.

“Right now, saying that you’re Palestinian is not the most positive thing that people view at this point in time,” said Shatarah, a Palestinian Christian. “They look at Palestinians as being terrorists and what have you.”

Hamas formed in 1987 and won legislative elections in 2006. Israel says Hamas has about 30,000 fighters and an arsenal of weapons.

There are 819 Long Islanders reporting Palestinian ancestry: 462 in Nassau and 357 in Suffolk, according to recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. A total of 5,532 Long Islanders report Israeli ancestry:  4,564 in Nassau and 968 in Suffolk, the Census figures show.

With tensions high across Israel, Shatarah said he’s concerned about his cousins who live in Ramallah in the West Bank, which is occupied by Israel.

And in clashes since Saturday, Israeli security forces have killed at least 27 Palestinians in the West Bank, according to Reuters. The Israeli military has said it’s preparing for an escalation by residents of the West Bank, and that Israeli forces are on high alert, carrying out arrests and thwarting possible attacks. The Palestinian Authority, a Hamas rival, exercises limited governance in the West Bank and has expressed solidarity with Gaza.

Shatarah said: “Under occupation, which is really what’s happening, no one is safe over there, really.”

Shatarah said he’s seen videos and photos on Instagram of what happened in the Hamas attacks and Israeli response in Gaza.

A Palestinian man carries a gas tank amid the rubble in Gaza...

A Palestinian man carries a gas tank amid the rubble in Gaza following an Israeli air strike Wednesday. Credit: EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/Mohammed Saber

“I think it’s devastating for all sides. Any civilian that lives over there, it’s devastating, and my heart goes out to the Palestinians in the area. My heart goes out to the Israelis in the area. No one should feel unsafe in their home, no matter what side of the fence you’re on,” he said.

Shatarah said he prays for a solution.

He said that while Palestinians have long-standing and legitimate grievances against Israel, he doesn’t agree with the violence carried out by Hamas against Israeli civilians. 

'Like a big prison'

Elqumsan said he has friends both in Gaza and in Israel, including some Jewish scientists with whom he collaborates. In his view, the recent violence, while deplorable, is partly the result of oppressive conditions in the Palestinian regions.

“Life is not good,” he said of Gaza. 

“We need to live in peace together,” he said.

He called Gaza — over which Israel has maintained a blockade, it says, to thwart attacks from within Gaza, such as the one Saturday — “like a big prison,” with high unemployment, widespread poverty and constant shortages of basics such as food and water.

Movement in and out of the territories is highly restricted — Elqumsan said he had to wait two months to travel to Israel to get a visa to come to the United States. There is no U.S. consulate or embassy in Gaza.

Nayyar Imam, who emigrated to the United States from Pakistan and is a leader of the Selden-based Islamic Association of Long Island mosque, said he condemns Hamas’ violent rampage.

But Imam, a former chaplain for the Suffolk County Police Department, said he also believes Americans have heard only one side of the story regarding the Middle East conflict, and that over the decades violence has taken place on both sides.

Of Hamas’ attacks,  he said: “Whatever they did is not right.”

With AP

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