About 200 supporters of Israel gathered Thursday night at Congregation Ohav Shalom in Merrick, waving Israeli flags and cheering speakers who called for its defense amid a just-announced cease-fire with Hamas militants.
Nassau County police stood by with long rifles outside the rally while organizers played songs in Hebrew, said prayers and handed out flags.
Speakers at the rally called for strengthening Israel's alliance with the United States and lasting peace after the tenuous truce ended nearly two weeks of attacks and counterattacks from both sides. The cease-fire went into effect at 2 a.m. Friday, Israeli time, and ended 11 days of fighting, which included rockets fired from Hamas militants in Gaza and counterattacks by Israel, including airstrikes on residential buildings and Hamas targets.
Israel has reported at least 12 casualties while more than 200 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza.
"The war is over," Israel Consulate General spokesman Itay Milner said. "But in modern warfare, there is no limitation of time and geography and the enemy may shoot rockets whenever they wish. We don’t know if when the cease-fire takes place, if it will actually stop."
Milner referred to what he described as misinformation being spread in the United States as well as among Palestinian supporters. He noted an anti-Semitic attack on a man last week in Manhattan and an attack by Palestinian supporters on Jews in Los Angeles.
"You are our Iron Dome against the lies. No more rockets, no more lies," Milner led the crowd in a chant.
"The consulate is here to stand up and say 'no more,' " he told the crowd. "We are not frightened Jews."
Faith leaders, including Catholic priests, Greek Orthodox pastors and rabbis also called for peace and support for Israel.
"Right here in Merrick we can have an effect on the security of Israel," Rabbi Shimon Klein of the Merrick Jewish Center said. "By us doing a good deed, we can add protection. By lighting Chabad candles, we can bring light to them and add in their safety."
Ameer Benno, president of the Merrick-Belmore Jewish Community Council, called on supporters to send mass text messages to elected representatives condemning attacks and vowing support for Israel. He noted past cease-fires have not held.
He said elected officials should oppose a bill introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that would block a $735 U.S. arms deal to Israel.
"Show the world and our government that Merrick and Bellmore stand and support Israel and believe Israel has every right to protect itself, its people and land," Benno said. "America should provide unwavering support to defend against Hamas and any other group that tries to destroy its state."
Several local elected officials also showed support, including Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, her challenger, Hempstead Councilman Bruce Blakeman, Assemb. Dave McDonough (R-Merrick) and Nassau County Legis. Steve Rhoads (R-Bellmore).
Curran noted Nassau County has stood up to anti-Semitic attacks, locally and around the world.
"This has been a difficult 10 days. Off course Israel’s right to exist is irrefutable. As is its right to defend herself. We’ve seen a lot of suffering and bloodshed on both sides. I think we all breathed a sigh of relief when we heard about cease-fire," Curran said. "It’s important here to take stand and show Israel is a valuable ally to our country."