Locals with ties to Middle East conflict zone watch nervously - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Locals with ties to Middle East conflict zone watch nervously

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Smoke rises following an Israeli attack east of Gaza City, seen from Bureij refugee camp, central Gaza Strip, Nov. 20, 2012. (Adel Hana/AP Photo) Smoke rises following an Israeli attack east of Gaza City, seen from Bureij refugee camp, central Gaza Strip, Nov. 20, 2012. (Adel Hana/AP Photo)

New Orleans, La. — Local Arab-Americans and members of the Jewish faith are nervously watching the conflict in the Middle East.

"Israel's kind of a small country, so when something happens the whole country is affected," said Michael Weil, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans.

Weil has every reason to be concerned about the violence.  "My children and grandchildren are over in Israel and I lived there for 25 years, so we're in constant contact and it's a little bit tense," Weil stated in an interview with FOX 8 News at his east bank office.

Across the Mississippi River in Gretna, Arab-American Nabil Abukhader, a professor at Delgado College, is also concerned about the conflict.

"It is unfortunate.  Every time there is a conflict, people die and it's unfortunate the human life being lost can be avoided.  It's a disaster -- we hope one day we can overcome it and live in peace," Abukhader said.

Both commented as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in the area to push for a truce.

"I hope our government, our U.S. can play a big role since we have a good tie with Israel, to restrain and not to use our tax money and military support for them as an advantage to escalate the situation," said Abukhader.

"Whereas rockets have been until recently mostly around the Gaza Strip and the different towns in southern Israel… what has happened in recent weeks is Iran has provided Hamas with long-range rockets, and they've been targeting now both the Tel Aviv area and trying to get to Jerusalem as well," said Weil.

Both want the tensions to end; still, they have their allegiances.

"You have to understand where Israel stands.  Okay, imagine this was the United States and Mexico was raining rockets over Dallas and Houston.  You know, the American armed forces wouldn't hesitate for a minute," Weil said.

"The rockets came as a response to terrible conditions.  The Gaza people, 1.7 million, live in 104 square miles.  Imagine Orleans Parish under siege and not allowed to leave or go anywhere, everything has to be entered through this area, has to be monitored, through checkpoints," said Abukhader.

They hope for a lasting cease fire -- if not now, someday.

"Unless Hamas really kind of changes its tune and says we want peace, we want to develop this piece of land for our people, it will take more than a cease fire to change the reality of the Middle East," said Weil.

"In order to hold, I think, the United Nations and us, the U.S., has to intervene and put conditions on both parties and monitor the situation so no one can break that agreement," added Abukhader.

Weil questions whether Hamas, which holds control over Palestinian residents in Gaza, would be sincere in stating it wants peace.

"Hamas has stated in all its declarations and its fundamental constitution that it aims for the obliteration of Israel," said Weil.

"They have the freedom to choose their religion and their leaders.  If the people of Gaza chose their leader to be Hamas, that's their choice," said Abukhader.

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