Colorado lawmakers with Israeli and Palestinian roots fear for the future amid Middle East conflict

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Rockets are fired toward Israel from the Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023.

Republican state Rep. Ron Weinberg’s aunt and uncle live in the village of Metula in northern Israel, next to the border with southern Lebanon, which is under the control of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah. 

“While the decision of Hezbollah to join the war is still pending, so to speak, that would deeply impact my family,” said Weinberg.  

Even though his family isn’t near the part of Israel that Hamas invaded more than a week ago, Weinberg said that after the attack, Israeli tanks, weapons and soldiers were deployed to the area and are now just waiting. 

Weinberg’s grandparents bought the home in Metula in 1948 and he said his family will not evacuate. “We are survivors of the Holocaust, so we have a little bit thicker skin and we're ready to stand our ground,” he said.

But in the days following Hamas’ invasion, he’s been extremely fearful about what could come. 

“The bigger picture is the scariness of what's going to evolve out of what's happened so far. So that's really where I sit,” he said “What is this going to lead into? How many more lives are going to be affected? Where is this going to go?”

Weinberg spoke to CPR last week. Since his interview, Palestinian deaths have reached close to 3,500 according to the Gaza health ministry, including hundreds of people killed in Tuesday’s explosion at a hospital in Gaza. 

Israel says more than 1,400 of its citizens were killed in the terrorist attacks on Oct. 7, according to reporting by the Associated Press, and around 3,500 are wounded, with roughly 200 still missing, presumed taken hostage by Hamas. 

Democratic Rep. Iman Jodeh is also watching the conflict unfold with sorrow and dread. Colorado’s first Palestinian American state lawmaker, Jodeh maintains a home in the West Bank. Much of her family lives there and she has extended family in Gaza. 

She said she’s heartbroken over what is happening. 

“I hope people are returned home and innocent people are just not in the crosshairs and crossfire of all of this. They certainly should not be victims of this political back and forth,” said Jodeh.

While she condemned the Hamas attack that launched the war, Jodeh urged people to put into perspective the harsh realities that have long existed on the ground in Gaza, referring to it as an open air prison “compounded to a degree that I don't think the rest of the world can comprehend.” 

The Gaza Strip, which is slightly smaller than the size of the city of Denver but home to two million people, has been effectively blockaded by Israel since Hamas took control of the strip in 2007

“(These are) things that the average observer is not taking into consideration. There's no clean drinking water. Medical supplies down to critical levels, no electricity, and the lifelong and consequential effects of an attack of this magnitude on civilians are unimaginable.”

Jodeh said she wants justice and equity for both sides of the conflict.

“It's going to get worse before it gets better. I feel like that's always the case, and I feel like this is really jeopardizing an already delicate, I don't want to say peace process, but any future possibility of coming to the table.”

Indeed in recent days the situation has escalated. A planned meeting in Jordan between President Joe Biden and Egypt and Palestinian leaders to discuss the situation in Gaza was canceled in the wake of the hospital explosion, and the U.S. State Department has issued a worldwide travel caution because of the escalating tensions and “potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests.”

“I never believed in my lifetime I would see this,” said Democratic state Sen. Dafna Michaelson Jenet shortly after the initial Hamas attack on Israel on October 7th. Michaelson Jenet was born in Israel. She said members of her family go back and forth between the U.S. and Israel regularly.  

“I don't know what Hamas' intention was, but they carried out a massive, massive pogrom on the Jewish people,” said Michaelson Jenet. “And absolutely Israel has the right to defend herself in this instance. And who's going to get blamed at the end? Israel.”

She highlighted the attack on the al-Ahli Arab Hospital which she said was falsely blamed on Israel. The Israeli military has said a misfired rocket launched by Palestinian militants was behind the explosion while Hamas said it was Israel.

She said nothing good can come from what's happening.

“Nothing good for the Jews, nothing good for Israel, nothing good for the Palestinians. Nothing good is going to come from what's going on,” said Michaelson Jenet.

Democratic Rep. Said Sharbini agrees. His father is Palestinian and was visiting family in Nazareth Israel when the Hamas attack took place. Sharbini said his father’s family are Arab Israelis and run a restaurant there.  

“I have grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, countless of all of 'em, and they're all still over there dealing with it.” 

It took 10 days for his father to get out of the country and back to the U.S. Sharbini said it’s a rare situation where things are escalating on the ground and not subsiding. 

“I got to believe the people being bombed want it to come to an end, and the people on the Israeli side who were murdered and stuff want it to come to an end and don't want any more bloodshed.”

He said leaders on both sides have failed their people by not reaching a peace deal or trying to find a resolution. 

“I'm not saying that Israel shouldn't defend itself because Hamas' attack was gruesome and terrible, but at the same time, Israel's indiscriminate bombing and cutting off of electricity, water, other things like that, those are war crimes.”

He added that “neither side is coming to this with clean hands.” 

Polis, who is the state’s first Jewish governor, said he is committed to creating a Colorado for all and protecting everyone’s right to safely practice their religion and express who they are. Over the weekend he spoke to supporters of Israel at a rally at the state capitol. 

On Oct. 13 Gov. Jared Polis released a proclamation condemning antisemitism

His proclamation states, “calls for violence against Jews in Colorado and across the world exacerbated by recent terrorist attacks targeting Jews in Israel by Hamas, continue to undermine safety and security of Jewish Coloradans who have deep ties through friends, family, and community with the people of Israel.”