DES MOINES, Iowa - It was a diverse group of faces - and voices - speaking out at a pro-Gaza peace rally in front of the Neal Smith Federal Building downtown Wednesday morning.
"It's an issue that doesn't just affect Palestinians, it affects human beings," said Essam Abusharkh, a Palestinian-American at the rally. "These are people just like you and I. They're teachers, they're engineers, they're doctors."
Attendants took turns reading over a loud-speaker the names of all Palestinians killed since the latest round of missile strikes and the recent ground-invasion into the Gaza Strip by the Israel Defense Forces. Poster signs with messages such as "Free Gaza" and "Stop the Genocide" were held as the names were read, and personal testimonies to the violence in the region were shared. Some of the protesters then delivered the list of those Palestinians killed by the violence to the offices of Senators Grassley and Harkin.
"There is no safe place in Gaza," said Katie Huerter, organizer of the protest. "Hospitals have been bombed, schools have been bombed, there is no where to hide."
The most recent conflict between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian organization that runs Gaza, comes after Hamas launched rockets toward Israeli cities. Israeli technology was able to take out the missiles before they impacted their targets, and the Israel Defense Force has since retaliated with rocket fire into Gaza, along with a recent ground invasion, as well.
A recent CNN/ORC poll showed 57% of Americans support Israel's actions toward Hamas, while 34% said Israel's actions were not justified. On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the region to speak with leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority - the Palestinian organization running the West Bank - to seek an end to the violence.
The New York Times reports after 16 days of fighting, at least 642 Palestinians - many of them women and children - and 35 Israelis have died.