Roughly two dozen Jackson residents took to the town square over the weekend to rally for Palestinians as the Israel-Hamas war rages on.
Adults and children held signs — many calling for a ceasefire — standing in front of the iconic archway of elk antlers Saturday morning. A dog with a poster attached to it that read “Pups 4 Palestine” darted through the group.
For about three hours, participants broke into “Free Palestine” chants, sometimes supported by a passing vehicle’s car horn.
It was the first Jackson rally in support of Palestine since war broke out last month. Local Jewish groups led a vigil and march for Israel in early October with about 70 participants in the town square.
Joni Gore organized Saturday’s “Mourn for the Dead, Fight for the Living” protest.
“I think there has been a lot of support to act, but I think that people were looking for a champion to lead the movement,” Gore said. “There’s a lot of hesitation unfortunately, because Zionism has been conflated with Judaism and nobody wants to be labeled antisemitic.”Gore, who is Jewish, said she wanted to raise awareness in Jackson of the more than 10,000 people — mostly women and children — that have died in Gaza, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health. The Israel’s Foreign Ministry says around 1,200 people were killed by Hamas militants on Oct. 7.
“My religion does not support the mass killing of civilians,” Gore said. “I’m letting my anger over what’s happening and my love for humanity drive me into action.”
Calls for action
Digital flyers sent out before the rally gave participants a list of dos and don’ts, asking them to focus on the humanitarian crisis and calls for ceasefire, to wear the red, white, green and white colors of the Palestinian flag and show respect for all religions.
Dan Sheehan wore a Palestinian soccer jersey and held a sign saying “Stop The Killing.” He said he hasn’t seen many protests in support of Palestine in Wyoming and wanted to have his voice heard.
A rally in support of Palestine was also scheduled for Saturday three hours away in Lander.“We’re against the bombardment of Gaza, we’re against the indiscriminate treatment of children and civilians. There needs to be peace now,” Sheehan said. “I think it’s important Wyomingites make that clear. The rest of the country is making it clear because it’s our tax dollars that are funding this genocide too.”
President Joe Biden has called for billions in additional assistance for Israel, which aren’t included in the most recent spending bill before Congress. The U.S. has historically been the largest supplier of military aid to the country.
“To an extent, blood is on the hands of everyone in the country, unbeknownst to them in many cases,” Sheehan said.
Attendees also offered the community literature and resources to help educate themselves on conflict, and asked them to reach out to Wyoming’s congressional delegation and state lawmakers to share their support for Palestine and call for a ceasefire.
“Every action matters,” Gore said. “Every conversation you have, every call you make to your representative does matter. And don’t lose hope that we as a people can stop this.”
Local musician Judd Grossman, who helps run prayers for the Jackson Hole Jewish Community, said he went to Saturday’s rally because he was curious as to what people were protesting and had written on their signs.
“I have a love for the people of Israel and for the country of Israel,” Grossman told KHOL on Monday. “I went [to the rally] on my own because I’m Jewish, and I’m a Zionist in that I believe that Israel has a right to exist and that Jews have a right to live in their native homeland in an independent state.”
Grossman said he had productive conversations with rally attendees in an effort to better understand their views.
“I actually found it somewhat gratifying to find out that the folks there essentially shared my values about how people should be treated and about what justice means,” Grossman said. “We don’t want to see civilians hurt. And we don’t support rape, torture, murder of civilians or combatants, and want to see a peaceful Middle East where Israelis and Palestinians can thrive.”
Grossman said he opposes the use of the word genocide to describe Israel’s military response in Gaza.
“Unfortunately, in war, civilians and noncombatants get killed in the crossfire,” Grossman said. “I think people throw around the idea of genocide or war crimes without understanding the definition.”
Grossman pointed to the leaflets the Israeli government has dropped in recent weeks warning Gaza residents they need to evacuate their neighborhoods. But the Gaza health ministry reports, Israeli bombardment has killed thousands of civilians in the areas that Israel has ordered them to move from.
Grossman said he doesn’t support a ceasefire, because he worries Hamas will use it as an opportunity to “try to regroup and to try to commit more atrocities against Israel.”
But Grossman said he’s not an expert in Middle East issues and welcomed more discussions in Jackson with people with opposing viewpoints.
“Obviously our little town is quite removed from what’s really going on,” Grossman said. “So I don’t feel like our community is being disrupted by this war. But I think people in the community are upset and interested in trying to understand what’s going on.”A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finds that Americans are split over Israel’s response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack.
Grossman suggested that people seek out multiple sources for news and look into spaces on social media platforms like X, formerly known at Twitter, where Israelis and Palestinians are carrying out discussions online.
Gore, who organized the protest, also suggested that people find books and podcasts to help learn the history behind the conflict, as well as follow people who are on the ground in Gaza.
Saturday’s rally attendees acknowledged that the news and images from the Israel-Hamas war are incredibly traumatic and difficult to process. And they are seeking out ways to work on their mental health and recenter during this difficult time.
“My personal coping mechanism is singing,” Gore said. “I’ve been finding myself going on drives or bike rides and just singing my heart out and knowing that my voice is really important at this moment.
Grossman said he’s been miserable since October and hasn’t found a great way to make the days better.
“But I just carry on with my life and try to be grateful for everything, for my family and my friends and my community,” he said. “And also trying to learn as much about the issues I can so that I can feel like I have some understanding or that I can ask the right questions or respond to the people’s questions in a way that makes sense.”
Sheehan, who is a new father, said he spends time with his 19-month-old daughter.
“Anytime things feel too bleak, I go outside with her and the dog and I watch them run around like maniacs,” Sheehan said. “That gives me a lot of joy.”