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Baton Rouge families with ties to Israel and Palestine shaken by ongoing war

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BATON ROUGE - The current war in Israel is only the latest occurrence of deadly violence in a decades long battle between groups in the middle east. The reasons for the conflict are numerous and nuanced.

"I certainly don't want to get into the political aspects. Everybody has their own thoughts and feelings," said Ellen Sager with the Jewish Federation of Greater Baton Rouge. "I think what's so devastating is the innocent lives that have been lost on both sides."

As head of the local chapter of the Jewish Federation, Sager oversees various philanthropic efforts worldwide. She has been to Israel on a mission trip in the past.

"One of the biggest issues is the number of innocent people--civilians, mothers, fathers, children, grandparents who have been shot and killed and wounded and kidnapped. It is the largest number of Jewish deaths since the Holocaust in one day," she said.

Khaleda Laymoun is a Palestinian-American who came to Baton Rouge around 35 years ago. She raised her family here, but she still has a lot of family back home.

"We've been living this situation since before I was born. I was born in this situation, went to school in this situation. It's been 75 years"

At the heart of the fighting is a strip of land called Gaza. Palestinians have lived there for thousands of years, but when Israel formed after World War II, it eventually became part of the new nation and many Palestinians were forced out.

Fighting for control over the area has been almost non-stop ever since.

"We've been suffering, killed, land confiscated. The Palestinians have been imprisoned, grounded, for so many years and nobody knows this truth. It's the media. It's the--I don't know who's responsible for that, but I hope the world will know the truth as it is," Laymoun said.

Laymoun does not support Hamas, but says her people are tired of trying to reclaim what they view as their homeland.

"I'm not justifying killing, but people are fed up with oppression for that many years."

Like many Palestinians, she believes it is unfair that they are often blamed for the violence that occurs.

"This double standard--I can't understand it. They justify it for one side, and think it's violence for the other side."

On the other hand, Israelis liken the violence to antisemitism, something Jewish people have been battling for millennia.

"It's just a matter of being aware of the diversity that makes us who we are as Americans, as Jews, as people and learning to accept those differences and learning to live with each other," Sager said. 

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