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Worry, sadness spread in Western Pennsylvania for brethren in Mideast

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Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

When Alex Goldblum traveled across Israel and Palestine, he looked through a camera lens to see bombed-out buildings and graffiti, but also sunsets, flowers and friends.

Now back home in Squirrel Hill, where an exhibit of his photos closed earlier this month, he worries for those people he knows on both sides of a Gaza conflict now escalating in violence.

“My heart goes out to people on both sides of the border because this conflict has devastating effects for people on both sides,” said Goldblum, 27, an adjunct professor in multimedia at the Community College of Allegheny County.

Thousands of miles from the Middle East, people across the Pittsburgh region on Friday worried about friends and broken prospects for lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip have launched hundreds of rockets into Israel over recent days, firing toward Jerusalem Friday and setting off air raid sirens in the city. Israel has attacked Gaza with airstrikes and moved ground forces toward the border after calling up 16,000 reservists.

The situation evokes heartache for Simin Curtis, president of the American Middle East Institute, a group based in Pittsburgh that promotes business growth across the region. She sees not only lost lives but failed opportunities too.

“It makes me very sad when I see that there is so much hatred,” Curtis said. “Think of how much could be happening in terms of educational opportunities and job opportunities and all of the things that could be happening with peaceful trading partners.”

Ryan Branagan, president of a University of Pittsburgh group called Students for Justice in Palestine talked Friday about the larger issues that he sees behind the conflict. But the increase in fighting also frightens him, he said, for his friends on the ground.

“It's a very tense and scary situation,” Branagan, 21, a Pitt senior said. “It really humanizes it a lot. … Knowing the people, and the forces and military might levied against them, makes it really scary.”

Fighting in the Middle East adds to tensions among interfaith groups in Pittsburgh, no matter whether their members are focused on issues there or domestic ones in the United States, said Deborah Fidel, executive director of the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee.

She said it is sad to see any losses of life.

“I wish that national leaders could work this out and we could all get back to working together to do good,” Fidel said. “I have lots of friends and people I love in Israel, but through my work, I have gotten to know people in Gaza too. My thoughts are with them and their families as well as with my people and my friends. It's lose-lose.”

Andrew Conte is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7835 or

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