Texans have had occasion this week to witness the eruption of a billboard war waged between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel grassroots organizations vying to tell Houston commuters their side of the story.
On Monday, two pro-Israel groups put up two giant roadside billboards bearing the message: "Save Gaza from Hamas. Teach peace, not hate."
The signs - featuring a picture of two boys, an Arab and an Israeli, sitting arm-in-arm and smiling - was put up in response to an earlier roadside campaign by a pro-Palestinian group under the banner "Pray for Gaza," featuring crying Arab children.
The 10 pro-Palestinian signs were put up throughout the city after January's Operation Cast Lead by an organization called the "Houston Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine."
The billboards pointed onlookers to a Web site (www.pray4gaza.org) praising the intifada and quoting critics of Israel, such as Jimmy Carter and Richard Falk. According to the site's "Facts" section, in carrying out Operation Cast Lead - launched in response to Palestinian rocket fire - Israel "broke first" the cease-fire it had with Hamas.
The site's "History" section says Zionists began as "an extremist minority" of Jews, and accuses them of "sabotaging efforts to place Jewish refugees in Western countries" during the Holocaust.
"Many Houstonians were upset by the 'Pray for Gaza' propaganda campaign," observed Ira Bleiweiss, founder of Bridge Houston, a local pro-Israel group. "But they didn't know what to do," Bleiweiss told the local Jewish Herald Voice.
Talking to Haaretz, Bleiweiss said that "people are delighted that someone finally took a stand in public," made possible by a joint low-key fundraising campaign Bridge Houston launched together with the international Israel-advocacy group StandWithUs.
"Organizations that misrepresent the struggle for peace in the Middle East should be placed on notice that groups like ours will stand up to them," said Roz Rothstein, international director of StandWithUs.
"We believe in confronting big lies about Israel head-on, and they don't come much bigger than on a billboard," said U.K.-born Michael Dickson from Jerusalem, head of the organization's Israel branch. "Pray4Gaza, via their campaign and their Web site, deliberately twist facts and distort history to demonize Israel. People should pray for Gaza; pray for it to be free from Hamas' tyranny."
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