DENVER — Two Colorado state lawmakers with family members in the Middle East are keeping a close eye on the war between Israel and the terrorist group Hamas.
State Senator Dafna Michaelson Jenet was born in Israel and has family there. Her colleague, State Rep. Iman Jodeh, is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants and refugees. She has family and friends in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel.
For them, the last two weeks have seemed like a nightmare.
“I was paralyzed,” said Michaelson Jenet. “I could not believe such a brutal attack could have happened in Israel.”
Michaelson Jenet said her family is keeping in touch through a WhatsApp group.
“My niece just had a baby,” said Michaelson Jenet. “So, she's been running down to the bomb shelter with her baby in tow. And, you know, it's not how you would imagine the first days of life.”
Michaelson Jenet, a Democrat representing District 21 in Adams and Arapahoe counties, moved to the U.S. with her family when she was six months old.
“It was on the eve of the Yom Kippur War,” she said.
As another war breaks out, her fears are growing.
“Nine of my cousins were called up to serve. And three of them are in the tank division, so I worry about ground invasion of any sort,” said Michaelson Jenet.
Jodeh, who was born in the U.S., was the first Muslim elected to serve in the Colorado General Assembly.
“I'm very fortunate to have a home in the West Bank and even more fortunate to have a lot of family and friends, both Palestinian and Israelis, that still live over there,” said Jodeh, a Democrat representing District 41 in Arapahoe County.
She’s spent the last couple of weeks trying to contact them.
“I've been able to check in with my family and friends in the West Bank pretty regularly. However, my family in the Gaza Strip not very much,” said Jodeh. “One of my family members had his home destroyed. But we've been unable to get any further information.”
Both lawmakers said they’re heartbroken by the massive loss of life on both sides of the conflict.
Both said they’re also concerned about some of the rhetoric they’ve seen in the U.S.
“We cannot conflate being Palestinian with Hamas,” said Jodeh. “I think it's a huge injustice.”
In his address to the nation Thursday night, President Biden mentioned a rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia in the country.
“We can’t stand by and stand silent when this happens. We must, without equivocation, denounce antisemitism. We must also, without equivocation, denounce Islamophobia,” said Biden.
Jodeh said too many people, including some of her fellow lawmakers, are not considering the 75 years of lived experience for Palestinians and Israelis when they share their opinions.
“It’s uninformed and reckless,” said Jodeh. “What I asked from my fellow lawmakers is that we do take a moment to educate ourselves, to ask about those realities so that any position we do take is informed and they feel confident in their position.”
Michaelson Jenet said she’s concerned with some of the messages being shared at pro-Palestinian rallies across the U.S.
“When we're seeing rallies in support of Palestinians, I would hope that there would also be rallies in opposition to Hamas,” said Michaelson Jenet. “That's not exactly what's happening at these rallies. And you will see rhetoric [like] ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine shall all be free,’ which is this standard chant for 'I want to get rid of all the Jews and Israel,' and that's terrifying to me.”
Michaelson Jenet said she’s not surprised there have been many pro-Palestinian rallies across the U.S. in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
“History would show that the Jews get attacked, and the Jews get blamed,” said Michaelson Janet.
Janet called out one of her colleagues, State Rep. Tim Hernandez, who represents northwest Denver.
While attending a pro-Palestinian rally at the Colorado State Capitol, Hernandez refused to condemn Hamas for their attack on Israel when he was confronted by a citizen journalist.
A video of their interaction went viral on social media and was seen by millions of people across multiple platforms.
Michaelson Jenet said she called Hernandez before she sent out a tweet expressing her disappointment.
“I didn't really feel like I had gotten through [to him],” said Michaelson Jenet. “But he spoke to many people after me. He didn't stop with me.”
After a statement failed to squash criticism, Hernandez released a video apologizing for his actions.
“I condemn Hamas and their attack on innocent civilians,” Hernandez said. “And I have to apologize for the way that I caused harm in the community by not making that explicitly clear.”
Michaelson Jenet said she believes he was being authentic with his apology.
“I feel like he is authentic and his desire to learn and grow and not try to minimize the complexity of what's going on in Israel right now,” said Michaelson Jenet.
Jodeh said she’s very concerned with the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza.
“We are calling for a ceasefire during this conflict,” said Jodeh.
She also encourages Coloradans to contact their member of Congress to demand they support a bill by Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCollum that would prohibit Israel from using U.S. taxpayer dollars “for the military detention, abuse, or ill treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention; the seizure and destruction of Palestinian property and homes in violation of international humanitarian law; or any assistance or support for unilateral annexation of Palestinian lands in violation of international humanitarian law.”
While they may view some of the issues between Israel and the Palestinian people in a different light, Michaelson Jenet and Jodeh said the focus should be on the people caught in the middle of the war.
“I would just ask you to think of the people,” said Michaelson Jenet. “I think of the Israelis. I think of the Palestinians.”
“Remember that the people at the center of this conflict should be the priority in restoring dignity, safety, and peace,” said Jodeh.