July 19. 2014 8:35PM

Manchester teen led organized Pro-Peace for Palestine rally

New Hampshire Union Leader

MANCHESTER - A small group of protesters organized by a West High School student marched along Elm Street on Saturday calling for peace in Gaza and a free Palestine.

Hassan Essa, a 16-year-old who will be a senior at West this fall, started planning the Pro-Peace for Palestine rally after seeing news reports of four boys who were killed by Israeli missiles while playing on a Gaza City beach on Wednesday.

Essa said he was outraged, and it had nothing to do with the long running violence between Palestinians and Israel. He was more upset about the deaths of four boys, ages 9 to 12.

"That's why we're out here - to gain awareness," Essa said. "It's not about where you're from. It's about what you believe. I'm really a strong believer in separation of church and state."Essa reached out to his friends and started a Facebook page for Saturday's event. He was hoping for about 50 people to join him. The crowd of about 15 people stood out mostly because of their age. Essa, who was born in Kuwait and is a Muslim, said differences in religion and faith are not justifications for violence.

"I try not to be biased, even in my own religion. Because in religion, you're looking for truth and so you have to look at everything. It's the same with politics," he said. "I'm definitely not anti-Israel because both have a legitimate claim to the land. I'm not anti-Israel. I'm pro-peace in Palestine. I don't want people to die - especially civilians." Essa and his group carried signs as they marched and chanted their way south on Elm Street past Veterans Park before circling back to their starting point at Elm and Pennacook streets.

The march went the distance without incident, unlike a rally in Boston on Thursday when police had to break up a confrontation between pro-Palestinians and pro-Israelis.

The teens in Manchester had some idealistic thoughts on resolving a dispute that started long before their time.

"I feel as though Israel has been a little oppressive, but Palestine also hasn't helped themselves," said Patrick Groleau, a 17-year-old from Sharon who became friends with Essa in a student government group. "I think there needs to be a better equalizer between the two ethnic groups. I feel like if they built a culture based on love rather than an us-versus-them mentality, then peace would be a lot easier to create."